Giorgi’s SWAN Day 2020: Fiction and Letter Writing

Looking for stuff to do while you’re at home? Never fear! SWAN Day has gone virtual for 2020. Our FF2 team has gathered recommendations of films celebrating women artists across many categories. And of course, the films are made by women, too! Watch and read at your leisure, or collect all of them to have a marathon on the official SWAN Day weekend of March 28.

Vita and Virginia, featuring Virginia Woolf

There’s nothing like a film about a tortured genius from England to make us writers’ heads swell. Virginia Woolf is something of a weakness for authors of my particular demographic, longing for rooms of our own and imagining ourselves going for walks around London–while publishing an astonishingly prolific body of work, of course. Reading A Room of One’s Own was one of my seminal experiences with feminism back in high school; Woolf’s prose is at once empathetic and highly intellectual, bringing together the masculine and the feminine just as well as her character Orlando. So, when I heard that a. this movie was coming out and b. I somehow didn’t know Woolf was queer, I know I had to watch it.

Speaking of Orlando, Vita and Virginia tells the story of how Virginia found her muse for that novel, which was later put onscreen by Sally Potter with Tilda Swinton as the titular character. The whole movie is drenched in its 1920s aesthetic, with toothsome accents and iconic #looks in every scene. And when it comes to women artists depicting women artists, this is the perfect example considering practically every woman in the film is an artist! Vita Sackville-West, whose wanderlust and irreverent sex life inspired Orlando, was also a novelist after all, though not part of Woolf’s famous Bloomsbury set that included E.M. Forster, T.S. Eliot, and John Meynard Keynes. 

A more mainstream writer than the experimental Mrs. Woolf, she is drawn to Virginia when she is invited to a party with a bunch of Virginia’s bohemian friends. She’s hooked, and uses Woolf’s press as an opportunity to publish without need for the approval of her old-fashioned family. Woolf seems initially nonplussed that Sackville-West is that interested in getting to know her, and gives the impression of being completely caught up in her work. However, like every distant genius, when she finds her muse she starts to open up. This complex relationship between two women is flawed with a capital F, like most of the relationships between literary luminaries of that time. Anyone who’s read anything about F. Scott and Zelda knows that turbulent, gut-wrenchingly dramatic romances were the in thing during the 20s, so Vita and Virginia are very much in fashion. 

The film also has an imaginative way of showing the two writers’ letters to each other, by having them talk to the screen in extreme close-up intercut with shots of a calligraphy pen writing and of the other reading the letter. These two women’s letters to each other were passionate and steamy, btw! At first it’s just Vita flirting with Virginia and Virginia looking ruffled as she reads, but then Virginia gets into it and shows us why her work is assigned in every literature class. All in all, a great creative choice by director Chanya Button. Once you’ve watched this film you can also check out Button’s other work, such as Burn Burn Burn, which follows two friends who are on a road trip across the country to find a place to spread their dead friend’s ashes.

Read Katusha’s review of Vita and Virginia here.

Photo: Gemma Arterton as Vita Sackville-West and Elizabeth Debicki as Virginia Woolf.

Photo Credits: Jonathan Hession

SWAN Day Poster Design: Emma Werowinski

© Giorgi Plyz-Garzotto (3/24/20) FF2 Media

Tags: Virginia Woolf, Vita and Virginia, Vita Sackville-West

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Giorgi Plys-Garzotto is a journalist and copywriter living in Brooklyn. She especially loves writing about queer issues, period pieces, and the technical aspects of films.
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