On Monday, Lifetime debuted Magic Beyond Words: The J.K. Rowling Story, an honest-to-God biopic starring Poppy Montgomery as the world-famous author back when she was a struggling single mum in Edinburgh. We realized that for all of J.K. Rowling‘s fantastic rags-to-riches story, we didn’t know a lot of the details. Plus, Montgomery is always good for an over-the-top drama. So we settled in to watch and learned a few things about Rowling’s past, plus some advice for aspiring fantasy writers.
You can’t be into fantasy and be a successful student. My main beef with the movie was how the portrayal of Joanne as a child had an almost vengeful aspect to it. Her teachers and her father regularly scold her for having her head in the clouds, telling her that her doodles won’t amount to anything. Since we know how the story ends, these scenes seem tinged with a smug “I told you so!” vibe. But as someone who is struggling with that dynamic of holding down a day job while still writing my own dream book, it’s upsetting to see a movie say you can do only one successfully.
Rowling got the names of her characters from people in her childhood. The writers weren’t much for subtlety, inserting the now-universal character names into Joanne’s classmates and antagonists. I’m not saying that it’s not true, it was just very obvious when we meet someone with the last names of Parkinson or Potter. Also: Apparently all English schoolchildren wear uniforms with crests on them, since you even see one boy sporting what looks like one of Draco Malfoy’s outfits.
Sexism makes you stronger. Bear in mind that this is set in the ’90s, but it was still disturbing to see Joanne’s husband Jorge tell her — at first sweetly, then menacingly — that the woman takes care of the house while the man works to support the family. Later, a social worker in Edinburgh wincingly tells her that she should have considered how poor she would be before leaving the abusive Jorge.