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The Elephant Man, My Favourite Film That Was Based on a True Life Story

Thinking about the above question, which was asked in the forums, set me thinking. Although I have seen many such films over the years one sprang instantly to my mind.

The film in question is The Elephant Man and is based on the life of Joseph Merrick. The lead role is played by John Hurt and the character in the movie is called John Merrick.

This film is not new but it made such a lasting impression on me, when I first saw it back in the early 80s, that I still find it inspirational.

Actual photos of the Elephant Man

Actual photos of the Elephant Man

The movie The Elephant Man was released in 1980. It was filmed in black and white which added to its atmospheric and authentic style.

The lead role was played by John Hurt but the cast was full of notable actors. Sir Anthony Hopkins in the days pre his knighthood, played the kindly Doctor who offered hope to Merrick. The Elephant Man was directed by David Lynch and the cast included Anne Bancroft, John Gielgud, Michael Elphick, Hannah Gordon, Wendy Hiller, Lesley Dunlop, Patricia Hodge, Pauline Quirke and many more.

The tale

John Merrick is terribly deformed. As he has grown from a boy to a man these deformities have worsened. He lives a pathetic life hidden from the staring eyes of other people.

Set in Victorian England Joseph Merrick struggles to survive.

The real Elephant Man, Joseph Merrick, is thought to have suffered from a rare bone disease called Proteus Syndrome, which even today is incurable. Much as some people are very cruel these days, on the whole people's attitudes have improved. Back in England in the 1800s physical and or mental impairment was often ridiculed. With little in the way of Social Services support or financial help Joseph must have suffered greatly.

The Elephant Man manages to evoke many feelings such as empathy, sadness, pity and admiration. Yes, this is partially down to the admirable cast and director but, so much is simply because this true story is inspirational.

Treat abominably at times Merrick ends up under the wing of kindly Doctor Treves, played by Anthony Hopkins. As his life changes Merrick is feted by the high society of London and becomes friends with English Royalty.


I have written only briefly about the substance of this movie, so as not to spoil your viewing experience.

The film is an emotional roller-coaster and, as you can imagine, shows many acts of cruelty against Mr Merrick. Living a reclusive life Mr Merrick struggles to simply survive.

However it is widely reported that, as in the film, the Elephant Man remained positive and upbeat whenever possible. He was what is widely termed a character.

Watching this film for the first time is a moving experience. The acting and make-up are so very good that the film soon draws you in. Imagining what it must have been like to live with such disfigurements and pain is hard to understand these days. Even simple medication was very basic back then.

Why is this my favourite film based on a true story?

Out of all the films that fit into this category this movie has everything for me. It is beautifully filmed and directed, is atmospheric, has a great cast who all play their parts to perfection and tells the tale of one man who has received such a poor deal of life's hand but yet maintains a quiet dignity throughout his torments. Among the sadness of this film there is humour and hope.

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Is there any wonder that, more than a hundred years later, the story of the real Elephant Man, Joseph Merrick, continues to amaze and inspire people around the world?

The Elephant Man-I am not an animal!


Ethel Smith (author) from Kingston-Upon-Hull on May 22, 2011:

It must have been John. People were not so enlightened back then though some aren't these days either

John Sarkis from Winter Haven, FL on May 22, 2011:

I know this is a great film, but it's so sad; I cry every time I watch it. It must have been difficult for the person whom the film was based on.

Great hub - thanks!

ruffridyer from Dayton, ohio on May 01, 2011:

I find it interesting that the movie was produced by Mel Brooks. Better known for comedy, also this may be the only David Lynch movie that makes sense.

TheHubKing from Philippines on November 11, 2010:

I haven't watched the movie yet but I've read the book. Well, after reading this, I'll probably check it out if a DVD is available at my favorite video store..:)

Eileen Hughes from Northam Western Australia on December 18, 2009:

that was a great film, they had a piece on tv last month about a doctor who went to a country with several of these diseased people. He tried to help them.

He operated on one that had a lot of growths (not right word) and removed the worst ones that caused him most problems.

These people were employed in circus, and when you think that was the only way they could earn a living for there family it makes you weep. Yes great movie ethel thanks

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on November 16, 2009:

I never saw the film but from your review I must make a point of seeing it sometime. What a horrific disease!

Ethel Smith (author) from Kingston-Upon-Hull on November 16, 2009:

Will do!

Holle Abee from Georgia on November 15, 2009:

LEt me know if you find out about the poetry!

Ethel Smith (author) from Kingston-Upon-Hull on November 15, 2009:

I don't know. Writing this hub though has refreshed my interest in this great guy so I will be checking that out

Holle Abee from Georgia on November 15, 2009:

I love this film! I read somewhere that Merrick was a poet. Do you know anything about this?

Great hub!

Tony McGregor from South Africa on November 13, 2009:

Thanks for the reminder of a great film. I found it very moving. Haven't seen it in years, though.

Love and peace


Ethel Smith (author) from Kingston-Upon-Hull on November 12, 2009:

Yes shinkicker I have read that as well. He would not have had much of a life though either way, would he. Love your HubPages name by the way.

Shinkicker from Scotland on November 12, 2009:

Enjoyed your article, a memorable film indeed but do you know that Merrick is said to have actually exploited his condition. Seems he was a bit enterprising and took advantage of the popularity of sideshows in England to make a good bit of money before they were outlawed.

Ethel Smith (author) from Kingston-Upon-Hull on November 11, 2009:

I know what you mean mcrayne

rmcrayne from San Antonio Texas on November 11, 2009:

Very nice piece ethel. I remember seeing the movie a couple years later, when it was on TV. I recall it as being difficult to watch. With such emotion evoked, it's not the kind of movie I would want to watch again any time soon.

on November 10, 2009:

very good article Ethel!! horrible disease/I don't remember this film but i have always loved the one with Cher called Mask...always makes me cry

Ethel Smith (author) from Kingston-Upon-Hull on November 10, 2009:

You will enjoy it Lady E although enjoy is a strange word to use. This film is so very sad in parts

Elena from London, UK on November 10, 2009:

I have heard a lot about the Elephant man and people using his name to ridicule others, but have never seen the film. It must be quite emotional, one that would make one's eyes well up.

Thanks for answering my question. I enjoyed reading this Hub. I will watch the film sometime. Anthony Hopkins is a great Actor, so I'm looking forward to it.


Ethel Smith (author) from Kingston-Upon-Hull on November 10, 2009:

Thanks guys. It is well worth a watch Ralph.

As you say there are plenty more but The elephant man is very memorable.

Ralph Deeds from Birmingham, Michigan on November 10, 2009:

Thanks. I missed "The Elephant Man." Your review reminded me to watch it. Sometimes films based on true stories are outstanding--"Elmer Gantry" is one that comes to mind. There are plenty more.

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