Unsung Auteurs: Lucinda Coxon

August 31, 2023
FilmInk salutes the work of creatives who have never truly received the credit that they deserve. In this installment: screenwriter Lucinda Coxon, who penned The Danish Girl and The Little Stranger.

With the writers’ strike currently raging in the US, we’re showing solidarity by focusing on screenwriters in the Unsung Auteurs column. In the world of theatre, the writer is king, recognised and celebrated as a work’s author, and receiving poster credit more prominent than just about anyone else, even high-profile actors taking an on-stage detour between movies. Though writers never receive the same kind of adulation in the world of cinema, there is an undeniable bridge between the mediums of theatre and film, and many playwrights have successfully moved across the two, including Lucinda Roxon.

Born in 1962 in Derby, England, Lucinda Coxon had long considered a career in theatre. “I loved hanging out in theatres,” Coxon told Script Mag in 2016. “I worked in my local rep throughout my teenage years, as a dresser and so on… anything they’d let me do, really. I wanted a future in that environment, but I didn’t think of writing. I didn’t know any writers, and I saw very little new work. I had to reject acting and directing before the penny finally dropped. I think having acted, even at a very junior level, is really important. You need to weigh a line in your mouth, not just in your mind.”

Lucinda Coxon

Once Coxon had truly set her mind on writing, she bundled out a collection of fine work, with plays like Improbabilities, Waiting At The Water’s Edge, Three Graces, Nostalgia and more staged in some of England’s most prestigious theatres. Coxon’s skills were soon noted by movie producers, and she was tapped to adapt Rosamond Lehmann’s novel The Heart Of Me, an unconventional period tale of two women who fall for the same man. Though Coxon skillfully elucidated the themes of the novel, and Paul Bettany, Helena Bonham Carter and Olivia Williams all delivered typically strong performances, the 2002 film failed to make much of an impact.

Moving back and forth between theatre and film, Coxon was again tapped for an adaptation, this time of French-based filmmaker Pierre Salvadori’s 1993 hit, Wild Target, in which a beautiful thief gets in the way of a hitman’s retirement. Though entertaining and stylishly written by Coxon, Jonathan Lynn’s Wild Target didn’t measure up to the original, despite its strong cast (Bill Nighy, Emily Blunt, Rupert Grint) and fine line in quirky humour. Coxon expertly shifted gears for the 2011 TV mini-series The Crimson Petal And The White, on which she shared screenwriting duties with the source novel’s author, Michael Faber.

Alicia Vikander and Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl.

On a project that took eleven years, Coxon’s most well-known big screen credit is undoubtedly the Oscar winning 2015 drama The Danish Girl, which saw a flurry of different directors and stars attached, but very strangely, only one writer, in the form of Lucinda Coxon, who was grabbed by producers Gail Mutrux and Linda Reisman in 2004, not long after the release of her first scripted feature, The Heart Of Me. Coxon stayed with the project, adapting David Ebershoff’s novel based on the life of artist and trans pioneer Lili Elbe. Though it would end up garnering much acclaim and winning many awards, what would eventually become 2015’s The Danish Girl (in which Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander starred for director Tom Hooper) experienced a very long journey to the screen. “It seemed such an unusual story, because Lili was a pioneer,” Coxon told Variety. “It was also a remarkable love story, set in a fascinating period. I loved the idea and leapt at it, and assumed everyone else would as well. I thought ‘What could go wrong?’” Eleven years after being brought on to adapt the book, Coxon was still there to enjoy the film’s success, with her screenplay an essential element of this graceful, emotionally resonant work.

With her latest credit an adaptation of Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger (directed by Lenny Abrahamson and starring Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson and Will Poulter), Lucinda Coxon is shaping up as one of English cinema’s key adaptors. “The hardest part is being brutal about leaving things out,” Coxon told Script Mag in 2016. “I still sometimes struggle with that, but I’m more realistic. I can let elements sit in the script and inform it for a while, but there’s a moment where you accept that something will never actually be in the film. It’s always a sad relief once you’ve hit ‘delete.’”

If you liked this story, check out our features on other unsung auteurs Ernest Tidyman, Shauna CrossTroy Kennedy MartinKelly MarcelAlan SharpLeslie DixonJeremy PodeswaFerd & Beverly SebastianAnthony PageJulie GavrasTed PostSarah JacobsonAnton CorbijnGillian RobespierreBrandon CronenbergLaszlo NemesAyelat MenahemiIvan TorsAmanda King & Fabio CavadiniCathy HenkelColin HigginsPaul McGuiganRose BoschDan GilroyTanya WexlerClio BarnardRobert AldrichMaya ForbesSteven KastrissiosTalya LavieMichael RoweRebecca CremonaStephen HopkinsTony BillSarah GavronMartin DavidsonFran Rubel KuzuiElliot SilversteinLiz GarbusVictor FlemingBarbara PeetersRobert BentonLynn SheltonTom GriesRanda HainesLeslie H. MartinsonNancy Kelly, Paul NewmanBrett Haley, Lynne Ramsay, Vernon ZimmermanLisa CholodenkoRobert GreenwaldPhyllida LloydMilton KatselasKaryn KusamaSeijun SuzukiAlbert PyunCherie NowlanSteve BinderJack CardiffAnne Fletcher ,Bobcat GoldthwaitDonna DeitchFrank PiersonAnn TurnerJerry SchatzbergAntonia BirdJack SmightMarielle HellerJames GlickenhausEuzhan PalcyBill L. NortonLarysa KondrackiMel StuartNanette BursteinGeorge ArmitageMary LambertJames FoleyLewis John CarlinoDebra GranikTaylor SheridanLaurie CollyerJay RoachBarbara KoppleJohn D. HancockSara ColangeloMichael Lindsay-HoggJoyce ChopraMike NewellGina Prince-BythewoodJohn Lee HancockAllison AndersDaniel Petrie Sr.Katt SheaFrank PerryAmy Holden JonesStuart RosenbergPenelope SpheerisCharles B. PierceTamra DavisNorman TaurogJennifer LeePaul WendkosMarisa SilverJohn MackenzieIda LupinoJohn V. SotoMartha Coolidge, Peter HyamsTim Hunter, Stephanie RothmanBetty ThomasJohn FlynnLizzie BordenLionel JeffriesLexi AlexanderAlkinos TsilimidosStewart RaffillLamont JohnsonMaggie Greenwald and Tamara Jenkins.