Movies & Television

Is Netflix's The Wonder Based on a True Story?

We may be heading into the holiday season, but fans of rich mysteries still have a few indulges left to watch before the year is out, including Netflix’s intriguing feature film led by Florence Pugh. We reveal if The Wonder is based on a true story or a book.

Even though The Wonder is not put in the horror category, it still carries the same air as folk horrors, such as The Wicker Man, Apostle, and Pugh’s own Midsommar.

Directed by Sebastián Lelio, the period drama The Wonder follows Nurse Lib Wright, who is asked to tend to a girl who has not eaten for months within a rural village in 1862 Ireland, starring Pugh, Tom Burke, Elaine Cassidy, Kíla Lord Cassidy, Niamh Algar, Toby Jones, and Ciarán Hinds.

The Wonder | Official Trailer | Netflix

The Wonder | Official Trailer | Netflix

Is The Wonder Based on a True Story or a Book?

Both. The Wonder is based on the 2016 book of the same name by Irish-Canadian writer Emma Donoghue – who also wrote Room – which in turn, was inspired by a true story.

Inspired by a real-life wonder, Collider reported that Donoghue took inspiration from the social phenomenon known as the “Welsh fasting girls.”

Based on many tales, The Wonder was influenced by this group of young girls who claimed they were able to go without eating for months. One Welsh girl, Sarah Jacob, actually died of starvation in 1869.

To the praise of Donoghue’s writing, The Wonder was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize.

The Wonder – Cr. Aidan Monaghan/Netflix © 2022

Pugh’s Nurse Lib Wright is Also Inspired by the Fasting Girls

Speaking to NPR in 2016, Donoghue explained The Wonder’s lead character played by Pugh, and how her nurse was more of a guard than a medical asset:

“I knew that this nurse would be in the very peculiar position of being hired as kind of a jailer. And this part of the novel was inspired by several real cases where a staff of hired watchers were brought in to make sure that the faster wasn’t eating. And I thought this put a trained nurse in a very peculiar position where she really wasn’t nursing. She was guarding.”  

As stated, Nurse Wright is a projection of the various nurses and doctors who were tasked with watching over the fasting girls to make sure they were eating.

The Wonder – Cr. Aidan Monaghan/Netflix © 2022

The Wonder is Set After Ireland’s Great Famine

Within the same interview, Donaghue explained that The Wonder was “entirely invented” but confirmed her inspiration from these tales and also reasoned her decision to set the story after the Great Famine:

“That allowed me to set it in the context that I found richest for this kind of story. I set in my homeland of Ireland but in the decade after our Great Famine because I wanted to set the idea of voluntary starving against the appalling context of involuntary starving. And I also wanted to draw on the cultural background that I know best, which is Irish Catholicism.”

Ireland’s beautiful expanse also lends the mystery its sense of isolation while this peculiar case is being explored.

The Wonder – Cr. Aidan Monaghan/Netflix © 2022

By Jo Craig – [email protected]

The Wonder releases Wednesday, November 16, 2022, on Netflix.

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Jo Craig

Being a pop culture writer and a proud geek of all trades, Jo loves to dissect fandoms and marvel at their insides. The entirety of The Lord of the Rings, superhero origins, the Ghost of Tsushima score, the Wings of Freedom, and the endless search for a sleepy Tyranitar are but a few of Jo's passions, with a penchant for contributing to the geek culture community.

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