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Is ‘The Wonder’ Based on a True Story? Florence Pugh’s Netflix Movie Was Inspired by Fasting Girl Sarah Jacobs

The Wonder, a new Florence Pugh movie that began streaming on Netflix today, is not exactly a cheery holiday watch.

This new historical drama—which is based on the novel of the same name by Emma Donoghue, who also adapted the screenplay—tells the story of an English nurse named Lib (played by Florence Pugh), who is sent to a rural village in 1862 Ireland for a very unusual nursing job. She’s been asked by the Catholic Church to “watch” a young girl, Anna O’Donnell (Kíla Lord Cassidy), who claims to have not eaten in four months, since the day she turned 11. The Catholic Church, looking for a bonafide miracle, wants Nurse Lib to observe Anna to determine whether or not she’s telling the truth.

Directed by Sebastián Lelio, the movie opens with a message: “The people you are about to meet, the characters, believe in their stories with complete devotion.” It’s not exactly a “this is based on a true story” message, but it’s enough to pique audiences’ interest in the real-life tale that inspired the film. Read on to learn more about The Wonder true story.

Is The Wonder based on a true story?

No, in the sense that none of the characters in The Wonder movie or book are based on real people. There was never a real Anna O’Donnell or a real Lib Wright. However, the concept of The Wonder is based on the real phenomenon of “fasting girls,” who were young girls in the Victorian era who claimed to be able to go impossibly long periods of time without needing food.

What is The Wonder true story, and who is Sarah Jacobs?

There are many reported cases of fasting girls, including Sarah Jacob, a Welsh girl who claimed to have not eaten since she turned 10 years old. Jacobs’ story overlaps significantly with The Wonder script; four English nurses were sent to watch Jacobs to see if the family was telling the truth. According to the 1870 report of the trial of Sarah Jacob’s parents, “it was fearlessly asserted that for two years no food whatever had passed her lips, the credulous stopped to inquire, and went forth to see the living wonder,” which might suggest that’s where author Emma Donoghue got her title. Like in the movie, Jacobs died under the watch of the nurses, who pled with the parents to feed their daughter. After her death, officials concluded Jacobs must have been sneaking small amounts of food, prior to the watch. Unlike in the movie, however, the parents faced manslaughter charges.

That said, despite the similarities between the story of Sarah Jacobs and that of Anna O’Donnell in The Wonder, author/screenwriter Donoghue has said the story is not based on one particular case of fasting. “I drew inspiration from details of many of these [real-life] cases,” Donoghue said in a 2016 interview with NPR. “But this is an entirely invented story.” Donoghue went on to say she set the story in Ireland (as opposed to Wales, where Jacobs was from), in order to juxtapose the decision to starve a child with the reality of the Irish famine.

Still, it’s safe to say the real story of Sarah Jacobs was a significant inspiration for The Wonder. You can rest easy knowing the real parents in this story face consequences.

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