The best Biographical films
Not only is the excellent The Flying Scotsman (Filmstalker review) out this week in the UK but there are a few different Sammy Davis Jr. biographical films in development, the Edith Piaf film on release, Che Guevara biographical films in production, and there are many more on the way.
That got me thinking about all the biographies on screen over the years, what makes a good biographical film, and which are the best and worst. Which are yours, and what people would you like to see get their biographies on screen?
&Just released this weekend is the superb The Flying Scotsman, a film that you really should see, it's not a film just about cycling so much, it's more about triumph over adversity, and it's excellent for it.
It tells the story of Graeme Obree, the Scottish cycling hero who won medals and broke records time and time again using a hand built bike, part of which came from his washing machine drum. However every achievement riled the governing body of the sport and rules changed, exclusions were made, obstacles galore were put in his place and they weren't just all external. All the while he struggled with a deep depression.
After the recent Flying Scotsman I started thinking about other true stories, and as you start thinking of some, more and more pop out. The ones that came to mind for me, and in no particular order are:
Instantly there's something amiss with that list, the majority is about individuals, and yet films such as Thirteen Days, Downfall and Shackleton are about groups of individuals and specific events in their lives, and yet they reveal so much about one person and are tied with that name.
Thirteen Days is about the Cuban Missile Crisis and the many people involved, but I think it shows so much about John F. Kennedy and his relationship with his brother and country that it is more like a biography, albeit one with a shorter time frame.
Does that class as a biography then? I think it does. What other biographical films can you think of which aren't necessarily straight retellings of someone's life?
Although there is a Margaret Thatcher film coming, it is only focusing on the seventeen days lead up to the Falkands War. I do believe that she would make for a great, complete biography. She built herself up from the daughter of a Greengrocer to the leader of Britain as its first female Prime Mininister, and throughout her career she battled the male institution and came through several key historical moments.
Ronald Reagan would be another great biography. His time as US President saw many historical moments too, not least the signing of one of the most important documents of all time, the disarmament agreement with Russia.
Other people I'd like to see biographies of are Steve McQueen, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, names in the entertainment spotlight. Then there are sporting icons such as Stirling Moss or Ayton Senna, or historical figures such as Barnes Wallis or Edmund Hilary.
There's an identifiable type of person that makes for a good biographical work, and if their life matches many of these elements then there is plenty of scope for a film about them. Here's what I think makes up that list.
People who have participated in shaping events as well as leading the way, people who have suffered adversity, failure and triumph. People who's lives give us something to aspire to, something to believe in while ours remain personally uninspiring and unfulfilling.
All that said they need to have had some form of tragedy, personal darkness and doubt, or controversy in their life. Once you have these a biography is not far away, and you can see them all in The Flying Scotsman and other films above.
Who do you think would be suited to a biography and why? Which biographies have you really enjoyed so far? Perhaps there are even some names that shouldn't have their stories told?