Biopics are always a popular subject for movies, and there must have been thousands made over the years. Singers, actors, kings, warriors – now admittedly, some of these are definitely more fictionalised than others. Some of the ‘characters’ are so fascinating that you couldn’t make them up. Here are some of my favourite biopics.
This is certainly the most unusual biopic of the many that I’ve seen. Singer/songwriter Serge Gainsbourg’s fascinating life and career is given a far from conventional treatment that encapsulates his nonconformist spirit. The film takes a bit of getting used to in the way that it employs the use of a giant caricature to represent Gainsbourg’s alter ego, but does him full justice.
‘Chaplin’ is my joint favourite biopic along with Gainsbourg, both being about creative people that I greatly admire. Robert Downey Jr portrays Chaplin so well that he was even able to recreate some of the comedian’s most famous scenes. A simply wonderful film and performance.
3. Walk the Line
It’s rather surprising that, given his long and illustrious career, that it took so long to make a film about singer Johnny Cash – unless the filmmakers preferred to wait until Cash was no longer with us. Joaquin Phoenix gave an acclaimed performance as Cash, with praise also for Reese Witherspoon (who I normally find quite irritating) as his wife June.
4. My Left Foot
This astonishingly moving film about artist and writer Christy Brown, who suffered from cerebral palsy, succeeded in makng an impact without being sentimental. Some think that only disabled actors should play disabled characters – in that case I suggest that they watch Daniel Day Lewis’s performance as Christy. Brenda Fricker is also amazing as his mother.
5. Ed Wood
For those of you who’ve never had the, erm, pleasure of sitting through the low-budget sci-fi epic that is ‘Plan 9 From Outer Space’, Ed Wood was a fifties filmmaker who is generally regarded as the worst director of all time. In this biopic, Wood is played by Johnny Depp as an exuberant man with an unshakeable determination to make movies. Oh, and he likes to dress up in women’s clothing as well, which probably didn’t help his reputation.
The story of Mozart is a sumptous visual feast of 18th century courts and opera houses. Tom Hulce’s giggling, vulgar Mozart does not exactly endear himself to some members of polite society, but genius can be forgiven a great deal. Except by his jealous rival, court composer Salieri …
7. The Madness of King George
Yes, the film about the one who lost the colonies. Supposedly the title was changed from that of the play it was based on (The Madness of George III), as Americans would have thought it was ‘The Madness of George, part III). I’m not convinced, but it is a funny story. Anyway, wonderful performances from Nigel Hawthorne as the King, and Helen Mirren as his devoted wife Queen Charlotte.
8. The Motorcycle Diaries
OK, hands up, how many people only watched this because Gael Garcia Bernal was in it? If you haven’t seen it, and you can handle subtitles, watch this beautifully shot film about the young Che Guevara, before he became the t-shirt cliché. Great performances.
What do you consider most important in a biopic – accuracy, dramatic impact, or capturing the spirit of its subject? Which is your favourite film in this genre? Are there any that you thought got it hopelessly wrong?
Top Photo Credit: Leandro Pena