. . . have been a staple of cinema for ever and a day in dramatising the life of a historically-based or non-fictional person or people. Such films show the life of a historical person and they differ from docudrama films and historical drama films in that they attempt to comprehensively tell a single person’s life story or at least the most historically important years of their lives.
Back in the 1930s Warner Bros. embarked on a series of prestige biographical films starring Paul Muni which included The Story Of Louis Pasteur, The Life Of Emile Zola and Juarez. They have dated now and you can almost smell the greasepaint but they were immensely popular at the time.
In the 1940s we saw the emergence of biographical films featuring music composers whether it be classical eg. Chopin in A Song To Remember or contemporary with Cole Porter in Night And Day and Glenn Miller in The Glenn Miller Story; but as accurate representations they were more fiction than non-fiction.
In fact, it’s been a constant criticism of the genre in the way facts are distorted or even invented to serve the film’s narrative. We have seen this recently with the 5th season of the Netflix series The Crown.
One of my favourites in the way it focused on the most important years of a historical person is Franklin J. Schaffers’ Patton released in 1970. The film focused on U.S. General George S. Patton’s years during WWII and starred George C. Scott in the title role in a performance which I rank as one of the top 3 male performances of all-time. Scott totally immersed himself in the role in that he is General George S. Patton.
Because the figures portrayed are actual people, whose actions and characteristics are known to the public (or at least historically documented), biopic roles are considered some of the most demanding of actors and actresses, but are also often the most rewarding as a fair number of such portrayals have seen the winning of the Academy Award for either Best Actor or Best Actress.
A favourite of mine in regards to detailing the life story of a person is Richard Attenborough’s 1992 film Chaplin. Unlike his earlier Gandhi which I found to be a crashing bore, despite Ben Kingsley’s excellent performance, Chaplin is a very entertaining biopic of the legendary film comedian and boasts a superb performance by Robert Downey Jr. as Charlie Chaplin.
Some other favourite biopics of mine I would recommend are Young Winston, La Vie en Rose, Michael Collins and even Bohemian Rhapsody (despite it being wildly inaccurate).
So what favourite biopic films do Cats enjoy ?
40 thoughts on “WolfmanOz at the Movies #46”
Love Patton. I do need to start reading about him as the movie gives an insight into a limited period in his life, albeit a pretty significant one. It would be interesting to learn more about him.
IIRC ZK2A and a few others recommended some books about him once but got carried away with other things.
George C. Scott really put himself into the role. It’s then funny to watch him as Buck Turgidson in Dr Strangelove.
Sorry, “but I got carried away”.
So many wonderful bios. Thanks, Wolfman.
One from many years ago, and again with Kingsley playing a supporting role – Schindler’s List. And more recent – I, Tonya.
You couldn’t get more different subject matter, but the performances of the lead actors were outstanding.
Churchill – Historical Drama, Biography, Film, Biography – 1h 41m – 2017
SBS on Demand
Beleaguered British prime minister Winston Churchill clashes with his political opponents as D-day nears in June 1944. His devoted wife Clementine tries to prevent his physical, mental and spiritual collapse while inspiring him to achieve greatness.
“In fact, it’s been a constant criticism of the genre in the way facts are distorted or even invented to serve the film’s narrative. We have seen this recently with the 5th season of the Netflix series The Crown.”
I can’t bear it when they tinker with history to suit a narrative.
A recent biopic I really liked was Lincoln, made about a decade ago.
I didn’t care much for Lincoln – like Gandhi, very well acted but ponderous and quite dull . . . all IMHO.
Thanks again, Wolfman. It made me think what constitutes a biopic if the film is only loosely based on real people. El Cid, Black Robe and Viva Zapata come to mind. The protagonist in Black Robe is not based on a real person but it seems his boss was. Awesome film.
I thought Mel’s The Passion was excellent….albeit grim.
Does a biopic have to cover a whole life? If not, the best biopic I’ve seen is Pierrepoint, which is about Britain’s last hangman. I also liked The Gathering Storm, with Finney as Churchill. Musical biopics is my pet hate genre.
I’ll sort of second that, Wolfie. Gandhi is long at tedious. Lincoln was okay.
Good point Petros.
I think a film like El Cid isn’t a biopic as it os more a depiction of the legend of the protagonist – albeit the ending is still uplifting and splendidly filmed.
Whereas Viva Zapata ! probably is a biopic but would be classed as one of those films where fiction rides roughshod over the real events.
Of course this is just IMO and anyone can make their own judgments.
Now you got me thinking. Are these biopics: The Favourite, Once upon a time in America, Ray, Catch me if you can, The Aviator, Braveheart, The Downfall?
I rate as Mel’s best film.
Another good film but also very grim – the executions are morbidly fascinating.
Chaplin is great.
Yes, there is much more to Patton’s life! Carlo D’Este’s book “A Genius for War” covers the whole thing, and runs to 950 pages in paperback, when you include the notes at the back. Highly recommended.
Braveheart is very well made but it’s relation to the known events puts it in the real of make believe.
Downfall, for me is one of the few great films of the 21st century, but I’d wouldn’t call it a biopic as it details more the events of those terrible last days of the Third Reich rather than a biopic of Hitler.
Lifetime addiction to musical biopics, starting with “Rhapsody in Blue” about George Gershwin.
What a glorious piece of music is Rhapsody in Blue.
Then there’s the Al Jolson Story, Glenn Miller Story, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Rodgers and Hart, and more lately Coalminers Daughter. While I long for the Doris Day or Rodgers and Hammerstein Stories, I troll around looking for the Gipper and its ilk.
The naivety of the older movies adds to their pleasure, particularly compared to the recent bucket of garbage that masqueraded as an Elvis biography.
One I recall seeing at the pics was A Man For All Seasons which is about Sir Thomas More. Add to it Cromwell with Richard Harris in the lead role for a good brace of historical biopics.
“I didn’t care much for Lincoln – like Gandhi, very well acted but ponderous and quite dull . . . all IMHO.”
You were not the only one however I liked it because it showed what a masterful politician Lincoln was.
I liked STAN & OLLIE (2018) in the way it focused on a very limited period of crisis in Laurel and Hardy’s careers.
LAWRENCE OF ARABIA set the template for a lot of biopics that followed, including GANDHI.
The old time MGM films about Edison were pretty good entertainment; how accurate they were as history is anyone’s guess.
Another couple of bioflicks that I really enjoyed, and both set in recent history – Catch Me if You Can and Apollo 13 (although the latter is more a broad brush across all the astronauts, it concentrates most of its attention on Lovell).
Abagnale had a cameo appearance in CMIYC, and Di Caprio’s performance as the loveable, outrageous conman was very good.
The attention to detail in Apollo13 was terrific too. I’m always on the lookout for costuming and language errors and couldn’t spot a single one.
Chaplin is terrific for about half an hour, but fell away.
A great movie with some cracking sports car racing scenes and a very interesting background story is Ford vs Ferrari.
The actors and the real characters side by side.
Thanks Anchor What.
I have duly noted that book title on Patton.
I was at high school when my mum took us three in the holidays to see:
With a Song in My Heart – The Joan Froman Story.
Soundtract songs from the film starring Susan Hayward.
Its very hard to have a movie covering someone’s life. A small part to convey their essence is enough for me. Modigliani with Andy Garcia. Like BoN, A Man for All Seasons. The Lion in Winter, the only movie I like Kathrine Hepburn in. Quite enjoyed Walk the Line. A Beautiful Mind with Rusty. I thought he was much better than in Gladiator. Resistance, which I saw recently about Marcel Marceau. Donnie Brasco is pretty good. The Girl with the Pearl Earing, about Vermeer. When I watch anything now I think, is this person real, doesn’t matter if some of the story isn’t factual.
I saw this when I was 16 yrs old. It impressed me then. Haven’t seen it since.
A Man Called Peter
“… It shows us events no more spectacular than the preaching of sermons, the doing of good deeds and the bickering of a strong and forthright preacher with the more conservative members of his flock. And yet this CinemaScope picture … has a form and a dramatic cohesion deriving from the magnetism of the leading character that render it much more absorbing than many a heavily plotted film.”
—Bosley Crowther, reviewing A Man Called Peter in The New York Times
Peter Finch in “The Trials of Oscar Wilde”
Film is set around the peak of Wilde’s fame, so not a true biopic
But great with Peter Finch (epitome of magnetism)
The recreation of the legendary 1985 Wombley gig displays some magnificent attention to detail, right down to Freddie’s white adidas wrestling boots (custom made by adidas for the film).
See also: “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll”, with Andy Serkis acting up a storm as Ian Dury.
Young Frankenstein must be up there!
And of course, that immortal classic, The Life of Brian…
I’m with you Wolfie. Patton was a great movie. Loved Ford vs Ferrari too. Didn’t mind Bohemian Rhapsody either. Rami Malek did a magnificent job as Freddie. He is one of my favourite modern actors. Very versatile. Loved him as Snafu in The Pacific.
Agree with everything you said jupes.
I have Patton in my top 50 films of all-time.
King Vidors film on Catherine the Great, Love and Mercy re Brian Wilson part of his life.
The Jonny Cash film with his courting of the Carter girl was good.
Hard to go past Lawrence of Arabia…
Also, The Silent Enemy.
Amadeus? Tom hulchs execrable portrayal of Mozart was thankfully overwhelmed by the music.
The Biopic on the vicious Virgil Stockwell in Woody Allen’s “Take the Money and Run”
I would say Cobb  about the Tigers Legend is my fave Biopic
I agree, particularly when it is gross and the narrative is a ‘woke’ one.
At other times, it is to be expected, as the biopic is a recreation that will inevitably have some elements of interpretation, even with recent history, as in Series 5 of The Crown, which I thought added an unusual and thought provoking dimension. I also liked the way they did that with The King’s Speech, where Geoffrey Rush played a good part as the uncredentialled Aussie. The Queen Mum as a young woman in that was a giggle and a hoot. Very enjoyable. Absolutely awful though in a recent TV series (or movie?), which I haven’t seen because I couldn’t stomach it, was making Ann Boleyn a dark-skinned ‘woman of colour’. Unrealistic and unnecessary. It adds nothing, and confuses much.
I’ve just read a review in the Speccie, catching up on Oct 15th issue, of a new movie on the life of Emily Bronte, who died aged thirty, apparently with nothing much in her life to explain the inner life that produced ‘Wuthering Heights’. Thus this movie invents a few things to explain how Emily’s experience may have been enlarged by some opium, a visit to Branwell’s pub and a local curate.
I haven’t seen it so can’t really say, but I’ve been to that Parsonage and felt there was enough spooky power in its desolate walls to encourage a hearty inner life without the help of drugs and sex.
Agree with Calli about I, Tonya. A terrific performance about a shocking well-documented event, filling in some blanks about it. I really go for biopics. Love ’em.
Thank you Woolfman for the effort you put into your movie analysis and reviews.
You should publish them. I am sure there would be a market for a money-spinner from you there.
Perhaps you could include some of the Cat comments in summary to indicate how other felt too. A sort of mini-survey for other to enjoy. Not everything has to be online. Talk to a publisher maybe?
that ‘s’ on others got lost twice!!