Film Club #4: Biopics

Michael Prescott
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Hitler, Freud, Thatcher, Liberace, Hitchcock, Nixon, Capote, Capone, Clough, Dylan, Mandela, Ali, Monroe.

No, these aren’t early Halloween fancy dress suggestions. All of these people have been captured throughout film’s illustrious history alongside a great many more by virtue of that tricky sub-genre, the biopic.

And that’s our theme for this week’s Film Club. With the Julian Assange-focused drama The Fifth Estate released in cinemas yesterday – not to mention Diana and Rush recently, as well as the likes of Saving Mr. Banks soon to come (featuring Tom Hanks as Walt Disney) – it’s an appropriate time to turn our attentions to our favourites.

Note that these are accounts of famed individuals rather than those “based on a true story” tales which stem from events rather than already-notorious people (e.g. Eight Men Out or Argo), and neither are we looking at doc-biopics.

With that in mind, we’ve got musicians, directors, entrepreneurs, activists and more from myself and three other Vada film writers, spanning various decades between the 20th and 21st centuries, covering a whole host of legendary figures.


Frazer Lough

Biopics are possibly the genre of film that is always the most hit-and-miss in my eyes. However, many of my favourite films come from this genre. Without a doubt my favourite biopic has to be Walk the Line.

As a huge Johnny Cash fan it would be rude not to enjoy this film. Looking at his early career and relationship with June Carter it truly hits the mark. Both Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon fitting the roles perfectly, the latter went on to win an Oscar and several other awards for her performance.

It is clear that the success of this film is aided by the superb acting, and features a mix of some of my favourite songs too.

Jack Sadler

The titular objects in Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly refer to the two states of being of ELLE editor-in-chief, Jean-Dominique Bauby, who at 43 suffered a massive stroke and lived the rest of his years ‘locked’ in his own body. The diving bell is his body – heavy and cumbersome – but the butterfly is his spirit, unrestricted and limitless. Touching and harrowing, the film is a terrific look at one man’s incredible triumph over adversity.

With a brilliant performance from Johnny Depp in the eponymous role, Tim Burton’s Ed Wood may just be the director’s masterpiece. An analysis of the “Worst Director of All Time”, Burton’s film is arty, camp and fun. A remarkably personal picture (for both Burton and Wood), it succeeds through not mocking its subject.

My final choices are The Social Network for its sheer ingenuity in storytelling (and that score) and Walk the Line, because… Johnny Cash.

Michael Prescott

First up is Good Night, and Good Luck.which is George Clooney’s second film as a director. It’s a biopic explicitly focusing on broadcaster Edward R. Murrow’s determination to expose the off-screen Joseph McCarthy as he continues his war on Communism. Robert Downey Jr., Frank Langella, Jeff Daniels and Clooney himself take back seats in this atmospheric re-telling of a gentle yet powerful political drama, as the lesser-known David Strathairn excels as Murrow.

Secondly, You Don’t Know JackA little-known TV movie starring Al Pacino as Jack Kevorkian – aka Dr. Death – released in 2010, just a year before his own passing. Pacino’s best performance in years is painful viewing as we follow Kevorkian’s resolute beliefs in practice.

Last up, it’s David Fincher’s sensational Zodiac. Chronicling the hunt to unmask the Zodiac killer – a search that spans decades – the film focuses in on the theme of obsession over its warranted 150 minutes. It’s a fantastic mystery-thriller that evokes classics like All the President’s Men, and has sections – one in particular towards the end – which is creepy, tense and scarier than most horrors.

Raks Patel

I have chosen to write about three biographical films which feature my own personal real life heroes from the 20th century, and they are Lawrence of Arabia starring Peter O’Toole and directed by David Lean, Gandhi starring Ben Kingsley and directed by Richard Attenborough, and Milk starring Sean Penn and directed by Gus Van Sant.

All three films show incredibly charismatic individuals, who became figureheads and galvanized significant political movements – Lawrence for the Arab Revolt, Gandhi for Indian Independence, and Milk for LGBT rights. They all contain very powerful central performances from the lead actor (Ben Kingsley and Sean Penn won Best Actor Oscars for their performances).

All three films document the very high personal price paid and sacrifices made for the cause by the three individuals. Tragically, all three lives were cut short – Lawrence due to an accident/suicide, and Gandhi and Milk were assassinated. That is our loss.

About Michael Prescott

24-year-old Welsh writer on all things film. Background in Philosophy. Accidentally in Sheffield for 6 years and counting. Addicted to Kevin Spacey. Tweetable: @M_S_Prescott

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