x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Five must-see movies based on real women

There's more than The Lady and My Week with Marilyn – Kaleem Aftab picks five must-see movies based on real women.

Julia Roberts and Albert Finney in Erin Brockovich. Courtesy Everett Collection
Julia Roberts and Albert Finney in Erin Brockovich. Courtesy Everett Collection

Traditionally, biopics about women are as rare as seeing a woman official at a football match. But that's been changing during the past decade and biopics about women are becoming en vogue. Actresses have been picking up Oscars for playing real life people, the latest being Meryl Streep (again) as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. This week sees the release of The Lady, in the UAE, starring Michelle Yeoh as the Myanmar dissident Aung San Suu Kyi, which comes hot on the heels of Michelle Williams playing Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn. We look at some of the finest films made about real-life women.

Erin Brockovich (2000)

An unusual biopic in that the film made the real-life personality a household name. Not many people had heard of Erin Brockovich before Julia Roberts acted her way to an Oscar in Steven Soderbergh's excellent film. File clerk Brockovich was the most unlikely candidate to be a whistle-blower: a twice-divorced mother of three with an uncouth sense of style. Yet, she helped blow the lid on Pacific Gas and Electric, a US$30 billion (Dh110bn) company that contaminated the water in California and tried to cover it up. Roberts performs like she's never done before - brash, overt and stubborn.

What's Love Got To Do With It? (1993)

Musicians make great subjects for biopics. The soundtracks are familiar, the personalities are always a draw and let's face it, there aren't many things cooler than the life of a rock star. Then we watch their biopics and discover a life just as full of emotional upheaval as our own. Angela Bassett is in top form in this harrowing and uncompromising biopic of Tina Turner. Brian Gibson's film concentrates on the singer's tumultuous relationship with Ike Turner.

The Queen (2006)

Helen Mirren excels as the reigning British monarch Queen Elizabeth II. Set in the aftermath of Princess Diana's death and Tony Blair's election as prime minister in 1997, Stephen Frears's movie shows the wily nature of the queen. Mirren's performance won her an Oscar, but more so demonstrated why the queen was afforded so much affection during the recent diamond jubilee celebrations.

Out of Africa (1985)

Sydney Pollack's stirring adaptation of Karen Blixen's 1937 memoir, about her years spent managing a coffee farm in the highlands of British East Africa, is best remembered for the performances of Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. It's one for fans of weepies rather than of accurate historical dramas.

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

One of the first biopics centred on a woman and still one of the best. The Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer's silent film focuses on the trial of Joan of Arc, in which she is charged with heresy and is called to recant her claims of having holy visions. Renée Maria Falconetti only acted in this one film, yet it's hard to argue with the film critic Pauline Kael's assessment that "it may be the finest performance ever recorded on film".