x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Real life dramas over film biographies

An eight-hour mini-series on the life of John F Kennedy is the latest biopic to run into controversy.

Greg Kinnear is cast to play JFK in an eight-hour mini-series which has already drawn criticism.
Greg Kinnear is cast to play JFK in an eight-hour mini-series which has already drawn criticism.

Katie Holmes, the former star of Dawson's Creek and current wife of Tom Cruise, is set to play America's most famous first lady, once considered the most fashionable women in the world, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, in an eight-hour mini-series. The decision to cast Holmes has already kicked up a bit of a fuss, among fashion-watchers who claim that she is not worthy of the plum role. But that's not the most controversial aspect of the series, which will also star Greg Kinnear as President Kennedy. Created by Joel Surnow, the man behind 24, it has already come under heavy fire from liberals who contend it will present a biased and unflattering portrait of Kennedy's presidency and personal life.

It's not the first time that a dramatised biography has proven controversial. The stories of well-known personalities are popular fodder for both the small and silver screen, and many go on to achieve huge success both critically and commercially. But inevitably, there is often disagreement over whether the version of events they present is accurate, or whether artistic licence has distorted the truth.

One of the most successful biographies to ever hit cinemas is David Lean's 1965 epic, Lawrence of Arabia, starring Peter O'Toole as TE Lawrence. Widely considered one of the greatest and most influential movies in film history, it looks at Lawrence's life while in the Middle East during the First World War, and his involvement in the Arab National Council. But despite racking up 10 Oscar nominations (and going on to win seven, including the Best Picture and Best Director gongs), the film also courted controversy for plot inaccuracies. The height difference between O' Toole and Lawrence (O'Toole was nine inches taller) caused minor debate, but it was the portrayal of Lawrence as an egotist that caused the most consternation among those familiar with the notoriously shy man.

Far less controversial was Gandhi (1982), starring Ben Kingsley. A resounding success upon its release, the movie earned Richard Attenborough and Kingsley the Best Director and Best Actor Oscars, respectively, at the 1982 ceremony. The movie, which begins with Gandhi's assassination in 1948, follows the life of the pre-eminent spiritual and political leader of India during the independence movement to end British colonial rule.

Attenborough also scored with Chaplin (1992), which starred Robert Downey Jr as the silent film star. The film was nominated for several awards, winning the Best Actor BAFTA for Downey Jr. Although some felt the film was not revealing enough about Chaplin, Downey Jr was highly praised for his role. Shadowlands, Attenborough's 1993 film, focused on the personal life of the British author CS Lewis, writer of the Narnia books, also performed well. Starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger, the movie was nominated for several major awards, and was a success with critics the world over.

Unfortunately, Hopkins couldn't replicate the success with the later biopic, Surviving Picasso (1996), which focused on the artist's personal life - as told through the eyes of one of his girlfriends - but was not a critical success. Finding the right actor to cast in the role of a real-life famous person is always tricky. Todd Haynes found a neat way round the problem for his Bob Dylan biopic from 2007 I'm Not There.

Haynes decided to hire six actors - with each portraying the singer at different stages in his life. The movie gained mostly favourable reviews, with Cate Blanchett, who portrayed Dylan circa 1966, picking up several nominations for her role. In addition, Haynes was awarded the Special Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival the same year. There are plenty more biopics to come. Last month, Sharon Osbourne revealed plans for a film about her husband Ozzy, with an unknown actor playing the lead role.

A film about the life of Steve McQueen is in the works, with Brad Pitt rumoured to play the late actor, and projects on the legendary footballer Pele and the civil rights activist César Chávez are also due to go into production. Undoubtedly, there's plenty more controversy to come as well.