x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Not so bad after all?

New films depict Lady Margaret Thatcher and J Edgar Hoover with remarkable sympathy. In future there will be many such characters for film-makers to "improve".

History is unforgiving, but Hollywood, it seems, is far less so.

Meryl Streep, in The Iron Lady, and Leonardo DiCaprio, in J Edgar, have received rave reviews for their sympathetic turns as Margaret Thatcher and J Edgar Hoover, figures not generally known for their lovable personalities.

The Guardian called Streep's performance "astonishing and all but flawless." US film critic Roger Ebert said DiCaprio had delivered a "fully-realised, subtle and persuasive performance, hinting at more than Hoover ever revealed, perhaps even to himself".

It is not the first time that historically contentious figures have been given a cinematic shot at redemption. Oliver Stone's takes on both Richard Nixon and George W Bush were unquestionably generous. And Downfall, the acclaimed German film covering Adolf Hitler's last days, almost managed the impossible, prompting the newspaper Bild to ask "Are we allowed to show the monster as a human being?"

This could be a growth industry. Current global unrest promsies to bring filmmakers plenty more unpopular figures to re-discover soon: Silvio Berlusconi, Hosni Mubarak, even Bernie Madoff?

Some reputations, however, are clearly beyond salvage. Not even the world's greatest directors could elicit a heart-warmingly revisionist portrayal of a certain Osama bin Laden.