Biographical movies are a very popular genre in the movie industry. Who doesn’t like watching an emotive story that has extra gravity because the events actually happened and the people actually existed?
The problem with Hollywood biographical movies though, even those reportedly based on true stories, is how accurate they are. Sometimes, film-makers distort the truth to make a better story. At the same time, some others omit details for purely editing reasons to get to the main plot line. Not all inaccurate films are deliberately meant to butcher history.
In the following article, therefore, we have done our level best to choose the popular biographical movies that are most historically accurate. We will especially highlight what we can learn about history and life from them, without giving any spoilers away.
Directed by legendary film-maker Steven Spielberg, Schindler’s List was released in 1993. It is a period drama set during the Second World War.
The film is about a German member of the Nazi Party called Oskar Schindler (played wonderfully by Liam Neeson). After witnessing a massacre that takes place in the Krakow Ghetto, he changes the focus of his life from trying to get rich to trying to save as many people as possible. The film is a fairly accurate and honest portrayal of life for Jews during the Holocaust. Besides that, it touches on the themes of good versus evil and redemption.
As a gift, the survivors gave Oskar Schindler a signed statement that highlighted and proved his role in saving the lives of Jewish people. They also gave him a ring with the inscription in Talmudic ‘Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire‘. The interesting thing is that although Schindler was incredibly touched by this, it makes him sad because he feels he could have done so much more.
For me, the main lesson has always been from this movie that even in one of the darkest periods of human history, one person’s decision to do something different and try to do the right thing saved lives.
Selma is a historical drama based on the voting rights marches from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 led by John Lewis, Martin Luther King Jr., Hosea Williams and James Bevel. The film was written by Paul Webb and directed by Ava DuVernay.
This is by no means an easy film to watch. However, it helps to shine a light on the work that Dr. King and others put into the campaign for voting rights for African Americans. This is an inspirational and incredibly important film, given events in recent years in America. It shows the fight for equality and the cost that is often paid.
That really should have been the turning point, all these many decades on from the events depicted in the film. All it reminds us of is that things still need to change. It shows that change is only possible if there are people ready to action that change.
The Elephant Man
David Lynch’s second feature film is a biopic based on the life of Joseph Merrick, a badly deformed man who suffers from cerebral palsy, starring the late, great John Hurt in the title role.
The Elephant Man’s screenplay was adapted from the Ashley Montagu book named The Elephant Man: A Study In Human Dignity and The Elephant Man And Other Reminiscences by Frederick Treves (who is played by Anthony Hopkins). Its plot revolves around Merrick’s life, from his time in a Victorian freak show through to his friendship with Treves and eventually his death.
This is both a heartbreaking film and an inspirational one. It proves you should never judge a book by its cover. Merrick faces abuse and derision on account of his looks, despite being a fairly intelligent, warm and kind man. Hurt’s portrayal of Merrick is sympathetic and engaging.
Ron Howard’s excellent retelling of the moon landing mission that after an explosion happened onboard the shuttle quickly turned into a rescue mission. It stars Tom Hanks as Commander Jim Lovell and is a fairly accurate portrayal of what happened, with some artistic license.
First of all, the film documents an incredible incident in human history. But it also teaches us the lesson that a failure is never an option – which is the actual tag-line for the movie.
Even though most people know how it is going to end, it still takes you on a roller coaster ride of emotions. This movie is just an amazing piece of filmmaking.
There are many other biographical movies worth watching that teach valuable lessons about history and life. It is always important to avoid taking everything depicted on the big screen as literal or completely accurate. Even films that look to recreate exactly what happened, still fall short.
However, as we have seen from the above, there are many biographical movies that set a good standard for portraying the facts in an entertaining, informative and inspirational way.
Image credit: a scene from Steven Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List (1993)