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The Beauty of Biopics

Syed Maqsud Jamil

The magic of Meryl Streep has reached wondrous heights with the biopic The Iron Lady. She won the 2011 Oscar Award for the Best Actress for her sterling performance as Lady Margaret Thatcher, the first female Prime Minister of United Kingdom. It is her third Oscar Award; she won Best Actress – The Iron Lady (2011) and Sophie's Choice (1982) and Best Supporting Actress – Kramer vs. Kramer (19790. She has received so many nominations that she herself is tired of them, being honoured 17 times.

The irresistible charm of her beauty and the magical quality of her performance makes her movies splendid cinematic creations, be it Kramer vs. Kramer, Sophie's Choice, Out of Africa, Heartburn, Falling in love or The Bridge of Madison County and The French Lieutenant's Woman. But the biopic The Iron Lady brought the best out of her. Biopics by nature are delightful cinematic experiences.

Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher. Photo: Courtesy

The intense personality of Margaret Thatcher made the task of portraying her extremely challenging. The depth of her conviction, the resoluteness of her will, the unyielding nature of her political campaign and the emphatic enunciation of her message placed a great demand on the histrionic talents of Streep who brought the character to life. Besides, understanding the present psychological devastation of Lady Thatcher by dementia, in order to delve deeper into her mind, required the actor to be very compassionate.

Meryl Streep has given the performance of a lifetime in the film that portrays the rise and fall of the Iron Lady. She looks so real when Margaret Thatcher, on assuming the office of the Prime Minister (1979), recalls the prayer of St Francis of Assisi, “Where there is discord may we build harmony; where there is error may we build truth; where there is doubt may we build faith; where there is despair may we build hope.” The part where Margaret Thatcher gives an interview on an American television channel stating with great command that the British had been made by history and the Americans by philosophies was exceptionally performed by Streep.

Streep looked consummately enlightened when Thatcher philosophises, “Mind your thoughts for they may become your words, mind your words for they may become your habits, mind your habits for they may become your character, mind your character for it may become your destiny.”

The symptoms of dementia were visible even when she was the Prime Minister. She objected to the two 't's in the word committee when a memo was placed before her. Streep looked very believable in the scene.

The Iron Lady rightly earned the Oscar for makeup. Meryl Streep looked just like Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher's public handlers made her public persona. Thatcher was told that she had wonderful hair but the hat and the pearl beads should go. She agreed to do away with the hat but firmly declined to let go of her pearl beads since they were gifts from her husband Denis on the birth of their twins Carol and Mark. Thus, the new Margaret Thatcher hairstyle came into being. She was further told that her voice was too high pitched, and that it lacked authority, so she learnt to speak firmly and clearly. The performance was impeccable and Meryl Streep evolved into Thatcher by the artistry of makeup.

Even in Thatcher's struggle with dementia, Meryl's distraught look and plodding gait makes one's heart go out to the Iron Lady. The biopic is so touching in its details – Lady Thatcher mooching around the rooms talking to her dead husband, telling him to put on the muffler while going out, brushing his blazers, bringing his dresses and shoes down and putting them in plastic packets. The Iron Lady is a classic biopic and the acting skills of Meryl Streep need to be applauded for making it memorable.

In 2010 the Oscar for best picture went to another biopic, The King's Speech, made on the speech difficulties faced by Queen Elizabeth II's father, King George VI. The picture won 4 Oscar Awards, for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. The King (Colin Firth), who had a bad stammer, laboured hard to overcome his shortcoming with the help of his speech therapists, Lionel Longue (Geoffrey Rush) and Dr Blendine Benham (Roger Hammond). Colin Firth, with his poise and determination, gave every possible care and significance to the role and was ably supported by Geoffrey Rush.

Richard Attenborough’s biopic Gandhi (1982) is considered a classic. Photo: Courtesy

Before that, The Queen (2006), another interesting biopic on the British Royal family, focused on the trials and unruffled personality of the reigning Queen Elizabeth II in calming public’s grief over the tragic death of Princess Diana. Helen Mirren's portrayal of the Queen was remarkable and she won the Oscar for Best Actress. In 2011, there was another biopic, Young Victoria, portraying Queen Victoria's guardianship under her mother and her ascension to the throne after the death of her three uncles. Another movie on the British Royal family was Elizabeth directed by Shekhar Kapoor, which however, did not receive much recognition.

The movie Braveheart (1995) was on the life and struggles of William Wallace, the Scottish national hero, who fought against the tyranny of English forces to liberate Scotland. Mel Gibson who directed the movie made it a testament of a touching liberation struggle. Braveheart won five Oscar Awards including that of Best Picture and Best Director (Mel Gibson).

Amadeus, which won eight Oscars in 1984, was a biopic on the legendary musical genius Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The film was directed by Milos Forman, a highly gifted film director. It was an absorbing narration of the frivolous and licentious life style of the phenomenally gifted musical genius. His end was a deeply moving spectacle where his body was thrown into a hastily made grave in blinding snow.

By popular approval, Richard Attenborough's biopic Gandhi (1982) is among one of the great movies of the world. Ben Kingsley totally immersed himself in the role of Gandhi and set a standard that placed him on a pedestal of excellence. Gandhi won nine Oscars and, of course, Ben Kingsley received the award for Best Actor. Richard Attenborough won the Oscar for Best Director.

Good biopics are interesting and entertaining because people love to see and experience the lives of those who belong to the pages of history, or of those who command their imagination through their talents and virtuosity, and of those who rise in infamy and perish pitifully.

Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2012