With Danny Boyle announced as the director of a new TV series depicting the rapid rise of The Sex Pistols in the late 1970s, he adds to a plethora of new and exciting biopics, dramatizing the lives of our favourite artists. After first rising to popularity in the 1980s, biopics have seen a revival over the last five years, often accredited to Straight Outta Compton, the 2015 film, showing the rise of rap pioneers NWA. Since then, there has been a steady stream of biopics hitting our silver screens from Bohemian Rhapsody to Rocketman. Whilst these are all popular with fans and critics alike, other biopics haven’t been received so well. So, what is it that makes a good biopic?
First and foremost, as with every genre of TV and film, casting is of the utmost importance. This is made even more crucial when your audience knows what the main character looks like, how they sound and even their mannerisms. Biopics often work better when the actors are also the ones singing, as it delivers a more believable and also profitable performance with sales of the movie soundtrack. The best casting options from biopics, in my opinion, are that of Taron Egerton in Rocketman with his convincing impersonation of Elton adding to his impressive vocals and Reece Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix. Witherspoon won an Oscar for her portrayal of June Carter, almost outshining Phoenix as Johnny Cash who delivered a compelling, emotional and dramatic performance. The actors portrayed a true love story between Johnny and June, singing themselves to add extra character to already stellar performances.
Biopics often fall into the trap of repeating a narrative told time and time again. One of a rise to stardom, a downfall and struggle, finishing the film with a triumphant comeback. Not only does this make the film predictable and the storyline often uninteresting, like a crime drama where the killer is revealed at the beginning, but also can take away from the accuracy of the story as life is never quite that simple. The best biopics break this mould adding to the depth of story and character we all yearn to see in film and TV. La Vie En Rose springs to mind as a biopic successfully breaking the mould, with its flashback/flashforward structure offering an alternative take on the traditional formula and giving an edge to the story. Whilst the story of Édith Piaf omits key points in her life, the original plot and structure really make this biopic standout above the rest and I’d love to see some more biopics stray away from the conventional storyline.
Third and finally, music biopics must tastefully and carefully deal with sensitive and harrowing subjects, including domestic abuse, drugs and mental health issues. Several biopics over the years have failed to do this, including the 1979 film Elvis, which fails to acknowledge the singers weight issues and decline into addiction, with the story stopping in 1970. By doing this, the film really inhibits itself from being a true Elvis biopic, as his spiralling addictions and various other personal issues are just as important as rise to superstardom. However, there are some standouts in this category that should be used as examples for every new biopic released. Most harrowing, yet still most accurate of all portrayals comes from the Tina Turner biopic What’s Love Got to Do with It?. Director Brian Gibson shows a bloody, bruised Tina after years of abuse by her husband Ike, highlighting to an audience powerfully the invisibility of domestic abuse. Handling these issues well can be important in such biopics, as often we get to see a side to our favourite stars that we never knew about.
If Boyle manages to hit all three of these criteria, coupled with the fascinating, meteoric rise of The Sex Pistols, this TV biopic could be one of the best so watch out for this one when it is released later this year. The director famous for films such as Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire should aim to deliver a gritty retelling of The Sex Pistols, involving the scandal, controversy and anarchy associated with one of the most controversial bands in history.
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