Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Based on a True Story: Bigger than Fiction


"Based on a true story" is a familiar affectation adopted by film makers in order to add import for cinema audiences all too accustomed to sensational stories. However, there are those fictionalised accounts which seem so fantastical that one can't believe they actually took place. Here is a list of five films whose real life roots are even more incredible than the films themselves:

Gandhi (1982)
By far the directorial zenith of Sir Richard Attenborough's directorial career, and one that was nearly two decades in the making. Although it won several Oscars, no film was ever going to be able to do complete justice to the life of India's national hero, Mahatma Gandhi. However, Attenborough's success was in appreciating the scale of the man's achievements, and the reverence in which he was and still is held in India. He can also be credited for making the perfect choice of lead actor in Ben Kingsley, who rightly shared in the Oscar glory.
A Cry in the Dark (1988)
Starring Meryl Streep as Lindy Chamberlain, an Australian mother whose baby was taken from her family's tent while out camping, Fred Schepici's film tells a story that seems scarcely believable. And, yet, the story is nearly entirely based on facts that remain contentious in Australia to this very day, with investigations still on-going. The film and the events on which it was based give a chilling insight into the effects of prejudice, media panic, and ignorance of religious minorities.

Mississippi Burning (1988)
A largely fictionalised account of the notorious killings of three Mississippi civil rights workers in the 1960s, 'Mississippi Burning' stirred up great debate at the time. Benefitting from strong central performances from Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe, the film shied away from naming the men believed to be responsible for the murders for fear of legal action. It wasn't until 2005 that the preacher who helped plot the killings was finally found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, thus ending a sad chapter in American history.
Apollo 13 (1995)
Ron Howard brought to life this big-screen adaptation of Apollo 13's failed attempt to land on the moon. Were it not for the fact that the events took place largely as depicted, the plot could have strained credulity. Howard's fastidious attention to technical detail allied with the seamless source material of mission Captain Jim Lovell's book, 'Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13', enable him to convey the staggering depth of human will and ingenuity that ensured the survival of the crew on the disastrous mission.
Seven Years In Tibet (1997)
Probably one of the weakest films of the selection, but also among the most remarkable true stories. Brad Pitt stars as the Austrian mountaineer, Heinrich Herrer, who flees prison during World War II and wins the respect and favour of the young Dalai Lama in Tibet.

The film is guilty of glossing over Herrer's Nazi past, Pitt's accent is a mess, and the film flags badly in its final third, but there is purity to the story that means it is far from without charm. Herrer died in 2002 and remained a life-long friend of the Dalai Lama. The book on which the film is based is rightly celebrated.

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