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Just Janice: why the biopic trend is enough to make you go psycho

You wait years for a film about an American President, then two come along at once.

Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln
Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln

If you’re short of time or cash, though, I recommend you give one of the biopics a body-swerve, and I ain’t talking about Lincoln.

Spielberg’s epic feature about Honest Abe’s final months in office and the behind-the-scenes politics behind the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery may be talk-heavy and verging on hagiography, but it’s literate and doesn’t presume its audience has the attention span of a gnat.

Most impressive of all is Daniel Day-Lewis’s meticulous, moving performance as a leader in turmoil. I just hope there’s room on his mantlepiece or in the spare cludgie for a third Oscar.

But life’s too short to waste a couple of hours figuring out why on earth POTUS Film No. 2 was made. In Hyde Park on Hudson, Bill Murray does a fair impersonation of Franklin D Roosevelt. It’s not quite a Day-Lewis style acting masterclass, but he pops in a set of wallies, adopts a drawl, and award-winning Glasgow make-up designer, Morag Ross, even recreates the melanoma FDR had above his left eyebrow.

If only the writer, Richard Nelson, had paid such attention to detail. Unfortunately, Hyde Park on Hudson is just the latest example of a loathsome breed of biographical drama, that picks over the bones of a conveniently dead famous person, who can’t sue for libel.

So here FDR is portrayed as a creepy womaniser who, in one scene, encourages his distant cousin, Daisy, to get, ahem, more hands-on with him, in a parked car, than cousins should. The historian who edited the real-life Daisy’s letters is appalled, and has said that he’s certain that no such intimacy took place and that Daisy would have been humiliated by such a misrepresentation of their friendship.

I’m sure viewers are bored and annoyed by this tittle-tattle masquerading as drama - the two Hitchcock biopics doing the rounds are enough to make you psycho. We’ve already had enough of it on TV - annihilations of everyone from Hughie Green to Hattie Jacques. I interviewed Eric Sykes not long before he died, and this most talented and pleasant of men, was furious at what he insisted was a grossly inaccurate depiction of his dear friend’s private life.

One biopic does buck the trend - and, ironically, this insightful film is called A Liar’s Autobiography. Opening in cinemas next week, it’s an animated feature  based on the memoir by the man best remembered as “the dead one from Monty Python” - Graham Chapman.

It’s a psychedelic onslaught of many different animation styles, and, most surreal of all, it’s narrated by Chapman himself, who, recorded it three years before his death in 1989. Now he’s set to become the most prolific corpse since Elvis. If you’re in the public eye, maybe that’s the way to go, before you go. Record your own biopic narration, and don’t let others flog a dead parrot. Sorry, horse.

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