Fiona McCade: It’s real life Tommy, but not as we know it
WHEN the film Sid and Nancy came out in 1986, Johnny Rotten was rather displeased by the depiction of the Sex Pistols’ lives and times. He threatened to shoot the director and, when asked if he would concede that the writers had got anything right at all, he replied: “The word Sid.”
Johnny learned the hard way, but in the 21st century, everybody knows that biopics are inaccurate – don’t they?
The motto of all biographical drama is “never let the truth get in the way of a good story”, even supposing the truth can be agreed upon. The only reliable fact is that you can never trust a biopic and that is as certain as the religious persuasion of the Pope and the penchant that bears have for defecating in forested areas.
Entertainment that relies on real-life stories always comes with some sort of proviso. It’s always “based upon” history, or a “reimagining” of what happened. Really, after all this time, is there anybody who is surprised when biopics go bad?
Well, Tommy Sheridan, for one. I, Tommy, a production playing on Edinburgh’s Festival Fringe, has upset the erstwhile politician. His character is the star of the show, but the real Tommy is fuming. “It doesn’t tell my story – it distorts it,” he complained, but honestly, what does he expect?
Perhaps, in some parallel universe, I, Tommy would be an authentic representation of Tommy’s various struggles, both legal and political. But this is the real world and, anyway, there was a teensy clue in the official publicity blurb, which stated quite clearly that the show is: “An imaginative and irreverent reinvention of real-life events”.
I’m guessing Tommy doesn’t get out much, even without an electronic curfew tag. If he did, he might have seen a few of the factual catastrophes that entertain us these days. It may shock him to learn that JFK wasn’t a documentary. And The Tudors was so far from the truth, I half-expected Catherine of Aragon to give birth to a son.
It is unfortunate for Mr Sheridan that his fans have also hopelessly misunderstood that the biopic genre deals in neither reality nor eulogy, forcing their hero to vent his spleen on Facebook this week: “A woman thought she was showing solidarity with me by purchasing tickets…She is the latest in a list of 30 to 40 others who have wished me all the best with the play, told me they are going because they support me and that they hope I ‘make a few bob’ from it…I need to stress clearly not only will I make nothing from this production, I have had absolutely nothing to do with it and was not involved or consulted about it before it was written.”
Sorry, but most intelligent people have already grasped that, so perhaps what Tommy really needs to be concerned about is the average IQ of his fans. The majority of us accept that works of storytelling are not the same as “history”. However, there’s a minority that has real trouble with this concept and so they confuse fiction with fact. Dan Brown’s career depends on people like this, and so, apparently, does Tommy Sheridan’s.
What’s worrying me now is the number of Tommy Sheridan fans who have gone and bought the DVD of The Who’s rock opera Tommy, thinking it’ll be a faithful portrayal of their hero’s life. Then again, I suppose there are some similarities.
Calm yourself Tommy and be glad that you’re famous enough to be vilified. I, Tommy is simply promoting your legend, just like Shakespeare immortalised Richard III and Macbeth. How well would we remember them without the plays?
Come on, even if none of these dramas mean anything to you, you must have seen Braveheart. Remember? The film where William Wallace fights the Battle of Stirling Bridge without a bridge and fathers a future king of England seven years after he dies?
Try to understand that hardly anybody takes biopics seriously, so you shouldn’t either.
In fact, there’s only thing the subject of any biopic needs to worry about, and that is: “Is the person playing me gorgeous enough?”
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