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Based on a true story…

2 July 2017

…those words normally turn me off the idea of watching a film, but in the last week or so I have somehow managed to watch two films “based on a true story” that related to different aspects of my own life. 

It may be that there has been such a splurge of tedious superhero movies recently (did anyone survive it to the final credits of Bateman v Superman? Admittedly I only ventured into that B movie cross over genre because I had had to fly a number of times so had exhausted all rational entertainment in the dreadful BA entertainment system and it did help dull my mind to sleep) but I found myself twice forgoing my long standing rule that “based on a true story” for films was a no go (I said for a long time I was going to wait for Schindler’s List to come out in colour…but it was a moving film) and found myself watching The Founder and Denial in the course of a(n otherwise busy) week.

Both completely different topics but hitting two of the three “careers” I have had in my life – McDonalds, and the Law.

The Founder (starring Michael Keaton) explains how McDonalds exploded from an innovative (at the time) idea by two well meaning but naive McDonalds brothers (Mac and Dick) to a global phenomenon that apparently feeds 1% of the world’s population every day.  The spur of the expansion came from serial (failed) entrepreneur Ray Kroc (played by Keaton).  Coming from a generation that takes fast food for granted to the extent it has become treated as a menace, and someone who has toiled in the McDonalds kitchen process (which I can assure you does actually have rigorous food standards and is literally fool proof) it was fascinating to see how novel the idea was that captured Kroc’s imagination and surged across the nation, and how the McDonald’s idea began – including the brothers mapping out their kitchen process on a basketball court.  An interesting biopic, but I couldn’t help but feel there was a degree of propaganda to it, reminiscent of the happy old days when McDonalds was (to my family) a treat rather than a guilty pleasure.

In fairness, my McDonald’s career was short lived during my student years, but I’m still a lawyer, so I was even less keen to watch Denial, a historical legal drama. The film tells the narrative of the libel case brought by David Irving (Timothy Spall, with his best English supercilious acting) against Deborah Lipstadt (Helena Bonham Carter playing a plucky American who had to struggle against the English legal system), for defaming him as a Holocaust Denier, by saying he had twisted history to suit his bigoted views of the world.  How satisfying that a case brought to “defend his reputation” should result in a film that left me with the clear impression that he was an obnoxious, bigoted, racist zealot.  No spoilers, but the fact they made the film in that way may give you a clue as to who won the case and whose reputation was left in a worse state.

Although there were a few howling inaccuracies of legal procedure, some for dramatic effect others minor details that would only grate a practising lawyer, the film actually left me fairly proud of the English legal system, particularly in the face of a seemingly obnoxious litigant in person. Whilst not true that in the English legal system a defendant is not presumed innocent until proven guilty (as was explained to the horrified Lipstadt) the thrust of the case (and therefore the film) was that Lipstadt accepted that her words were intended to be derogatory of Irving but used the defence of justification, which did flip the burden of proof in this situation such that her legal team had to prove not only that Irving was wrong in being a Holocaust Denier but that he dishonestly twisted facts to suit his ideology (it was not sufficient if he honestly but mistakenly believed that the Holocaust did not happen). The film gave a fascinating description of this controversial topic and a great example of English Leading Counsel (eccentrically played by Tom Wilkinson), which is a quirky function you can never quite understand until you have worked with these special people. I don’t know how anyone could buy into such right wing idiocies that the hideous atrocities did not occur, but I won’t spoil the ending.

So, two pleasant surprises for me (as to content, not a clue to the ending). I guess it depends on your frame of mind when you settle down to watch a film but I’m going to try and be a bit more open in future, although I’m going to steer clear of Sully, because I don’t want to tempt fate to have a third film based on a true story reflect an aspect of my life…

What films would you recommend that are based on a true story?

ps, since writing this I remembered that Cool Runnings was “based on a true story” and a great film. But I’ve never been in a bob sleigh.

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From → My ramblings

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