8 Inspirational Biopics to Watch When Life Feels Too Tough

The Nelson Mandela biopic directed by Luke Chadwick has been nominated for Outstanding British Film at the BAFTAs.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom stars Idris Elba as the former South African president. The Brit actor is perhaps best known for his role on the small-screen as handsome detective John Luther in Luther. (He is nominated for a Golden Globe for the Mandela film and Luther).

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is based on South African President Nelson Mandela’s autobiography of the same name, which chronicles his early life, coming of age, education, and 27 years in prison before becoming president of South Africa and working to rebuild the country’s once segregated society. Mandela passed away on Decemebr 5th, the night that the film premiered in the UK. Producer Anant Singh (alongside Idris Elba) took the stage during the closing credits to inform patrons of Mandela’s passing and held a moment of silence.

The film opens in the Xhosa village of Mandela’s youth, but jumps forward to 1942 when he becomes a lawyer. Increasingly aware of an unfair justice system, he begins his involvement with the African National Congress (ANC), while his marriage buckles under the strain of it all. He divorces and re-marries as he and his ANC brothers stand trial for treason. He is sentenced to life in prison and indeed spends 27 years in the harsh Robben Island Prison, where he is allowed to write one letter every 6 months.

The film has had mixed reviews, although Elba has received universal praise for his performance. It made me think of all the other great films that have been made to celebrate the life of a leader. You don’t necessarily have to agree with their politics and ideals to enjoy their story and appreciate their journey.

Below are 7 other biopics of leaders, who came, saw and maybe failed to conquer, but still left an indelible mark on our history.

  • Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom 1 of 8
    mandela film

    Whether or not you have read the book Mandela: Long Road to Freedom, this is a film worth watching. The world mourned the passing of one the most inspirational men to ever have walked this planet — a hero that we are unlikely to ever see the like of again — on December 5th of last year. In this film we are reminded of all the great ideals that Mandela stood for and the price he paid for his beliefs. Remember to take hankies!

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  • Gandhi 2 of 8
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    Mahatma Gandhi was one of the pivotal figures, if not the main figure, in India's history in the 20th century — opposing imperial British rule and shaping the country's history up to its independence in 1947. The film covers Gandhi's life from a defining moment in 1893, as he is thrown off a South African train for being in a whites-only compartment, and concludes with his assassination and funeral in 1948. This epic film is amazing not only for the sublime acting by Ben Kinsley, but for the beautiful cinematography and precise historical detail. The film, and notably the director, Richard Attenborough, richly deserved the 8 Oscar wins, including Best Picture. 

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  • Che 3 of 8
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    Director Steven Soderbergh's enormous two-part film was adapted from Che Guevara's own diaries. Starring Oscar-winner Benicio Del Toro as Che, Part One (The Argentine) begins with the early days of the Cuban revolution and progresses on to how Che led a bunch of rebels to overthrow the Cuban government. The second half (Guerrilla) focuses on Che's second attempt to use the same methods in Bolivia, but with much less success. Lengthy, violent and at times messy it is still worth a watch. 

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  • Frost/Nixon 4 of 8
    Frost and nixon film

    Now on paper this doesn't sound mesmerizing — an interview between an oily smooth TV host and a bumbling politician — but trust me when I say it is nail biting stuff! Ron Howard creates an on-the-edge-of-your-seat meeting between these two charismatic men who could talk their way out of anything. Pitched against each other — who will win? Brilliantly Nixon is not portrayed as a two-dimensional villain — there is humanity at his core, despite what dreadful deeds he has committed. Frost, meanwhile, lifts himself up a notch; this is heavyweight stuff and he handles it with aplomb. 

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  • The Iron Lady 5 of 8
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    Margaret Thatcher: the woman who could provoke a thousand debates. Some viewed her as the devil incarnate, while others as the the woman who saved the UK. Regardless she was the first female prime minister and served for three terms. This biopic features Meryl Streep as Thatcher (she won an Oscar for the role). No matter your opinions of the Iron Lady, this film is sure to evoke miked feelings. Sure you'll feel anger toward her utter ruthlessness and absence of empathy for anyone who doesn't share her ideologies, while also finding it hard not to sympathize with the profound loss of her husband and the price she paid for her unwavering ambition. 

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  • Lincoln 6 of 8
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    Daniel Day Lewis won his third — yes, third — Oscar for his portrayal of the 16th President of the United States. Though it is set in the final months of the Civil War, Spielberg's film is not battle weary. Like an early day West Wing, the action takes place in the corridors and offices of Washington as Lincoln fights to abolish slavery. Day-Lewis is a master of his craft and his performance is flawless; without him driving the action, one might be tempted to turn it off. And while it may be long, it gives you the opportunity to savor Lincoln — the brave, inspiring, principled, funny man — who makes politicians bickering a riveting watch! 

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  • Evita 7 of 8
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    Madonna won a Golden Globe for singing her way through Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's musical Evita. Evita, whose real name was Eva Duarte, was an illegitimate working class girl who married Colonel Juan Perón and became first lady of Argentina. She went on to oversee the ministries of labor, social welfare, and health, eventually becoming her husband's Vice President. He gave her the title of Spiritual Leader of the Nation in 1952, a few months before her death from cancer at the age of just 33. The film is a weep fest. I remember when covering the UK premiere in 1996 as a lowly journalist, Melanie Griffith came out of the cinema with Antonio Banderas sobbing like she would never stop! 

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  • Michael Collins 8 of 8
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    Neil Jordan wrote and directed this superb film starring Liam Neeson as Michael Collins, the Irish patriot and revolutionary leader who died in the Irish Civil War. Collins formed the Irish Volunteers who used a combination of terrorist violence and guerrilla warfare to attack the British, creating the new-born Republican Movement, which seemed to offer a real hope of freedom for the Irish. As someone who grew up in Northern Ireland, I can admit that this was not an easy watch, but it was a vital one. This was a powerhouse performance from Neeson — definitely a career best.

    Photo credit: Amazon 

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