When the line “based on a true story” pops up on the screen, you know you’re in for an intriguing ride…
There’s nothing quite like a movie that takes you back in time and make you feel like you were there – whether that’s as a fly on the wall when Laurel and Hardy were discussing their end-of-career fears in Stan & Ollie, or sharing the Live Aid stage with Queen in Bohemian Rhapsody.
Films based on true stories also provide an opportunity to hear incredible tales for the first time, like in Green Book, which follows the captivating story of an Italian-American bouncer who becomes a chauffeur for an African-American pianist touring the Deep South in the 1960s. The Mule is another example, telling the tale of an elderly horticulturist who became a drugs courier for a Mexican drug cartel after falling on hard times.
And with a superb selection of some of the best films based on real events available to buy on the Virgin Media Store as part of the True Life collection, there’s never been a better time to learn some incredible truths. But are we getting the whole truth and nothing but? We take a look at a key scene from each film and find out just how close to the reality it really was.
This moving film sees Mahershala Ali playing jazz pianist Don Shirley, who’s on tour across the American South. Viggo Mortensen also stars as bouncer Tony Vallelunga, who Shirley hires to drive him to a series of venues.
Key scene: When Shirley’s request to dine in the country club he’s playing at is refused because of the colour of his skin, Vallelunga is infuriated and threatens to get physical with the venue’s manager. Don manages to calm him down and the pair leave, enabling the pair to maintain their dignity, despite the unpleasant circumstances.
The truth behind it: The real-life Vallelunga’s son served as a writer on Green Book, basing his work on interviews he had with his father and Shirley, as well as letters written to his mother from his father. Many of the scenes in the movie draw on his research.
Stan & Ollie
Legendary duo Stan Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Oliver Hardy (John C Reilly) attempt to boost their flagging careers with a gruelling theatre tour of Britain after the Second World War.
Key scene: After a contract dispute led to Laurel effectively leaving the duo, Hardy was strong-armed by producer Hal Roach to star in Zenobia alongside Harry Langdon. Years later, as the pair are preparing for their two-week residency in London, an argument between their wives transforms into an almighty row between the pair, and drives a wedge between them that lasts until Hardy’s sudden collapse a few weeks later.
The truth behind it: Such was screenwriter Jeff Pope’s lifelong admiration for the famed comic duo that this scene, tough a watch as it might be for fans, is about as accurate as accurate can be. According to a variety of sources, all of the aforementioned parties really did have a verbal slugfest on the eve of the duo’s London residency. Thankfully, they patched things up soon after, finished their tour and renewed their friendship.
Clint Eastwood produces, directs and stars in this gripping story based on Second World War veteran Leo Sharp’s experiences couriering drugs for a Mexican drug cartel.
Key scene: Earl Stone (Eastwood) is driven at gunpoint to a forest, where he’s told in no uncertain terms what’s expected of him in his new role. A gang member tells him to collect his new phone from boot of the car. When he obliges, he discovers a dead body in the trunk; getting an all-too-real lesson about what happens to people who don’t obey orders.
The truth behind it: As one member of the gang explains, they are so far away from civilisation, there’s no chance of anyone hearing anything. The absolute quietness of the forest only adds to the sense of menace, and places the viewer (thankfully temporarily!) in the shoes of someone in such a situation; working for people for whom violence comes so easily.
Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (Keira Knightley) ghost writes a book for her husband Willy (Dominic West), and its success inspires her to fight for creative ownership and escape his controlling nature.
Key scene: Willy warns his wife about revealing the truth behind the book as it will “finish them”. He suggests that people will talk and that Colette is ignorant of the fact. But she hits back: “I understand it well enough to write a book that’s the toast of Paris.”
The truth behind it: Colette was not one to suffer fools gladly and this kind of quick-witted response is evidence of her sharp mind and way with words.
Mary Queen Of Scots
After being crowned Queen of France at 16, only to be widowed at 18, Mary found herself under pressure to remarry. Instead, she returned to her native Scotland to reclaim her throne. Not long afterwards, Scotland and England both fell under the rule of Elizabeth I.
Key scene: The first and only meeting in person between Mary and Elizabeth, where Elizabeth tells her cousin she “would do well to watch her words”. Mary hits back, however, saying, “I will not be scolded by my inferior”.
The truth behind it: It’s widely believed to be the case that Mary and Elizabeth never actually met in person, so their encounter in the film is more for dramatic effect than accuracy. They do say not to let the truth get in the way of a good story, after all.
Vice focuses on George W Bush’s (Sam Rockwell) decision to pick politician and businessman Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) as his running mate for the 2000 presidential election, and the repercussions of that decision once Bush is inside the White House.
Key scene: When Bush attempts to convince Cheney to be his running mate over lunch at his Texas ranch, Cheney assures Bush that he will oversee all the mundane tasks – in reality, the most important ones.
The truth behind it: Piling on almost three stone, shaving his head and bleaching his eyebrows for the role, Bale certainly embodied Cheney better than anyone probably thought possible. And as his Cheney sits across from a chicken wing-munching Bush, debating his next career move, you can imagine the scene panning out in a similar way in real life.
The Front Runner
Everything seemed to be going Colorado senator Gary Hart’s way when he was running for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988. That is, until his world came tumbling down…
Key scene: When reporters ask Gary (Hugh Jackman) about a woman allegedly staying at his townhouse, he tries to brush it off, saying: “You can’t be serious, nobody’s sitting in my home.” The reporter simply replies, “I am serious sir”. Everything goes pear-shaped after that.
The truth behind it: Following an anonymous tip-off, reporters did approach the real-life Hart, whose situation was made worse when he continued to stick to his story. Jackman’s performance as Hart was highly praised, and the look in his eye as the truth comes out conveys to the audience that he knows exactly what’s about to happen.
The story of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury’s rise to prominence, from just before he joined the band to their show-stealing performance at Live Aid in 1985, is truly a spectacle to behold.
Key scene: The moment when Freddie (Rami Malek) belts out some of the band’s biggest hits to a 72,000-strong crowd and a global audience of millions at the aforementioned concert.
The truth behind it: With the original Wembley Stadium demolished in 2002, a replica of the 1985 Wembley stage was created at Bovingdon Airfield (where Top Gear is filmed) for the scene. And the attention to detail doesn’t stop there – the producers even ensured there were similar weather conditions on the day of filming!
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