Women’s biopics, here and there
EMRAH GÜLER ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
While there are only a few women’s biopics we could talk about in Turkish cinema, Turkish pop culture has long been inspired by the female figures from Ottoman palaces. However, these powerful women, wives, concubines and mothers of the sultans, are most often represented as devious and cruel power-mongers.When you watch Meryl Streep’s old lady buying a pint of milk from a corner grocery in the opening scene of “The Iron Lady,” you know you are in for a treat. A treat, perhaps not in the sense of watching a film that will sweep you off your feet, but for the sweet anticipation of a performance that will stick with you.
That old lady is Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first and only female prime minister, an influential figure in 20th-century history, admired and hated for brazing head on into gender and class barriers and trying unabashedly and ruthlessly to implement a classic free-market ideology.
The film might have failed to please both the admirers of the Iron Lady, for focusing too much on her later years with dementia, and her adversaries, who believed the movie portrayed Mrs. Thatcher with far too much sympathy. But none dared to say anything negative about Streep’s Golden Globe-winning portrayal of the Iron Lady which was done with uncanny precision.
The other best actress winner in last week’s Golden Globes was Michelle Williams for her portrayal of yet another iconic figure of the last century, Marilyn Monroe, in “My Week with Marilyn.” With sultry perfection, Williams – who beat such sex bombs as Scarlett Johansson and Christina Hendricks for the role – plays Monroe during her time in England in 1956 to film “The Prince and the Showgirl,” the movie that brought her together with Sir Laurence Olivier.
Ideological and dry biopics of leaders
Biopics have always been an integral part of cinema, functioning as real-life personae that have inspired filmmakers, bringing actors a chance to showcase their talent (like Reese Witherspoon’s Oscar-winning portrayal of June Carter in 2005’s “Walk the Line”), or in some cases, becoming huge jokes (like Gwyneth Paltrow’s stiff take on poet Sylvia Plath in 2003’s “Sylvia”).
Michelle Williams, AP Photo.
In another example, the trailers and the PR campaign for the upcoming biopic of Sultan Mehmed II show that the movie will not be unlike a Soviet propaganda film. As the title implies, “Fetih 1453” (The Conquest 1453), despite its over-the-top production, ambitious war scenes and state-of-the-art CGI technology, the film will be no more than an unabashed and nationalistic celebration of the Ottoman Empire’s glorious history.
As far as the women go, biopics are even rarer, as not more than a handful of names coming to mind. Perhaps the most famous of these is last year’s “Türkan,” the story of Türkan Saylan, the renowned professor and doctor who spent her life fighting leprosy while, more importantly, also devoting her life to educating underprivileged girls in Turkey. The final days of her life was a disgrace in Turkey’s history as her house was raided by the police as part of the ongoing Ergenekon investigation when she was receiving treatment for cancer at the age of 74.
Women as angels or witches
The film, directed by Cemal Şan, was more like the final episode of the TV series of the same name and refrained from relaying a political message. Instead, it focused more on Saylan’s relationship with her family and was a genuine portrayal of her unfaltering persona as a fighter and as a survivor. The leading actress, Rüçhan Çalışkur, not only looked like Saylan herself but managed to talk like her as well.
While there are only a few women’s biopics we could talk about in Turkish cinema, Turkish pop culture has long been inspired by the female figures from Ottoman palaces. However, these powerful women, wives, concubines and mothers of the sultans, are most often represented as devious and cruel power-mongers – portrayed as little more than the witches of fairy tales.
Tarkan Özel’s debut film, “Mahpeyker,” of 2010 hoped to give a multi-dimensional portrayal of Kösem Sultan, the most powerful woman in the history of the Ottoman Empire and one of just two women to have become regents in the empire’s history.
The story alternated between her earlier years in the harem when she was captured and brought to Istanbul at the age of 15 and later years of her reign and power. Two actors, Damla Özcan and veteran Selda Actor, respectively played her younger years and as the powerful Valide Sultan (Queen Mother). The film in the end told the story of a naïve young girl who eventually turned into a power-crazy woman, perpetuating the devious Queen Mother persona with no hint of the much-loved and much-mourned queen who put her mark on history.
In all, a satisfying women’s biopic in Turkish cinema still seems like a distant dream.