I've watched a couple of films on TV lately which prompt a few thoughts about one aspect of characterisation, especially in screenplays. Both films were quite bold, and based on the lives of real people, but were very different. They were The Girl, a BBC TV show about Alfred Hitchcock's curious relationship with Tippi Hedren, and The Iron Lady, in which Meryl Streep plays Margaret Thatcher.
The first thing to say is that the acting was exceptionally good in both cases. Toby Jones played Hitchcock, Sienna Miller was Hedren,and Meryl Streep played Thatcher. Streep, of course, was in Oscar-winning form, but I must say that I thought Miller was excellent too. I last saw her in the re-make of Alfie, playing a very different character. Here, she not only seemed at least as beautiful as Hedren (herself famously attractive) but conveyed a complex personality very effectively. Toby Jones is a fine actor, although his performance was to some extent governed by the requirements of the script.
And I did have some reservations about the way the script portrayed Hitchcock, as a sad old man with a deeply unhealthy interest in his star. It may be a fair picture, from Tippi Hedren's perspective, but press reports indicate that a number of the other glamorous blonde actresses whom Hitchcock hired had a very different, and much more positive, view of him. This prompts an interesting question - to what extent, when portraying someone like Hitchcock, should a screenplay writer present a balanced, rather than partisan picture of the character? My own view is that fiction is not about 'balance' or even 'fairness'. Howevert a film like this purports to represent factual events, and that's the tricky thing. Because inevitably, facts are sometimes twisted to suit dramatic purposes.
The presentation of Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady was rather different. Her strengths and failings were addressed, though her supporters and opponents will disagree on whether the screenplay got the balance right. What was most controversial, though central to the story, was the presentation of a living person suffering from deteriorating mental faculties. This obviously raises questions of taste. But I felt that, leaving the matter of taste aside, the screenplay was very intelligently done, and raised questions about fame and power, and their transient nature, which transcended the issue of whether or not one is a fan of Margaret Thatcher. Streep's acting was stunning, and though I wouldn't rate the script as highly as that, it did impress me more than the skilfully written but rather one-sided screenplay for The Girl.