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A reverent biopic – Amelia

A reverent biopic – Amelia

Hilary Swank as Earhart in Mira Nair's AMELIA (Photo by Ken Woroner)

Amelia Earhart was a legendary aviatrix who, in 1937, vanished during the last leg of her attempt to circumnavigate the globe by plane.

Hilary Swank stars as the renowned aviation pioneer and author who became a feminist icon. Much like Meryl Streep was born to play Julia Child, Swank is virtually a dead ringer for Earhart. Sharing a tall, slender physique and boyishly fine features, her horsey teeth substituting for Earhart”™s legendarily oft-concealed gap-toothed smile, Swank inhabits the role more with a sense of duty than passion.

Similarly, Mira Nair (Salaam Bombay, The Namesake) directs the biopic with a reverent and restrained hand, imbuing her film with warm hues yet maintaining a cool distance. The sensational period costumes and sets and the lush, romantic score pair beautifully with some breathtaking aerial vistas as well as the focus on Amelia”™s emotional life.

The haigographical approach doesn”™t stop with Earhart. Amelia”™s husband, George P. Putnam, was a publishing tycoon and public relations manager. Essentially an upper-class huckster, he managed her fame and then creatively capitalised on it at every turn. In one early instance he confesses he stashed a product on Amelia”™s plane, then asks her to endorse it. Whenever she complains about the gruelling lecture tours and constant product endorsements, he counters that aviation is an expensive pursuit and all this is necessary to keep her aloft. We even see him urging one of Earhart”™s friendly rivals to throw a race. But these deeds are less dastardly when performed by a kind eyed, charming silver fox such as Richard Gere. A less sympathetic actor in this role would certainly have cast his behaviour in a different light.

While Nair is a sensitive filmmaker, the story she tells, using a screenplay by Ronald Bass based on two biographies, proves surprisingly superficial. We never see how Amelia goes from being an awestruck kid in a field to becoming a record-breaking pilot. Nair could have given us at least one scene where she monkeys with an engine or tests her equipment.

Nevertheless, Amelia is an enjoyable story that is beautifully told.

Hilary Swank as Earhart in Mira Nair's AMELIA (Photo by Ken Woroner)

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review by Pauline Adamek

Pauline Adamek

Pauline Adamek is a Los Angeles-based arts enthusiast with twenty-five years' experience covering International Film Festivals and reviewing new Theatre, Film and Restaurants.

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