- Directed by Michael Apted
- March 7, 1980
- Based on the biography Loretta Lynn: Coal Miner’s Daughter by Loretta Lynn and George Vecsey
This is the story of country music legend Loretta Lynn from her early teen years in extreme poverty and getting married at 15 all the way to her rise as the Queen of Country Music.
Biographical films can be hit or miss. I think that largely goes to whether or not those behind it are trying to tell a story or craft a vehicle for whichever celebrity is headlining it. The former means you get something character driven while the latter is all “Look at me!” Here we get an effort to craft a story about Loretta Lynn-the legendary Queen of Country. And it is an amazing story.
And before I go any further, as with any fact-based drama take the events you see portrayed with multiple grains of salt. Often in these films characters get merged or created and events may flow in a slightly different way in an effort to show what happened in the amount of time allotted in the film.
A major focus of the story is Lynn’s marriage. Coal Miner’s Daughter does not show the relationship between Loretta Lynn (Sissy Spacek) and her husband Doolittle (Tommy Lee Jones) through rose colored glasses. It’s shown warts and all and there are plenty of warts to be found. It’s most certainly not the healthiest of relationships. Doo, as her husband is called, can be abusive at times and does cheat but he’s also her biggest supporter. You get the feeling he doesn’t know how to love her right but there is genuine affection there.
Doo has a blind faith in his wife and puts her up on a pedestal despite his issues. As Lynn herself reportedly described it, Doo was her biggest cheerleader and it’s kind of hard to push that kind of support and love out the door. He clearly believes in her in a way no one else does.
These days it can be easy to forget the level of talent Jones has given his more recent filmography and his tendency of late to always play cantankerous individuals. Jones turns in a star making performance as Doo. He makes what could be a one note abuser character into something more complex and layered.
Spacek was absolutely amazing. Loretta Lynn is portrayed as a simple country girl from start to finish. As the movie goes along she becomes more worldly but still retains that average person nature she has at the beginning of the film. One thing that may rile modern audiences is that Sissy Spacek plays Loretta Lynn all the way from the age of 14 when she first met her husband into adulthood. You could get away with that back then but today that would not fly even though the actress does a good job throughout. Through performance you forget this is an adult playing a child.
You get the highs and lose of Lynn’s career as well as those of her personal life. They touch on Lynn’s relationship with Patsy Cline (Beverly D’Angelo) and how Cline‘s death affected Lynn. Up until I watched this again recently, I did not know Beverly D’Angelo played Patsy Cline. She is virtually unrecognizable and at the most they did was put her in a wig. She IS Patsy Cline. D’Angelo is best known as the mom in the Vacation films as shown here she has real talent.
And that goes to the strength of this film. Coal Miner’s Daughter is an engaging, character driven film that is expertly crafted. From the dialogue to the direction to the music there is almost nothing wrong. According to the credits both Spacek and D’Angelo performed their own songs. If 100% accurate that’s a ballzy move. Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn are both legendary singers and I would not begrudge them one bit for using recordings of either in this film yet they did not. And both actresses were utterly superb.
Coal Miner’s Daughter is that rare movie I can’t think of anything negative to say. Between the direction and the dialogue and the music this is very nearly flawless. If there is anything to complain about it is minor and the overall quality of everything else more than covers it up.
This is a heartfelt and dramatic film about someone who came from nothing rising to the top. And it wasn’t anything she set out to do in her life. If Loretta Lynn had spent the rest of her time raising kids in Butcher’s Hollow, I think she would’ve felt pretty much the same as she does now. At least that’s what comes across in the film. She did not seek stardom to fill something that was missing in her. Stardom came to her because she had a genuine gift.
Coal Miner’s Daughter is a great biographical film with amazing acting in a great story with great music. It certainly deserves all the accolades it got when it came out. If you haven’t checked this out, you should. It is amazing!