Mr Peter Kirkpatrick

Research project: Based on a True Story: Framing the Present through Depictions of the Past in Post-2010 Biopics and Historical Films


The 2010s saw a number of prominent social and political issues with common themes of equality and awareness, including debates about race relations in the wake of Obama's Presidential Election and the Black Lives Matter movement, discussions around gender dynamics in the wake of #MeToo, the Refugee Crisis, and increased discussions surrounding mental health awareness. This increase in movements was accompanied by a three-fold increase in the number of biopics and historical films produced globally – genres which, as James Chapman argues in his 2005 book Past and Present: National Identity and the British Historical Film, "will often have as much to say about the present in which [they are] made as about the past in which [they are] set" (p. 1) – with many from Britain and the United States representing those issues as they became increasingly prominent in society. This merits study as it reflects a new point of development for these genres, and also raises significant questions about them during that era. For example, what weight and significance do depictions of the past bring when portraying these issues within the public consciousness? How do the types of true stories and historical figures depicted during the 2010s differ from those of previous decades, and what significance do these differences have in terms of the wider picture of the genres and their parallels with modern society?

This PhD will examine how and why filmmakers retold true stories, many of which are over forty years old, to represent socio-political issues that were prominent in contemporary society, map the shifts in cinematic representations against the changes in the societal debates and discussions, and consider the extent to which they demonstrated shortcomings and limitations for the genres. This shall be achieved through a two-step process of extensive research into both the prominent social and political issues of the 2010s and the form and history of the genres, followed by application of that research to the chosen case studies through textual analysis. In so doing, this thesis shall not only present an argument for how the genres saw new trends during the era with regards to parallels between filmic content and shifts in societal debates, some of which demonstrated the genres' shortcomings, but also that there were new cycles in the types of true stories that were recreated – particularly those concerning women and ethnic minorities, who have historically been marginalised within the genres. This will be a written piece which will answer the aforementioned questions about the genres that were raised by their content and increased output during the 2010s, and in so doing build upon existing scholarship on biopics and historical films, by providing an original contribution to knowledge regarding their thematic cycles, wider trends, similarities with the contemporary socio-political climate and direction through an era-specific focus on two nations' outputs of the genres.

  • Research degree: PhD
  • Title of project: Based on a True Story: Framing the Present through Depictions of the Past in Post-2010 Biopics and Historical Films
  • Research supervisor: Dr Simon Brown
  • Other research supervisors:


My academic background is in Film Studies, and my main areas of research interest are film history and cinema's engagement with politics and society. It was while studying BA (Hons) Film Studies at the University of Portsmouth that my interest in the social and political relevance of cinema really began to flourish. I wrote on this subject area in relation to a variety of topics, including Mexican cinema, 1950s' science-fiction and contemporary fantasy cinema. When I studied MA Film Studies at Kingston University, this subject area became especially prevalent in my work. During my MA, I wrote on it in relation to a plethora of topics, including Italian Neorealism, British cinema of the 1960s and 1970s, contemporary science-fiction, and (as part of my dissertation) the Best Picture nominees at the 89th Academy Awards, with said dissertation planting the initial seeds of an idea for my PhD topic.

Areas of research interest

  • Social and political engagement in cinema
  • Contemporary British and American cinema
  • Biopics and historical films
  • Film history
  • Film marketing in the digital age
  • The Academy Awards


  • MA Film Studies, Kingston University
  • BA (Hons) Film Studies, University of Portsmouth

Conference papers

'Production Contexts, Narrative Formulas and Degrees of Complexity: A Multi-Genre Analysis of the Portrayals of Mental Illness in Contemporary British Cinema', Northumbria University, Re-thinking Histories of Popular British Film and Television, June 27th 2023.

'Loss and Trauma: A Multi-Genre Exploration of the Depiction of Mental Health in Contemporary Cinema.' Kingston University, CCI Research Seminar Series, November 2nd 2022.

'Challenging Bigotry and Pushing for Equality in the United States: Race Relations and Political Concerns in the Post-2013 Biopic.' Kingston University, Festival of Research, June 27th 2022.

'Institutionalized Prejudice and the Ongoing Fight for Equality in the United States: Race Relations and Presidency Concerns in the Modern Biopic.' Kingston University, CCI Research Seminar Series, January 19th 2022.