Culture: The Citizen Kane of reality TV
Sunday 29 March 2009
"If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine," said Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars – and the same appears to be true of Jade Goody. In the pipeline so far are two rival biographies, a coffee-table book, a two-part television retrospective and, the trustees of her estate suggest, a fully fledged biopic.
It is this last development that is the most intriguing. To be called Catch a Falling Star, it would be based on the second volume of Jade's autobiography. Her trustees have already contacted Nick Love, the director of various British gangster pictures, including The Football Factory, The Business and Outlaw, and he has expressed provisional interest. I know a little bit about the genre, having written a biopic for Warner Bros and co-produced the film based on my own life – and I would not like to be in Nick Love's shoes.
The obvious way to do it would be to turn Jade's story – from Essex dental nurse to spokeswoman for cancer-testing via reality TV – into a biting satire about contemporary Britain, a feature-length version of Shameless. Indeed, if you took this approach, you wouldn't need to exercise much dramatic licence. To take just one detail, it would be difficult to embellish the fact that her father died of a heroin overdose in the toilet of a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet. Michael Sheen could make a cameo as the publicist Max Clifford and Caroline Aherne could play her mother, Jackiey.
The problem with this, quite apart from the fact that you wouldn't get the blessing of the estate's trustees, is that Jade's life ended so tragically. Cervical cancer isn't exactly a suitable subject for satire, even if Jade's final days were played out in front of the television cameras.
That's not an insurmountable obstacle – you could model the film on Citizen Kane and start with her death and end with her birth – but getting the tone right would be fiendishly difficult.
The only writer I can think of who could do the subject justice is Terry Southern, who wrote Dr Strangelove as well as a string of brilliant satirical novels. If only he were still alive.
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