Michael Apted Brought Loretta Lynn’s ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter’ Story to Life

photo: Loretta Lynn (Brad Coolidge) – Michael Apted

British film director Michael Apted died on Thursday, January 7th, and though this may not be a name you recognize or see as noteworthy in the country music realm on the surface, the Cambridge-educated film icon played a major part in telling one of the most compelling stories in country music history.

Not only was Mr. Apted the director for arguably the greatest, and most important biopic about country music of all time, but perhaps one of the greatest music films of all time in 1980’s Coal Miner’s Daughter. Starring Sissy Spacek, the film about Loretta Lynn’s rise went on to be nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Sissy Spacek won Best Actress for her role in the movie, and the film won Best Picture for a Comedy or Musical at the Golden Globes.

One of the secret ingredients behind the film’s success that critics, fans, and even Loretta Lynn and Sissy Spacek have cited themselves is that as a British man, Apted’s outsider point-of-view into Appalachian culture is what made him the perfect individual to helm the film. Not bringing any personal biases or presuppositions about Southerners like someone from Hollywood may have gave Apted a unique perspective and approach to the subject matter. It’s also one of the reasons why Apted insisted that authenticity be so important to the presentation.

Sissy Spacek worked tirelessly to emulate Loretta Lynn’s personality, as well as her guitar playing and singing style, and Spacek sang all the parts live in the film. Instead of bringing in actors, Ernest Tubb, Roy Acuff, and Minnie Pearl all played themselves in Coal Miner’s Daughter, along with stellar performances by Beverly D’Angelo as Patsy Cline, and the most underrated contributor to the effort, Tommy Lee Jones as Loretta’s husband Doolittle. Levon Helm also appeared in the movie, as well as extras and others from the actual region where Loretta Lynn was from in Kentucky.

Michael Apted had a long and accomplished career in pictures, first gaining recognition in Britain for his Up series that looked to dissect the British class system. He also directed the critically-acclaimed Gorillas in the Mist (1988), Nell (1994), Enigma (2001), and the James Bond film The World Is Not Enough (1999). He directed 28 feature films total between 1972 and 2017.

But it was Michael Apted’s work on Coal Miners Daughter that is leading many of the remembrances of his life and career. The film went onto be selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry, and is considered one of the top musical films of all time. As we’ve seen over the years in country music, an excellent story does not always result in an Oscar-caliber film. By respecting the subject matter and bringing passion to the project, Michael Apted became an unlikely ambassador and storyteller for country music.

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