Is there any movie that you think did a poor job of portraying what a specific real-life figure was or is like?
For me, it would be Season On The Brink. I grew up here in Bloomington, Indiana. I know what Coach Knight is like. Brian Dennehy’s character was not Coach Knight. I doubt there is any actor who could capture the intensity of Knight, but if there is, Dennehy was not him. His speech and mannerisms were all off, and he did not really look like him either.
Wow. For most of Hollywood history, it was understood that history would always, always take a back seat to entertainment. I can’t think of a single “golden age” documentary that made any effort at all to get the facts right if they interfered with the story arc, or even the casting. I don’t think directors started trying to focus on accuracy until, what, the 70s? I wonder what the first essentially accurate film was? Would probably have been something after Bonnie and Clyde, which while it contains some liberties, kind of set the tone for realism in mainstream American movies. That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it. For now. Until someone has a better one that I can steal.
I recall a contemporaneous newscast or behind the scenes thing from 1983 that compared the very photogenic Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton to their real-life “Best Little Whorehouse…” counterparts. Not even close. In fact, going the opposite way, the portrayed as a buffoon newscaster was in fact handsomer in real life (even with a bad toupee) than Dom DeLuise.
Tom Hanks in no way resembled Jim Lovell other than both being white males. I recall Lovell saying that when he first sold his book to the movies, he figured they’d get Kevin Costner (who bears a slight resemblance–hair color mostly–to Lovell).
ETA: To the OP, apologies for slightly misreading your post. I think you’re looking more for speech, personality and mannerisms than anything upon reflection. So my choices may not hold up as the actors may have captured the “essence” of the characters I named. Sorry…
Well, most movies, even when they were rightly concerned for story over accuracy, at least tried to make the historical character look something like the original. If you did a film about Lincoln, you made up your actor to look like Lincoln.
There was more leeway on people who weren’t in history books. James Cagney looks little like George M. Cohan; Bob Hope doesn’t look much like Eddie Foy; Fred Astare and Red Skelton probably didn’t look much like Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, either. But these were all cases where the person potrayed wasn’t well-known (vaudeville stars like Cohan and Foy were not familiar to the moviegoing audience when their bios were being made.
I recall that playwright Larry L. King really wanted Willie Nelson as the sheriff, and Shirley Maclaine as the madam. When he heard who had been cast, he started calling the movie “Smoky and the Bandit Go to the Whorehouse.”
In the John Wayne movie Chisum, and the brat pack movie Young Guns, John Henry Tunstall is portrayed as an elderly man, and a father-figure to Billy the Kid and the Regulators. In real life, he was 25 when he was killed, younger than most of the regulators.
Also, in Young Guns, Charlie Sheen’s character has a thick Texas drawl. In real life, Dick Brewer was from the Great Lakes area.
I think the 1939 Jesse James is an example of how a movie can help cast history cock-eyed. Jesse (played by Tyrone Power) is “highly romanticized” in IMDB’s words (unrecognizable in mine) and is literally shown as an American Robin Hood, a Civil War veteran who just wants to return to life as a quiet a farmer, & who was forced to start robbing stuff by the corrupt system.
With Henry Fonda as Frank, with Randolph Scott, and John Carradine (as Bob Ford), & Zanuck produced, if you want a b/w late 30’s Western you could do worse (much worse). OTOH If you want a “real” depiction of Jesse it is hard to think of how you could actually do worse
John Wayne as Genghis Khan in The Conqueror.
Not verifiable, and not real-life historical people, but Ray Harryhausen’s Greek mythology films have blondes in them, when I’m pretty sure there were no blondes in the Agean region at the time.