The Coal Miner’s Daughter directed by Michael Apted (1980)

I’m not a huge fan of traditional Nashville Country but listening to the fine Celilo Falls album by Rachel Harrington, drew me to one of that singer’s main inspirations.

I didn’t see this movie when it came out and didn’t really know a lot about Loretta Lynn‘s life.

It gives a highly entertaining, if somewhat rose-tinted, summary of Loretta’s rise from humble beginnings to her iconic status as “the first lady of country music”.

Hollywood’s account is not intended as social realism so the poverty of her upbringing in the Kentucky coal mining community is very romanticised and there’s quite a heavy gloss too on her husband, Doolittle ‘Doo’ Lynn  (b.1926).

The real ‘Doo’ + Loretta

We see hints of his roving eye and belligerent manner but nothing of the extremes Joan Dew presented in her book about women in country music . In this he was called  “a dictatorial, domineering bully, a crude, unsympathetic and arrogant man”.

Instead, we are shown the man Loretta  describes in her autobiography (Still Woman Enough) as “my security and safety net”; the mover and shaker who pushed her to sing in public and believe in herself.

The movie also shows that having achieved success and fame doesn’t make everything a bed of roses; as Doo says at one point : “getting there is one thing, being here is another”.

Doo was 6 years older than Loretta when they married.  The two met when Lynn was just 13 and tied the knot less than one year later. She had 4 kids before she’d turned 20. The plight of women as drudges, doormats and breeders is covered in many of her songs but this didn’t stop her from standing by her man through thick and thin until his death in 1996.

The performances in the film are excellent although it is weird to see Tommy Lee Jones as the 19 year-hot head who wins Loretta’s heart (he was actually 34 when the film was made).  At one point Loretta says he looks like a toy soldier which is quite accurate. With straw blond hair and pasty skin, he wouldn’t look out of place in the Willie Wonka movie.

Sissy Spacek ages in a more believable manner and her Oscar winning performance is remarkable also because she sings all the songs herself (as does Beverley D’Angelo as Patsy Cline). It was also great to see The Band’s Levon Helm as Loretta’s beloved father.

The success of the movie is that it makes you go back to all those country classics as well as showing the resilient qualities of this brilliant singer, further demonstrated in the great  album Van Lear Rose she made with Jack White in 2004.