Coal Miner’s Daughter, A: (1980): Michael Apted’s Biopic of Loretta Lynn Starring Oscar-Winner Sissy Spacek

“A Coal Miner’s Daughter,” Michael Apted’s superbly executed biopicture of country music singer Loretta Lynn depicts the legendary figure from poverty in the rural Appalachian, growing up in a shack in Kentucky’s Butcher Hollow, all the way to stardom at the Grand Ole Opry and beyond.

Though a rags to riches saga, all the way with depictions of career obstacles, marital conflicts, and battles with prescription drugs, the movie, based on a screenplay by Tom Rickman, doesn’t fall victim to clichés.

Under the astute helm of British Michael Apted, better known then for his seminal docu “7Up-28Up” series, the aptly titled yarn benefits immensely from its likable and credible casting, beginning with Sissy Spacek, who does her own singing.

The supporting cast includes Levon Helm as her father Ted Webb; Tommy Lee Jones as her husband Doolittle “Mooney” Lynn; and Beverly D’Angelo, who’s outstanding as Patsy Kline (D’Angelo also sings). By comparison, Jessica Lange’s 1985 impersonation of Patsy Kline in “Sweet Dreams” suffered a few years later, due to the fact that Lange’s was dubbed and her lip-synching left much to be desired.

Detailed Plot

Loretta Lynn is the oldest of eight children born to Ted Webb (Levon Helm) a coal miner raising a family with his wife in poverty conditions in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky.

She marries Oliver Vanetta (Doolittle) “Mooney Lynn (Tommy Lee Jones), a vet of WWII, when she is 15; he was 22.  Already a mother of four by the age of 19, Loretta begins singing at local honky-tonks on weekends, and making occasional radio appearance.

Norm Burley, the owner of Zero Records, a small Canadian record label, hears her sing on Washington radio. Burley sends the couple to Los Angeles to cut a demo tape from which her first single, “Honky Tonk Girl,” would be made.

Mooney suggests that they go on a promotional tour to push the record. He takes his own publicity photo, and writes letters to show promoters and to radio disc jockeys. Loretta receives an emergency phone call from her mother telling her that her father had died.  She and Mooney embark on an extensive promotional tour of radio stations across the South.

Unbeknownst to them, Loretta’s first single, “Honky Tonk Girl,” hits the charts based on radio and jukebox plays, earning her a spot on the Grand Ole Opry. After 17 weekly performances on the Opry, she is invited to sing at the Ernest Tubb Record ShopMidnite Jamboree.

Country superstar Patsy Cline, one of Loretta’s idols, recently hospitalized from a car wreck, prompts Loretta to dedicate Patsy’s newest hit “I Fall to Pieces” as a musical get-well card. Cline listens to the broadcast from her hospital room and sends her husband Charlie Dick down to Tubbs’ record shop to fetch Loretta so the two can meet. She develops a close friendship with Cline follows, which ends abruptly when Cline dies in a tragic plane crash in 1963.

Extensive touring, keeping up her image, overwork, and stress to keep her marriage and family together lead to a nervous breakdown. However, after a year off at the ranch, in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee, Loretta goes back on the road and becomes the First Lady of Country Music.

Mooney drives Loretta to the site of their new house, and they argue about the location of the bedrooms.

The film ends with Loretta performing her 1969 hit, “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” her signature song.


Oscar Nominations: 7

Picture, produced by Bernard Schwartz

Screenplay (Adapted): Tom Rickman

Actress: Sissy Spacek

Art Direction-Set Decoration: John W. Corso; John M. Dwyer

Sound: Richard Portman, Roger Heman, and Jim Alexander

Editing: Arthur Schmidt

Oscar Awards: 1


Oscar Context

In 1980, Robert Redford’s feature debut “Ordinary People,” which swept the most important Oscars, competed with two superlative films (both in black-and-white): David Lynch’s “The Elephant Man,” which received 8 nominations but lost each one of them, and Scorsese’s masterpiece “Raging Bull,” which also received 8 nods, winning one for editing.

The biopic of Loretta Lynn, “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” was nominated for seven Oscars, winning one for Actress Sissy Spacek, but deprived its helmer from a Director nomination. Roman Polanski’s literary adaptation “Tess” won three technical Oscars out of its six nominations.


Loretta (Sissy Spacek)

Doolittle “Mooney” Lynn (Tommy Lee Jones)

Ted Webb (Levon Helm)

Clara Webb (Phyllis Boyens)

Lee Dollarhide (William Sanderson)


Universal (Bernard Schwartz-Universal Productions)

Produced by Bernard Schwartz

Directed by Michael Apted

Screenplay: Thomas Rickman (based  on the autobiography of Loretta Lynn and George Vescey).

Camera: Ralf d. Bode

Art Direction-Set Decoration: John W. Corso; John M. Dwyer

Sound: Richard Portman, Roger Heman, and Jim Alexander

Editing: Arthur Schmidt


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