If you need a change from online concerts and operas but you still want to keep a link with music, here's a selection of musical biopics to see (or perhaps revisit) in this time of lockdown. With Tino Rossi as Schubert, Gustav Leonhardt as Bach or Gérard Depardieu as Marin Marais, here's a whistle stop tour around the best feature films featuring emblematic figures of classical music.

1Amadeus (Milos Forman, 1984) 

It's incontestably the top musical biopic of all time. Everything has been said about this film, one to be devoured greedily. Mozart, whose music is performed by Neville Marriner and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, is presented as a frivolous party animal with an oversized ego. But apart from its world-wide success, this Milos Forman feature has contributed to telling people something about Salieri, in spite of the exaggeration of his rivalry with Mozart – the film is based on the eponymous Peter Shaffer play, which takes some serious liberties with historical fact. We know perfectly well that it's not Salieri who cynically finished the Requiem at Mozart's deathbed – but the scene is a piece of vintage cinema. Other parts are more truthful, like the complaint from the Emperor Joseph II that Mozart's music had "too many notes". It's also worth mentioning the opera production scenes (notably from Die Entführung aus dem Serail and Don Giovanni), which are particularly well worked. And when all is said and done, from the opening scene in Vienna in the snow, set to the Symphony no. 25, to the closing scene of the Lacrimosa from the Requiem fading into the mist, it's without question one of the most beautiful biopics that cinema has given to the classical music world.

2Chronique d’Anna Magdalena Bach (Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, 1968) 

If Amadeus is very much in the Hollywood mould, here's a biopic that's the opposite: a film with unimpeachable historical accuracy. The chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach brings us the mysterious figure of Johann Sebastian Bach, whose story is narrated by his second wife, off-camera. The filmmakers delved into numerous archives to deliver a black and white monograph about the Leipzig cantor that could not be more serious or meritorious. Besides, the cast is stunning. Bach is played by Gustav Leonhardt and the Prince of Anhalt-Köthen by Nikolaus Harnoncourt. Leonhardt (a leading figure in the period instrument movement) doesn't just act Bach – he also plays the music! The two directors, who considered it unthinkable to create a composer biopic without a high content of the man's music, merged into the narrative long sequence shots which permit the audience to hear selections of Bach's works, under the peerless fingers of maestro Leonhardt.

3Tous les matins du monde (Alain Corneau, 1991)

Another baroque biopic, but in a film of spectacular contemplative beauty. Adapted from a Pascal Quignard novel, the film gives us the chance to revisit the figures of Marin Marais (Gérard Depardieu) and especially Jean de Sainte-Colombe (Jean-Pierre Marielle), composers who are often eclipsed by Lully. Marais, who was the pupil of Sainte-Colombe, tells the story of his apprenticeship with this master of the viol, a man of intimidating austerity, and his rise to the royal court. As with the previous film, the great success here is in the sound track, which includes works of Marais et Sainte-Colombe and also Rameau and Couperin, all directed and performed by the great Jordi Savall – the film added greatly both to his fame and that of the viola da gamba.

4Ludwig van B. (Bernard Rose, 1994)

Since the Beethoven anniversary has ground to a halt in the concert halls, let's follow it on-screen! There isn't a shortage of cinematic versions of the great Ludwig (from Abel Gance's surprising 1937 Un grand amour de Beethoven to the 2005 Copying Beethoven from the great Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Holland), but this biopic seems the most complete, or in any case the least fantasy-ridden. Gary Oldman gives a superb performance in the title role and Beethoven's live is retraced without an excess of disruptions in the script. The biopic starts from the mysterious (and truthful) "letter to the immortal beloved", with the attempt of following its tracks. In the same Hollywood genre as its close relative Amadeus, mixing love story, psychology and large scale staging, this one is somewhat more clunky and shows signs of its age. It's a movie without great pretentions, but one that gives a good insight into the universe of the master from Bonn.

5Song of love (Clarence Brown, 1947)

This is one of the rare films to portray the life of a female composer: in this case, Clara Schumann. The work deals mainly with the ties that bind her to Robert Schumann, thus being rather more a biopic of the Schumanns as a couple than of Clara and her music. While it's a disappointment that the figure of the pianist and composer is merely addressed through her loves (and notably her relationship, here freely romanticised, with Brahms, played by Robert Walker), one has to remember the date of 1947: at this time, to see a woman composer centre stage in a major American movie represented a substantial advance – and all the more so because Clara Schumann is played with great sensitivity by the Hollywood icon Katharine Hepburn. It's also worth mentioning a dazzling Mephisto Waltz no.1 played by Liszt in the movie (and by Arthur Rubinstein on the sound track).

6Liztomania (Ken Russell, 1975)

Which bring us to the time for the highly fantastic British director Ken Russell and this film devoted to the life of Liszt. If there's a film that's the polar opposite of our second example, about Bach, this has got to be it! For some, it's a giant bazaar, cleverly organised. For others, it's a musical blasphemy. Either way, this very free adaptation of Liszt's life won't leave you sitting on the fence. Russell goes for rock'n'roll by casting Roger Daltrey (founder of The Who), who gives a fulminating performance as Liszt, accompanied by Ringo Starr as the pope and Rick Wakeman as Wagner. Russell does follow some of the major episodes in Liszt's life, but these are constantly messed around with anachronisms and all manner of eccentricities. In the same vein and for your great pleasure (or not), Russell also made The Music Lovers (in 1970, about Tchaikovsky) and Mahler (in 1974).

7La Belle Meunière (Max de Rieux et Marcel Pagnol, 1948)

Let's radically change the atomsphere with this rather strange film. The two directors present us with a Schubert with a distinctly Provençal accent (thank you, Pagnol), played by the Corsican star Tino Rossi. Here again, there's inspiration from the composer's actual life melded with the song cycle Die schöne Müllerin which gives the film its name. The script follows Schubert who flees the city to seek inspiration, which brings him to meet the miller's daughter. We can also hear the famous Ständchen sung by the side of a stream, accompanied by a guitar, with Rossi's immediately recognisable warm timbre and beautiful singing phrase. If we feel more in the mountains of Provence than in the Austrian Alps, it's worth the detour, if for no other reason to admire this unusual and certainly inimitable Schubert.

8Florence Foster Jenkins (Stephen Frears, 2016)

Here's the only film on this list that isn't about a composer, but none the less, it's carried by an A list cast (Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant). We're on the trail of Florence Foster Jenkins, sadly celebrated because of her complete lack of artistic talent but who defied this to reach Carnegie Hall. Meryl Streep portrays the unhappy singer with brio and the director reconstructs her life without too many departures from reality. Here in France, the film may have suffered somewhat from the comparison with Giannoli's more baroque Marguerite, which preceded it by around a year, one has to admit that the French film takes far more liberties and errs from the biopic category into the realms of fiction. The direction here is good and the actors high grade: it's well worth a look.

Translated from French by David Karlin