Historical Accuracy

Outside of the sciences, there are few rules that can be stated with one 100% certainty. I do feel, however, that you will struggle to find exceptions to the following rule:

In any Hollywood historical movie there will be at least one major inaccuracy.

No one should ever use films as a basis for understanding real events. Otherwise you might think that any of the following were true:
The American navy recovered an Enigma machine from a German submarine called U571
Salieri poisoned Mozart
That anything in Braveheart happened as shown.


At the end of the day, it does not matter. A film should be evaluated on its own terms. All of the above films are entertaining, well made, and worth watching; as long as you do not base your understanding of history on them.

The lack of importance in historical accuracy was demonstrated to me this week. I watched Anonymous. It is a film that puts forward the proposition that the Earl of Oxford was the author of Shakespeare’s plays. It is riddled with inaccuracies, but is a thoroughly entertaining movie. The inaccuracies were delightfully explained by the screenwriter. He observed that The Bard played fast and loose with accuracy. If the greatest playwright in the language felt no need to let facts get in the way of a good story, why should Hollywood scribes?

Given that, why do I find the following advert so annoying?

NO!!!! This is Wrong!!!

The events are clearly supposed to happen in Victorian England. At that time we did not have a decimal currency. The shop lady would have said “fourteen pounds and nineteen shillings”, or maybe “fourteen pounds, nineteen shillings, and eleven pennies”.

This would work only if it was set in the UK after the fifteenth of February 1971, when we Brits accepted that the rest of the world had a point and decimal currencies were not a passing fad.

I find the inaccuracy this advert so much annoying than the previously listed films. Maybe I am happy to accept that art can ignore facts so that it may create great works. Advertising has no higher purpose, so this obvious error irks me. The advert could make the same point if it were set in the American Gilded Age.

Published in: on 18 March, 2012 at 7:11  Leave a Comment  

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