The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of History in Film and T.V.
The next show will be out next week but in the mean time get something from the good section below……
Over the past few months I’ve been watching lots of historical films recently so here are my thoughts. To qualify a film just has to relate to history even if it’s just a backdrop. This does not mean they have to be perfectly accurate. These films generally fall into one of three categories.
First comes the Good
This can be divided into two categories. First are the historically accurate films which either depict an actual life or else a general society or set of events well but crucially are also entertaining. Then there’s those that just choose a historical backdrop and at that point unashamedly break from history and tell a good yarn.
First up is the film that is both in the historical ball park and is also entertaining. I think a film can fit into this if it narrates an actual event accurately even if it conflates several historical people into one character to give a general picture of the society.
A good example is Gladiator (2000). Well what can I say – watch it great story sticking roughly to history even if it does conflate several historical figures in to one character and fabricates exact events to create a picture of Roman society in the later empire. Hot on the heels of this is the HBO’s Rome (2005). This gives a good explanation of the fall of the Republic and the Rise of the Octavian (Augustus) in an entertaining fashion. HBO have a low opinion of people’s attention span – every few minutes they insert sex and violence sometimes quite randomly presumably to grab our attention. The Devils Whore (2008) series by channel 4 is a good portrayal of the English revolution and civil war in the 17th century however is repeats the awful analysis of the Cromwellian invasion of Ireland as “harsh things had to be done.” Enemy at the Gates (2001) is well worth a watch too – although it’s not accurate from the personal lives it recreates the horror of the Siege of Stalingrad
Finally the best in the category is the action packed – historically accurate film Reds (1981).This Oscar winning depiction of the Russian Revolution is amazing. The story tracks the actual life of John Reed an American Communist who witnessed the Russian revolution and also witnessed the Bolshevik betrayal and usurpation of what was originally an inspirational story.
Others in this camp are Le Retour de Martin Guerre (1982), The Advocate aka the hour of the Pig (1993), Schindler’s List (1993), Das Boot (1981), and Stalingrad (1993) are great films which accurately portray life. Clint Eastwood’s two movies Flags of our fathers (2006) and Letters from Iwo Jima (2006) are an overall picture of war in the pacific from a personal perspective but only really appreciated if you look at both with as small a gap between them as possible
The second category of good film is the movie that doesn’t attempt to be historically accurate and makes no bones about it, but tells ya a good yarn. An example of a film like this is a Knights Tale. If ya like ye olde stuff its entertaining. People who moaned about the historical inaccuracies in this have a screw loose. For a film to be historically inaccurate, it has to try and be historically accurate, so in a Knights Tale (2001) when the crowd starts chanting “We will rock you” its
plainly obvious they are having a laugh. You can sit back and enjoy it. The life of Brian (1979) is obviously the winner in this and is brought to the brilliant point when the aliens save Brian. So if someone moans about the historical inaccuracies in these films suspect a waffler – they don’t really know what they’re talking about and are only on comfortable ground pointing out that Jesus was actually crucified (Life of Brian) or that the band Queen were not around in medieval England (A Knights Tale). My current favourite isMenyaet Professiyu (1973) – Download its quirky and funny. A Russian invents a time machine and a thief and an apartment block manager are transported back to the reign of Ivan the terrible. The film is a classic in my book and for slow learners it opens up with the line “this is not historically accurate”.
These are films that pretend to be historically accurate but are not at all. 300 (2006) is a deeply racist take on the Persian invasion of Greece. Drivel from a historical perspective and given the current geopolitical climate a deeply irresponsible film to make. (as I read this I want an example or two of the racism and shitty history) Elizabeth, the Golden Age (2007) is part of this category. Every Spaniard in the film is portrayed as a devil. Its appalling nationalistic tripe. The war between Spain and England was about who would control the world and not as the film portrays an evil empire picking on the fair and peace loving England.
The crowning Glory in this field has to be U-571 (2000). It tells the story of the capture of an enigma machine in World War II by the Americans. The only problem is that it was actually done by the British before the Americans entered the war in 1941.
Whilst I have to say I love watching the film The Last of the Mohicans (1992) should not go without mention. Great to watch though its depiction of Native Americans is pretty awful. The fact that Nathaniel (Daniel Day Lewis) is white and the hero and the de-contextualisation of the Native American violence is shocking. This is sort of explained by the fact it is based on an 1820’s book by James Fennimore Cooper…..
The winner here is the truly awful 13th warrior (1999). Some history buffs commended the film because it portrayed the Arab civilisation for what it was in the medieval Europe – light-years ahead. This may well be true but that its shockingly bad.
Antionio Banderas plays The 13th Warrior (1999) the real life Arab Chronicler Ibn Fadlan. The storyline script is b
pathetic. No matter how historically accurate it is (and it’s not that accurate) nothing could save this rubbish.
Ok this is controversial but I’m going to put Andrei Rublev (1961) on this. If you look at any film list of the best historical films of all time it’ll be there. Perhaps I am a Cretan but I just thought this was a bore…….Perhaps a great depiction of 16th century Russia, but it’s just so boring.