Hollywood History: Accuracy

Historical movies and TV series often catch flak for “taking liberties” or “dramatic license” in their interpretation of historical facts. At least for some of you, that was a key line to hold: a good historical movie is an accurate historical movie.

SARAH: In attempting to evaluate the historical accuracy of a movie, attention much be focused on specific criteria while keeping in the mind the time limitations of film. While details may be omitted due to constraints, historically accurate films do not seek to oversimplify an event and instead stay focused on the complexity of the past. A particular agenda should also not be apparent, and facts and details should not be ignored in an effort to merely get the attention of the audience.

MATT: Assessing historical movies and or TV series must begin with the essential question of accuracy. Is what the director of the adaptation actually accurate to what historical study tells us regarding the specific time and/or place and/or figure true? Often we consume something that we believe to be historically accurate, that ends up being merely historically inspired. With this in mind, I believe that the primary criteria for assessing historical movies and TV series must being with the accuracy of that which is being betrayed…. While based on and in a historically true family and location, Medici: Masters of Florence is not a historically accurate television series, [c-creator Frank] Spotnitz himself says that “We begin the show with ‘what if’…” which is a dead giveaway on the historical inaccuracy of the show. While it paints a true and accurate picture of the location, and possibly even the culture of the Medici family and dynasty, it is certainly not telling a historically accurate story thus failing the standards I set forth above.

SHAWN: The two things that would take to assess a historical movie or a tv show would be “Historical accuracy” and “ Historical detail.” The two might sound more of the same, but the difference are that accuracy in a movie is trying to bring back to life what had happened in the past accurately. With detail, the movie or the TV show is trying to show the detail of the even from the past and not just an overlay of a certain event, this is trying to show the whole picture and not just parts of the whole story. Also within detail being able to have the scene in the movie look like the same location or be the same location is key.

What’s the most accurate historical movie you’ve seen? (How do you know it’s accurate? How closely do you investigate this before or after you watch something?) Do you take Shawn’s point about the difference between “accuracy” and “detail”?


3 thoughts on “Hollywood History: Accuracy

  1. I agree with Sarah and Matt that accuracy is necessary to call a certain film or series historical, especially the avoidance of blatant inaccuracies that oversimplify. However, I wonder what degree of accuracy is necessary. Especially since historians are limited to what sources we have from a certain time period, what is accurate? What if a “fact” that is accurate to one person/historian is inaccurate to another historian. I think of the TV series (based on a book series) The White Queen, and its sequel, The White Princess depicting the War of the Roses. Much of that time period is speculated, such as who killed the sons of King Edward IV in the Tower of London? There are many theories. The series follows one theory that many would call inaccurate.


  2. I believe Shawn may be on to a something in his different use of the terms historical detail and accuracy. Accuracy used in this sense seems to refer to the extent that a movie is able to portray the correct historical feel, in which detail is only one important component. There may be room for liberties in a historical movie if the tone, sentiments, and beliefs of the characters are in line with the historical period despite any minor adjustments to the timeline of events in order to fit the limited time of film. Although, I do think a film looses credibility if the detail of main or important events are significantly altered, so obviously detail remains somewhat critical despite the promise of engaging allure or even historical accuracy in the movie itself.


  3. I really liked how Matt gave his criteria for a historical movie then backs it up with the example of Medici: Masters of Florence. Not only do I agree with Matt’s primary criteria, but I also would like to add on that just because a movie/series isn’t historical accurate doesn’t mean it’s not a good movie/series. Further more, I liked how Shawn explained how movies often try to portray the larger picture, and not just the small details. On a personal basis if a movie/series is not very accurate I tend to not pay much attention to it for the historical accuracy, and rather focus on entertainment. For example, Vikings on the History Channel is no where near being the most accurate, but it still is rather entertaining.


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