How should we assess historical movies and TV series? Several of you emphasized that the starting point for such storytelling is necessarily entertainment (and commerce). Others argued that this kind of historical storytelling — despite inaccuracies — can help inspire viewers to learn more about history.
NELSON: …it is important to understand that the main job of a film crew is to make their respective project entertaining and make money. Often times this means that the crew must take certain “liberties” in order to make their film/series a better sell. One such case is the movie of Hacksaw Ridge; it shows Desmond Doss volunteering to go to war, but in reality Doss was drafted. The movie does this (I think) to better portray Doss as having a strong moral sense of duty to fight for his country. While the movie does take other “liberties” it still is enjoyable and entertaining, and that’s the point. The job of entertainers, in this case the film crew, is to entertain; often times they are not history buffs, and while they have to be well versed in the history they are filming, they cannot be expected to have every detail memorized or in some cases even want to include them. Their job is to sell and sometimes certain historical facts are not welcomed in the pockets of buyers, so they are excluded.
LAUREN: Hollywood is mainly concerned with two things: money and excellence. So, does the film have financial success, or the hope of it, and is it made well, are both crucial questions. If the film is not well made, meaning that it is not convincing in its production design, or just poorly visualized, audiences will not like it, and it will also fail in the sense that it probably will not make as much money.
However, for me, the question comes down to the creativity of the filmmaker and writers, and how much the craft is sacrificed for the art. The Academy Award-winning film The King’s Speech, about the stuttering King George VI, even if it has its inaccuracies, succeeds in humanizing a powerful historical figure, a man who was never supposed to and did not want be king. Beautifully shot, and cleverly written, its themes are the takeaways, supported by facts, balancing art and craft. This is the most common quality of successful period drama.
AIDAN: …when I think about Hollywood and other parts of popular culture portraying historical things, I am all for it, because that is how I learned to love history. It doesn’t matter that some parts are fictional or that there are some historical inaccuracies. When I look back on my own experience it was a work of fiction [Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels, the source material for the film Gettysburg] that caused me to love history, and then it was this love of history that then caused me to read more studious well thought out books. If another work of fiction causes somebody else to fall in love with history and causes them to learn more about that event and what really happened then I think that is worth any historical inaccuracies that the work had. That being said if you are going to write historical fiction remind people that it is based on a true story, but is not an actual one.