Issue 185: 2019 01 17: Distorting History

17 January 2019

Movies Distorting History

A letter to the editors.

Dear Sirs

Mr Tidmarsh in last week’s edition of the Shaw Sheet reviewed “The Favourite”, the heavily advertised and widely promoted film about Queen Anne and her relationships with two ladies of her court.  Not greatly cheering, Mr Tidmarsh says, but beautifully made.  But much more worrying, as he says, not great history; in fact, very bad history.  This film is the latest in an increasingly alarming trend of taking apparently carefully verified historical facts and presenting them for our edification, or, as in this case, titillation.  In this instance most of what goes on on the screen cannot even be defined as director’s conjecture, it simply portrays a series of known untruths, carefully reflecting the values and attitudes of our own times.

Does that matter?  Yes, it does.   The average movie goer will know very little of Queen Anne and the politics of her court, let alone aristocratic and royal behaviours.  But having finished their popcorn they will think they do, that will become “the truth”, and our grasp of our own history will gradually slip away.  In 2017 “All The Money in The World” did a seriously subtle knife job on the kidnapping of John Paul Getty’s grandson and in particular on JPG’s efforts to get his grandson back, seemingly based on the simple premise that if you are rich you are venal.  The same year was an even nastier, but much less subtle attack in “Churchill” on Winston of that ilk, which turned much of the great man’s character upside down, seemingly simply out of bile.  Somewhat redressed  thank goodness by “Darkest Hour” and “Dunkirk” which both carefully followed what is well documented as what actually happened.

But if this continues it will not be enough to briefly flash up “Based on true events” during the opening credits.  We will have to re-employ the Lord Chamberlain, not to censure, but simply to appear on the corner of the screen with a truthometer to guide audiences as to how far the film director is letting his imagination stray.  Or directors perhaps could revert to older behaviour; if you want to make a story up, make it up; don’t try and dress it in misleading garments of real people and events.

Yours faithfully

J R Thomas



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