Should Movies in Historical Settings Portray the History Accurately?: An Op-Ed Piece

Patrick KIssel, Reporter

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Hollywood has produced a plethora of movies set in a historical time setting. Some attempt, and mostly are, historically accurate while others hardly even make an attempt to stay faithful to the material that the movie is meant to be based on. These movies include “The 100,” “The Patriot” and “The Free State of Jones” to name a few.

In many historical movies, some aspects will be correct but others will be inaccurate. For example, in “The Patriot,” directed by Roland Emmerich in 2000, the depiction of the time period was, overall, relatively accurate, while the storyline and the more in-depth aspects of its depiction had issues. The issue seen in “The Patriot” was the idea that if you are attempting to make a movie that tailors to one specific group, in this  case is Americans, and the director is willing to take historical liberties, it is very possible for the final product to have a storyline that does not accurately depict the history. An example of this is the character Colonel Tavington. Tavington was inspired by a real figure, Colonel Banastre Tarleton, who is today remembered for running down a unit of Americans attempting to surrender at the Battle of Waxhaws. The Patriot instead runs with this depiction and has Tavington commit war crimes of which there is no historical record, including burning a church with the inhabitants of an entire town within. Making these depictions of British atrocities creates a false idea in the mind of viewers on how the war was fought. In the overall, the movie also attempts to depict the British army as simply incompetent, with all of the officers depicted as overconfident, which is not entirely true.

Historical movies should have an obligation to depict history accurately. They should not attempt to appeal to a specific audience by inaccurately depicting a historical event or portraying historical characters in a manner that is incorrect. The general viewer will not do indepth research before or after the movie, and so the movie has a duty to depict the events accurately so as to not leave any major misconceptions in the mind of the public. One example of an overall historically accurate film was “Lincoln” from 2012 directed by Steven Spielberg. There were some minor errors, like the Connecticut congressional delegation voting against the 13th amendment when in reality all four congressmen from Connecticut voted for it, but in the overall it was a historically accurate depiction.

It is also worth noting it is not going to deduct from the movie to attempt and portray history accurately. If a movie occurs in a historical setting, then it should labour to be correct. While it would require effort in terms of research and set, it can create a masterpiece film. One example of this would be “Waterloo” from 1970 directed by Sergei Bondarchuk, which followed Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and field marshal Sir Arthur Wellesley at the climactic battle of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815. The movie went to extreme lengths to ensure an accurate depiction, building the set by removing two hills to build the ridge of Mont St. Jean, constructing two farmhouses and training 15,000 soldiers from the Red Army in Napoleonic drill. This led to a movie that still to this day is one of the best depictions of the Napoleonic Wars, and that also succeeded in masterfully recreating the events while remaining infinantley entertaining.

In conclusion, historical movies should strive to recreate the setting as best as possible. They should not lax on recreating the setting or a portrayal of a historical character for the benefit of the story, but instead should, if necessary, build the story around that historical character. This should be done to avoid a public misconception about any one event, and to create a far more entertaining movie.