Story vs History – Who Wins?

Story vs History – Who Wins?

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With the new Robin Hood movie looming on the horizon and rumours of a sequel already circulating it seems a good moment to ask “that” question, namely when you’re watching a film that is supposedly based on historical events does it bother you when they play fast and loose with the history or are you happy to let it slide as artistic license? You know, a bit like when they’re doing “the film of the book” and the film is little or nothing like the book, and I’m sure we can all think of one of those without much effort.

Now I understand that I may be in a minority here but I have to say that it really bugs me when films tout lousy history, whether it’s “U-571″ which replaced the Brits with Americans or delving back into movie history with “Cromwell” and its assorted historical errors, and while I may be dropping off Mel Gibson’s christmas card list for this it does seem to me that he’s one of the arch perpetrators in this area. Don’t take it from me though, here’s a quote from Alex von Tunzelmann’s fabulous dismantling of “Braveheart” in the Guardian in 2008:

“We begin in 1280 when, a voiceover informs us, the Scottish king has died with no sons. In fact, King Alexander III of Scotland didn’t die until 1286, and in 1280 both of his sons were still alive. Meanwhile, outside a grubby West Highland hut, young Wallace is wandering around in the mud. The real Wallace came from Renfrewshire and was the privileged son of a noble landowner. This isn’t going at all well, and we’re only three minutes in.”

“After his lady love is murdered by the English, Wallace pretends to surrender. At the last minute, he whips out a concealed nunchaku. Wait, what? Glossing over its implication that medieval Scotland imported arms from China, Wallace’s rebellion gathers pace at the Battle of Stirling Bridge, which the film has inexplicably set in a field. Rather than, you know, on a bridge. For pity’s sake. The clue’s in the name.”

“Patriot” anyone?

Fast forward a couple of years and now the Guardian are on the trail of Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe for some of their pronouncements about the hitoricity of the new Robin Hood movie and Stephen Moss has staged his own search for the origins of Robin Hood but he doesn’t seem that impressed with Scott and Crowe:

“Robin Hood was almost certainly a pedestrian,” David Crook, the retired former assistant keeper of public records at the Public Record Office, tells me over tea one afternoon at his home in Grantham. Robin, in other words, had no horse. This is significant, because, as I settle down to try to unravel the eight centuries of myth and legend that have accreted around the outlaw, I am looking at a still from the new Ridley Scott movie, which will open the Cannes film festival on 12 May. Russell Crowe – looking the spit of Maximus, the hero of Gladiator, with cropped hair, bloodied cheek and an expression of furious determination – is astride a horse. The horse, naturally, is white: what else would a hero, about to save England from French invaders, ride? I fear there may be some historical disconnect here.

I’m always willing to listen to someone who can drop the word “accrete” into an article so I read on:
“I would be less harsh on the new movie were it not for the exaggerated claims made on its behalf by director and star.”

I don’t think he’s challenging Russell Crowe to a fight but…..

The rest of the article leaves delves into the background of the tales and legends and, while not coming up with anything particularly revolutionary, does illustrate some points that differ from the traditional view. Deadline Hollywood reports that Ridley Scott has his own documentary due out on the History Channel just before the film’s released so perhaps then we’ll get his take on it.

Until then I’ll prove I’m not a complete pedant and watch “Battle of Britain” again, followed by “Waterloo”.

What do you think? Should history be allowed to get in the way of a great story?

Colin's a music-lover, frequent photographer and sometime musician as well as being a fan of all kinds of films, including those with subtitles and some of the more 'cult' movies (Dark Star anyone?). since joining HeyUGuys he's met lots of wonderful and fascinating people who work in front and behind the cameras and has been to some fantastic and memorable events.
  • David Hart

    It depends on how well you know the historical story behind the movie as is evidenced by the comments from the eminent historians. Of course the 99% of us who do not know the true history are probably happy to believe what we see.

    Robin Hood would obviously be an exception for any true Englishman who knows the story well and would expect Robin Hood and his band of merry men to be working against the Sheriff of Nottingham and bad King John until Richard the Lionheart returns from the crusade. Or not?!! And of course it will be nothing like the historically accurate rendering of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

  • public records

    well, and i think Permission to republish Myth vs History in print or online must be granted …

  • Way too far

    This movie is way too far from historical accuracy. When one writes a scenario, the historical context should be respected.
    In Robin Hood, you can see Richard the Lionheart willing to return “home” and claiming for french blood, which is weird since he was more French (both parents were) than English and spent less than one year of his life in England.
    Then the entire plot is inaccurate since there was no french invasion of England at that time, but a war in France, that the french won since John lost ALL his continental lands.
    The french landing took place much later in 1215, but it was succesfull and the barons were allied with the French, not king John.

  • Way too far

    This movie is way too far from historical accuracy. When one writes a scenario, the historical context should be respected.
    In Robin Hood, you can see Richard the Lionheart willing to return “home” and claiming for french blood, which is weird since he was more French (both parents were) than English and spent less than one year of his life in England.
    Then the entire plot is inaccurate since there was no french invasion of England at that time, but a war in France, that the french won since John lost ALL his continental lands.
    The french landing took place much later in 1215, but it was succesfull and the barons were allied with the French, not king John.

  • remove antivirus monitor virus

    Story is more attractive:P