Wed
Aug 28 2013 10:30am

Forget the Facts, Tell a Story: Why Braveheart is a Classic Despite its Inaccuracies

Braveheart

I recently watched the movie Anonymous, a historical thriller with an intellectual twist. The premise is that Shakespeare’s plays may not have been written by Shakespeare at all, but by a contemporary, the Earl of Oxford, and that Shakespeare was an illiterate drunk, a liar, and a murderer. The movie makes clever use of Shakespeare’s works and motifs, as well the historical details of Elizabethan London, to craft a smart and suspenseful tale about the man we think we know as William Shakespeare.

Just one problem: it’s all a lie.

AnnonymousHistorians have long since debunked the Earl of Oxford theory (he would had to have written A Midsummer Night’s Dream when he was nine), so the film is really just a clever piece of historically inspired fiction. Which is perhaps not surprising, given that the film was directed by Roland Emmerich, known for popcorn films such as 2012, The Day After Tomorrow, White House Down, and Independence Day. From the perspective of Emmerich’s past work, Anonymous is some very high-brow filmmaking.

Nevertheless, critics panned Anonymous. Not because it was poorly made: it might be one of Emmerich’s best films. (It certainly gives me hope for his slow-gestating Foundation trilogy, if that project ever sees the light of day.) The reason people hated the movie is that it seemed truthful, when in fact it was not. Lying about history is something of a crime in our culture, one that irks no group so much as it does the scholars—and there are more scholars of Shakespeare than of any other storyteller in memory. So despite its good intentions, Anyonymous sank on account of tarnishing the Bard’s good name.

BraveheartThe entire episode reminded me of another controversy: the one surrounding the 1995 movie Braveheart. If you haven’t seen this historical epic, you have not lived; please go and watch it right now. Mel Gibson’s Braveheart tells the story of Scotland’s great hero William Wallace, a rebel who raised a homegrown army to challenge the tyrannical British crown, and who sacrificed everything he loved in the name of freedom. The movie was a tour de force at the box office, going on to win five Oscars (including the award for Best Picture), and remains one of the most beloved historical films of all time.

Braveheart is an excellent movie. My six elements of a story world are met in spades: fascinating world (13th century Britain); compelling characters (Wallace, Longshanks, Robert the Bruce); gripping plot (he woos a Princess?!); resonant themes (“Freeeeeedoooooom!”); top-notch execution (the Academy awards); and the whole project had X-factor/originality, perhaps due to writer Randall Wallace’s personal connection to the material. Braveheart still stands as the definitive Hollywood film about Scottish history—you could argue that its influence is hinted at, as kind of an echo, in the very title of Brave, Pixar’s 2012 animated film set in a similar historical version of Scotland.

My own relationship with Braveheart could be called love at first sight. In part, that’s because I never saw the proverbial bride until the wedding; while Paramount was running trailers in theaters across the country, I was busy graduating from high school. There were finals to pass, speeches to write, friends to say goodbye to—so when I walked into the movie theater that fine June evening, I sort of figured Braveheart would be a movie about the world’s first cardiac surgeon.

Braveheart

After forty-five minutes of William Wallace leading the lovely Murron into secret forest clearings, I changed my mind: clearly this was a classical romance. Only once the local magistrate sliced her throat did I figure out that these Scots were going to war—and from there forward the movie had me by the bollocks. Three hours later, I left the theater in tears of grief; two months later, Mel Gibson’s blue-painted face hung over my bed; and eighteen years later, I’m still writing about it. To this day, I don’t watch many previews, because I love walking into a good film that I know nothing about.

But what I didn’t know in 1995 was that a controversy was brewing over this film. You see, for all its sweeping depictions of medieval Britain, it turns out the film was wildly inaccurate. Dates were wrong. Events were fabricated. Characters were presented out of context. And the kilts. Don’t get the experts started about the kilts. As recently as 2009, The Times of London called Braveheart “the second-most inaccurate historical film of all time.” It even beat out 10,000 BC (which, like Anonymous, was directed by Roland Emmerich).

Now, what does this mean for my teenage love affair with Braveheart? Did Hollywood pull the wool over my naïve young eyes? If I’d known about the historical mistakes in advance—if some caring history teacher had pulled me aside and given me a dire warning about my weekend plans—would I have avoided this three-hour cinematic lie?

The answer is no, and here’s why.

Great stories are about worlds, characters, events, and themes. They’re about reversals and betrayals, mistakes and redemptions. Great stories touch our hearts and stir our souls, and they reveal deep truths about human life. What great stories are not about—and never have been about—is facts.

Stories do, of course, contain facts. Star Wars, for instance, owes its existence to certain facts of astrophysics (e.g., planets exist), but is otherwise fiction. Harry Potter draws its humor from certain facts of British life, but there is in truth no Hogwarts. (I think.) Even so-called historical films are actually just a blend of fact and fiction: James Cameron very faithfully recreated the Titanic for his eponymous blockbuster, but the story of Jack and Rose is a fib; and while Schindler’s List is grounded in the facts of the holocaust, much of the story was made up for cinematic purposes. That is not a Hollywood conspiracy; it’s just the nature of storytelling.

Where we get confused is in understanding the nature of history. History is not a thing of facts and dates. (Sorry every history teacher I ever had.) Knowing certain historical facts can be helpful, but what matters is understanding the essence of our past. We talk about learning history so that history doesn’t repeat, but this is not a function of names and places. It’s about understanding trends and currents in the flow of time. I’ve always felt the best history teachers are ones who are great storytellers.

This brings us to another idea, which is the grey line between history and mythology. History is often written by the victors and/or the historians, and no matter how “accurate” they might try to be, they’re only capturing one perspective on a given period or event. History starts to become mythology as soon as the ink is put on the page—names and dates might be accurate, but what really happened, and how it happened, and what it meant, are an interpretation. (Julius Caesar might be a historial figure, but he is also a myth. How else could Dante have put Brutus and Cassius in the mouths of Satan?)

So while scholars are free to rigorously debate the details of Scottish independence—not to mention the questionable authorship of Troilus and Cressida—I think the true significance of the two Williams has to do with their place as mythical figures. These men became legends. The details of their lives are not so important as the virtues for which their names became known. Any story that brings attention to their tales is just another piece of the mythology.

So despite the controversy over Braveheart, I still believe it’s one of the greatest films ever made. The story is deeply moving, powerfully told, and I don’t give two mirrors on a leather shoe if the kilts are from the wrong time period. Similarly, I really liked Anonymous, and it doesn’t bother me that the events didn’t actually happen. Both the facts and the lies about Shakespeare’s life added to my enjoyment of Shakespeare’s legend.

Because in the end, what we remember are stories, tales, legends, and myths—the intangible essence that makes history meaningful. Serious scholars might find that frustrating, but that’s how storytelling has always worked. Historical films often don’t mesh with historical fact. But it’s okay. As long as it’s a good story well told, the experience still matters. In fact, it might even be myth in the making.


Brad Kane is a writer in the entertainment industry, focusing on storytelling in movies, TV, games, and more. If you enjoyed this article, take a second to like his page on Facebook and/or to check out his blog. He also has a new Twitter account that he is trying to remember to use.

49 comments
Sol Foster
1. colomon
Have you watched the movie with Gibson's commentary track? My impression (admittedly it's been quite some years now since I watched it) was he is very much on your wavelength. He points out a bunch of inaccuracies, and his basic explanation is always "Yeah, we thought the movie worked better this way."
John Thompson
2. Fuzzy_Dunlop
I agree to a point. While misrepresentation of historical events, like Braveheart are incorrect. In the end they tell a good story, serve as an introduction to history for the masses, and in the case of Brave fill my need for awesome battle scenes. They may be faulty on facts but they are not outright lies.

On the other hand a movie like anonymous is an outright lie. I have never seen nor plan to see it so I can't say much about its merits as a film. But it's complete mischaracterization of a real person, which in turn belittles all of the actual works he created is terrible. Being wrong or factually incorrect does not mean William Wallace did not exist or did not rebel against the English crown. Making a movie that outright dismisses the work of Shakespeare as plagiarism is a travesty
lach7
3. lach7
"History is written by the victors . . ."

I was completely with you up to that comment. Overall, I'm STILL with you; but I think this old mantra is a gross over-exaggeration. We can admit the fallableness of history without interjecting conspiratorial motives with such a wide brush.

Great post! Thanks for your thoughts!
Adam S.
4. MDNY
Braveheart is an enjoyable piece of crap. Don't get me wrong, I love the movie. I just can't place it in any sort of canon of greatest ever films- except maybe greatest ever films based on inaccurate Scottish history (it beats the crap out of Rob Roy).
I wrote a research paper my Junior year of college on Braveheart and its historical basis. Best time I ever had in university, I watched Braveheart 3 times in 3 days with a bottle of Scotch (or 2).
The best historical inaccuracy isn't actually in the movie. William Wallace's greatest victory was at the battle of Sterling . At the site of the battle is a statue of Mel Gibson, now protected by a fence because of all the angry Scots who graffitied it. Mel Gibson is actually of average or shorter-than-average height. William Wallace was such a fierce fighter in part because he was a giant 6'8".
Sky Thibedeau
5. SkylarkThibedeau
Well the first tome generally recognized as history was written by one of the losers: 'The Peloponnessian War' was written by Themistocles, an Athenian Survivor.

Still it can be argued that Julius Caesar in the 'Bello Gallico' and Herodotus in his 'Histories' were writing propaganda to promote themselves or their culture.
Constance Sublette
6. Zorra
You keep reducing creativity to a formula (while frequently not knowing what a lot of writing terms mean) -- and insist that facts don't matter either.

Really? You can swallow the idea that a ROYAL PRINCESS can just walk away from the family castle-fortress in the middle of the night, ALL BY HERSELF and gallop in that one night (on one horse) all the way across Britain to unite with HER ONE TWUE LUV? How can anyone even think this is good movie / story making?
John Adams
7. JackAdams
Yes, tell a good story. We have a rich past draw upon but actually a poor history. The amount of information we have about people living in the past is incredibly small compared to the actual lives lived, and what historians write about is even smaller. Historians often struggle to unearth the story not yet told. The past is a huge soup of events, people, places and other phenomena. History is the attempt to interpret this soup. Myth is not history in the same way. Myth is when a person or event is interpreted by a group of people in order to understand themselves. They use the story as a location for identity formation. There is an added layer of meaning. Wallace is mythic in many ways because his story contributes to a sense of Scottish identity. Shakespeare does much the same, but even he wrote about such figures, Henry V, Richard III, Julius Ceasar etc. Lots of films like the ones under discussion here seek after figures or events that have already attained a mythic stature. Facts only give us data. Stroies give us truth.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
8. Lisamarie
I can totally see what you mean, to a point. For example, even though I am highly suspect of the veracity of The Social Network, I loved that movie. I just don't view it as how Facebook really started, but I do think it's a fun/interesting story about how something like that COULD have happened. But I do think that line starts to blur the more you try and promote yourself as 'what really happened', especially if that involves defaming people. I am not sure how much Social Network attempted to tout itself as the 'true' story of Facebook (we don't have cable, so I miss a lot of commercials/media coverage of this type of thing).

But, there is that side of me that used to be a scientist, that is a big believer that there is an objective truth, that agrees with 3. Yes, we all have a bias and a perspective but that doesn't mean it's impossible to figure out the truth of a situation and what happened, or that you have to embellish/change things in order to get a good story. Although, since real life doesn't usually follow neat storytelling conventions that probably IS the case more often than not, and I'm certainly no stranger to the idea of truth vs. facts (for example, it's only a subset of Christians that take the creation story as literal fact, but most still accept it as truth, and Tolkien wrote a whole bunch about the idea of myth and truth).

Also: I just finished rereading Name of the Wind, and I am pretty sure one of the characters says something pretty close to your comment about too many facts ruining a story :) It might have been Skarpi.
Rafael
9. Ryamano
Facts don't matter ... until a part of your nation or family's history is tarnished. Then you see a lot of people complaining about, basically, slander. Like another Mel Gibson movie, The Patriot, and its treatment of the English, basically portraying them during the American Independence War as the Nazis.
Kent Aron Vabø
10. sotgnomen
Sorry, I am going to be that guy.. It was Robert the Bruce, was it not? I don't remember a second William in Braveheart. Otherwise I agree very much with the claim here, although I cannot today watch Braveheart without sometimes wincing. It has gotten old, and I have seen it too many times. I do miss the time when I just fell into the movie, in stead of watching the actors act.
Also, shame on you, previous commenter. Rob Roy is fantastic!
Genevieve Williams
11. welltemperedwriter
Braveheart is an action flick that happens to be set in a Hollywood-backlot idea of 13th century Scotland. Once you understand this it's easier to enjoy the movie, though I do find Gibson's mullet hairstyle and budding martyr complex very distracting (and not in a good way).

It's not supposed to be historically accurate, but the movie tries to have its cake and eat it too by claiming to tell "the real story." 300 basically does the same thing, even having a narrator who couldn't possibly have witnessed some of the events he's relating.

Shakespeare in Love and Amadeus are also full of inaccuracies (in the case of the former movie it's part of the humor) but they're still good movies. I've seen some criticism of Amadeus for Getting it Wrong (tm) but not of Shakespeare in Love, which is winking at the audience the whole way through.
David Thomson
12. ZetaStriker
The problem is that a inaccurate historical fiction, told earnestly with an effort for realism, is enough to teach people an incorrect version of historical events. Unless it is VERY clearly stated - and it never is - they will more than likely accept the film as fact, and that's a really dangerous thing in my mind. Skewed documentaries and false historical films like this can be very bad things for precisely those reasons, even if the story itself is good.
lach7
13. familyPerspective
Sir William Wallace is my first cousin, 26 times removed (thanks for the link to Randall Wallace, I'll add that to my geneology info). While I'm not thrilled with Gibson being the face everyone remembers, this movie certainly boosted the fame of my ancestor and his struggle throughout the world, regardless of historical accuracy. If this means someone went out and read about the real Guardian of Scotland, then I'm happy. And, incidentally, if it also left them believing that the English are petty, broken, evil overlords, I'll take that too...heh...
James Nicoll
14. James Davis Nicoll
History is written by the victors

From which I am forced to conclude the slavers won the American Civil War. I learn something new every day!
Chris Nelly
15. Aeryl
@14, Have you looked at America lately? They did.
Genevieve Williams
16. welltemperedwriter
Also, you completely lost me here:

Where we get confused is in understanding the nature of history. History is not a thing of facts and dates. (Sorry every history teacher I ever had.) Knowing certain historical facts can be helpful, but what matters is understanding the essence of our past. We talk about learning history so that history doesn’t repeat, but this is not a function of names and places. It’s about understanding trends and currents in the flow of time. I’ve always felt the best history teachers are ones who are great storytellers.

How in the hell are you supposed to grasp essences, trends, or currents without facts and dates?
Sean OHara
17. SeanOHara
@2: What, you think reducing Edward II to the most absurd homosexual stereotype imaginable and showing him getting cuckolded by Wallace isn't every bit as pernicious a lie as saying Shakespeare didn't write his plays?
Genevieve Williams
18. welltemperedwriter
SeanOHara: their characterization of the "She-Wolf of France" leaves something to be desired as well.
Sean OHara
19. SeanOHara
@ZetaStriker: I take it you really hate Richard III?
Brad Kane
20. bradkane
@10: Thanks for the correction; the article's been updated.

@3, 14, etc: 'History is often written by the victors' would have been a more accurate statement; apologies for the unintentional cliché. The point is that history, like journalism, includes an inherent point-of-view bias. Facts and dates can be recorded objectively, but historical signifcance is subjective and fluid. This isn't to say that facts aren't useful; but they're not sacred either, at least not to a storyteller. What's sacred to the storyteller is truth. Of course, a historian might have a very different opinion!
Alan Brown
21. AlanBrown
I don't buy the premise that history is subjective, or at least, as subjective as this article purports it to be. In the wrong hands, it can be inaccurate and misleading, but when done right, it is fact based and objective.
And I also don't buy the fact that fiction can be more accurate to the true spirit of the times than a factual account. From my experience, fiction is more often a reflection of the spirit of the times during which it is written than the spirit of the time it is about (see, for example, how depictions of life in Westerns has changed over time).
Now, if you want to label a movie like Braveheart as "Inspired By A True Story", that I can buy, but don't call it history, any more than you would call the movie Inglorious Basterds history.
And speaking of that, I laughed when you said Star Wars was based in facts of astrophysics. Well, I guess if you got someone to squint really, really, really hard, and forget everything they learned about astrophysics beyond the second grade, you just might be able to convince them of that. But, like history, facts is facts.
I will agree that sticking to history does not always make for a good story. But who, outside of Hollywood, thinks that history exists to entertain us?
Boquaz
22. boquaz
I couldn't agree with this more.

I'm a scientist. My profession is to seek out provable facts and dissemenate them. Even so, every paper I write will one day be proven "wrong." Even in science, our writing tells a story. It doesn't matter how hard we try, or whether we completely remove human opinion from the analysis, there are assumptions built in to the current understanding of the world that will one day be changed. As we refine them, we will go back and re-do nearly all our prior work. This is normal. Most of it stays the same, but sometimes the meaning of the results changes.

If I, as a scientist, can't say that today's interpretation of facts will be tomorrow's, how can historians claim anything different? I'm sure there are many historians right now writing one more book on the "real" story behind the fall of Rome. I will read it, I love those books.

So yeah, names and dates are important, but our knowledge is far from certain or complete. The interpretation of that knowledge and the meaning behind it is of far more importance given that uncertainty. Even speculation like Anonymous is important and have analogs in science, our facts are just the set of history we happened to live through.

Seriously now, Braveheart is way too cheesy for the real William Wallace.
Doc Tobin
23. thegooddoctor
braveheart is one of my top 3 favorite movies of all time.
lach7
24. beerofthedark
One of the (many) reasons people get upset over the Shakespeare-didn't-write-Shakespeare fables is that they mostly boil down to class snobbery. Every single one at some point claims that it would be absurd to imagine that a provincial middle class disreputable actor could possibly have written such beautiful insights into the human condition, and thus the Works of Shakespeare must have been written by either a noble or someone who had a university education and
didn't come from the Midlands. They all founder on the little evidence we have - those maligned facts and figures. I agree that telling a story is the main thing in fiction, but when some of your imported themes are "The upper class are better than poor people" (Anonymous), or "The English are a homogenous race of bastards" (Patriot, Braveheart) it's not a bad thing to call them out on it. That said, I did enjoy Braveheart while still laughing my arse off at some of the wilder interpretations of history.
lach7
25. Skia
Frankly I have come to believe that history is a study of human nature and of human motivations. Learning about names and dates and places is unimportant. Learning about people is important.
Of course how the history is being taught also teaches us about the nature and character of our own teachers. I've come to understand that a lot of what I learned growing up is false or largely incomplete. Usually it is done to promote whatever tribe/culture the teacher believes in or to discourage the ones that they are against. It is also usually done with honesty as the teacher generally believes that what they teach is truth.
lach7
26. Fahrbot
So... does it matter that the movie may have led to an increase in anti-English xenophobia and bigotry? Or is that beyond responsibility of a filmaker?
Chris Nelly
27. Aeryl
Yes, how dare people be mad about actual things the English have done?

That'd be like being mad that a movie about the Trail of Tears, led to an increase in anti-American hatred(calling it xenophobia and bigotry seems wrong. Xenophobia and bigotry are irrational, justified anger is not irrational).
Andrew Knighton
28. gibbondemon
I've had a varying relationship with Braveheart. As a teenager, I loved it in the cinema. Then I went to university to study history, including that bit of history, and grew to hate it - friends learned to leave the college dining hall if I got started on the subject. Now, having mellowed in my attitude towards truth in films, I can both admire it as a film and hate it as a portrayal of history.

Because while I agree that historical films aren't about truth, they're about story telling, I think that a good film could have been made using what we know of the truth. Veering from it so wildly doesn't make the film better, just different from what it would have been. The characters depicted are inherently fascinating, they didn't need to have their real lives so utterly ignored, and I'd love to see a depiction of the Battle of Stirling Bridge where they actually fight on the bridge.
lach7
29. miriam12
I've never seen Braveheart, I must admit. I've heard many good things about it, but Mel Gibson makes me irrationally angry and I don't want to support his projects.
Shelly wb
30. shellywb
@22, Yes. We experience everything through the filter of our brains, and so it cannot help but be subjective. Eyewitness accounts are *never* accurate, and as one moves away from a date and place error builds, just as it does when observing anything else in nature. It is never the "facts" of an historical event that are what's important about it anyway, but rather our collective experience of it.

On another note, anyone going to a movie and expecting fact is a fool. Movies are created to express a point of view. They might pretend facts matter, but in the end they have little to do with it. Braveheart was entertainment, that's all, and it did it well pretty well.
Rafael
31. Ryamano
@27 The Patriot and Braveheart actually exaggerated what the English did. That scene with people being burned inside a church (patriot) and prima nocte (sp) (braveheart) never happened. Edward Longshanks didn't defenestrate his son's (possible) lover. And other things.

That's defamation to picture an antagonist as a mustache-curling villain. Good to a story, but can have consequences. Like Birth of a Nation, by D W Griffith, making the Southern US seem like a pacific place, with white families later being subjected to great abuses by the Northern carpet baggers. It's good to the story, which seemed to make audiences at the time very enthusiastic, but it's changing how people perceive history and had real life consequences (in that case, the rebirth of the KKK).
lach7
32. Danny Adams
Even as a historical fiction writer who tries to get my own work as accurate as possible, I'm pretty forgiving of historical inaccuracies...just as long as the movie doesn't claim that what it's presenting is true. I don't recall *Braveheart* ever doing this, but as much as I liked *King Arthur*, it's still always bugged me that PR billed it as The Truth Behind The Legend or some such mess.
lach7
33. Xian Pryde
@5.SkylarkThibedeau - you seem to have confused Themistocles with Thucydides.

Themistocles was an Athenian statesman and general who was vital to the defense of Greece against Persia, both at the battle of Marathon and in the prepping of the navy that led to the victory at Salamis. Without his leadership, Darius or Xerxes might have conquered Greece before the age of Pericles could even begin.

Thucydides was the Athenian general and historian who died during the Peloponnesian war, writing eloquently of the causes and course of the great conflict with Sparta. He would never know the ultimate fate of his city—meaning, perhaps, that "history is written by the participants" rather than the victors or losers, in this case—but he was not happy with the way things were going.

Thucydides was indeed one of the earlies historians, but he was following in the footsteps of the great Herodotus, as well as drawing many parallels to the works of Homer.
Tom Smith
34. phuzz
also left them believing that the English are petty, broken, evil overlords
vs
History is writen by the victors.
Which is it? ;)
lach7
35. Edward Brennan
History is very much a thing of facts and dates. As an area of study this is exactly what separates it from historical fiction. It is why the interpretation of history is constantly fought over, but the facts- not really.

I am sure when people ask a significant other "where they were last night?", they are looking for some historical truth, not a good story.

I am sure when one is being tried for murder, what history of that event, and whether it was based upon the facts would be of great concern to that person. Whether it made a great Story- not so much.

Likewise a jew might be very concerned whether the Protocols of Zion were fact or whether it was just a libelous fiction. Though some find it a great story!!!

I also realize that many people get there modern history from movies like Black Hawk Down and Zero Dark Thirty. Fictions based on fact, but that when push comes to shove aren't. But if you were waterboarded or slaughtered, the facts might be important.

I might even say that I can appreciate Intelligent Design as a fun fiction, but I love evolution as a collection of historical facts.

People like historical fiction because the very facts give the stories an underlying verisimilitude that makes them more believable. I can make you believe more if I sprinkle some fact in, for even the greatest of lies.

I love fiction. I love historical fiction. I love historical re-creation, historical interpretation and historical facts. But I understand the differences matter. And how we view those differences does too.
lach7
36. David Flood
" you could argue that its influence is hinted at, as kind of an echo, in the very title of Brave, Pixar’s 2012 animated film set in a similar historical version of Scotland."

Robbed blind, rather than hinted at!

And as for the vapours over "historical inaccuracy" that this induces in certain English Tory newspapers: please. The rest of the world puts up with wildly ahistorical English heroes ("Elizabeth" is a recent example) without this carry-on. The Scots are perfectly entitled to their own semi-mythology the same as everyone else, without wailing from their particular entirely-justifiable historical bad-guys.

Disclaimer: I worked on this film as an FCÁ extra in Ireland in the summer of '94. I'm actually in the full (uncropped) screenshot from above, just to the left of Brendan Gleeson. Happy times!
Genevieve Williams
37. welltemperedwriter
Actually, David, I carried on rather a bit about "Elizabeth"--but that's not the movie under discussion, is it. ;)

Bet working on the movie was fun!
Pat Patterson
38. Habakkuk21
I am SO glad that someone else mentioned "Inglorious Basterds." I was trying to, but I forgot the name, and all I can come up with was "Incontinent Basterds." (That's actually going the be the working title of "Reds 8", btw; Helen Mirren shows Bruce Willis and John Malkovich where to get the best buys on Depends...)
But what I loved about "I B" FIRST was the disclaimer at the beginning of the movie that this was in an alternate reality. I don't remember the exact wording, but it was a GREAT way to set up some great scenes depicting a history that we KNOW and have it end differently without treating us like morons. Which doesn't mean that they can't throw in all sorts of accurately depicted backgrounds, like the movie posters.
It's conspiracy theory trash about, for example, the Kennedy Assassination, that some take as true because they've seen it that aggravates. It's this EXACT point that's made in"Wag the Dog"?
"Of course it's true, I just saw it on TV!" and "It's a pageant!"
lach7
39. David Flood
@WTD

It was... different, certainly. Most of us were too young to appreciate it ;-) We did 'Saving Private Ryan' a couple of years later, and liked Hanks and Spielberg a lot better as people than you'know-who.
Alan Brown
40. AlanBrown
Someone above said something to the effect that they didn't trust history because it didn't give them all the facts. That is because it can't. Historians can spend a good part of their career on a single person's life or a single battle or a single disease outbreak.History is always a summary. A distillation of the facts. And so much rests on the skill and objectivity of the person doing that distillation.
Melissa Shumake
41. cherie_2137
i've always felt that historical stories, such as braveheart, or under heaven (by ggk), serve best as a way to interest the viewer/reader to learn more about the period. it's like, well, that's that creator's versions of events, how much of that was real? and not so much to prove the creator wrong, but to be able to formulate your own stories about the era.
alastair chadwin
42. a-j
Historical films fall (roughly) into three types:

1)
Not claiming accuracy, but using the past as a backdrop to tell the story (A Knight's Tale, Erik the Viking, The Adventures of Robin Hood and the majority of Westerns)
2)
Using real people to tell a story but not claiming this story as 'true' (Amadeus, Rob Roy)
3)
Attempting to dramatise an historical event(s) accurately to the best level of current knowledge and attempting to avoid too many distortions for the necessities of drama (Lincoln, Saving Private Ryan)

The problem with Braveheart and Anonymous is that they are in group 1 but claim to be in group 3. The power of the stories they tell is fuelled by the fact that they are 'true'.
But they are not. And furthermore, the makers know that. At the very least this is mis-selling, more seriously it is dangerous as people then use the false history to back up their current actions and beliefs. Someone above cited Birth of a Nation. A very good example. Its ahistorical account of heroic klansmen protecting civilisation feeding a pernicious racism that still pollutes the world today.
So it is not good enough to shrug and say, it doesn't matter that films like Braveheart and Anonymous are just stories as they are, in effect propaganda and it is necessary that the viewer is informed that they are.
lach7
43. David Flood
@ a-j

'Saving Private Ryan' is fiction too, alas.
alastair chadwin
44. a-j
Yes it is, but it is set against a self-consciously historically backdrop of the Normandy landings.
Alan Brown
45. AlanBrown
Historical fiction generally tries to focus on imaginary characters who have freedom to follow the course the author wishes them to take, with figures we have heard of operating in the background, but generally behaving the way they did in history.
For those who want to read well written historical fiction that causes you to look at history through a different lense, I would highly recommend the works of Maine author Kenneth Roberts (including Arundel, A Rabble in Arms and Oliver Wiswell). I knew Benedict Arnold had betrayed the rebellion, but I certainly never knew Arnold was such a heroic character until I read Roberts' work, and the more detailed history books I have read since then generally confirm the way Arnold was portrayed in those fictional accounts.
Mig Archey
46. Quilld
The people behind Anonymous and their ilk are not 'clever' innocent fiction-makers. They did not have 'good intentions.' They believe in their version of W.S., there are a lot of them, and many of the people in the movement would probably surprise you by their involvement. Anonymous is meant to be propaganda, to undermine any version of Shakespeare other than the one they believe in as ludicrous and laughable -- they're pretty blatant about it in the commentary, BTW. And, yes, they are really, really ignorant about actual history.
lach7
47. Kaylee
I just watched this movie for the first time about 4 weeks ago. Since then I've probably watched it 3-4 times because it is SO FRIGGIN GREAT! I know its only loosely based on the true Wallace and story, but that's ok. I can (and did) read about the true story. I don't go to the movies for historical accuracy. But this movie... the romance, the sadness, the friendship, the heartbreak of betrayal... OMG .... THAT is what great movies are suposed to do. They are supposed to emotionally engage you! Move you! Make you FEEL the love. Make you FEEL the pain and hurt. And make you feel inspired. This. This is why I think Braveheart is one of the best movies every. Because I feel ALL of that and more everytime I see it. Gibson is / was an amazing talent.
lach7
49. shamlamadingdong
@miriam12

I suppose you can't appreciate Wagner either. I suppose you can't read Shakespeare because he wrote the Merchant of Venice? Or does he get a pass because damn near everyone in the western world at that time was anti-semitic?

Tell me how accurate was Speilberg's Schindler's List? Or Lincoln? Or Amistad? Or War Horse? Though they may not be as inaccurate as Braveheart, they do poison the well rather effectively.

I think it just frosts your ass that some fundamentalist catholic gentile is a better director than nearly every Jewish director of our age.
lach7
50. a fan
"Lying about history is something of a crime in our culture".

First off, it's a film! While there are some innacurracies in this story the gist of the story as I understand it is intact.

Second - My history books from grade school through university are filled with historical fabrications. You can turn NBC nightly news and find fabrications about history and current events all throughout the show.

To say that a film made for entertainment is committing something like a criminal act for conaining inaccuracies says that you are bias in some way. Maybe you want to keep on good terms with your editor or maybe you just read the same fabricated history book I once read.

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