Alternate Alternate History

Any historical movie is, in a way, an alternate history. I’ve never seen a film that didn’t fudge at least one thing here or there, or re-write this or that for the narrative. Some films take this further than others: a favorite of mine, Elizabeth, conflates at least three different conspiracies, fiddles with ages, and maps several people’s histories onto other people’s histories, for the sake of a smaller-scoped film and simplified plot. Then there are movies like 300, which may as well be fantasy.

I am a huge sucker for any even vaguely historical-looking film. But what surprises me is that without fail, the made-up and invented history is far less interesting than the actual history. Actual history is fascinating. It’s absurd and sexy and hard to believe and thrilling and compelling all at once. Why junk the real story of one of the world’s most fascinating rulers for some ridiculous romance plot with a swashbuckling Sir Walter Raleigh (Elizabeth: The Golden Age), or replace the story of an emperor who got strangled in his bathtub with some juvenile take on American-idealized politics (Gladiator)? Why turn a fascinating mystery about Shakespeare’s sexual proclivities (Dark Lady, anyone? Not to mention the Fair Youth?) into a totally conventional romcom (Shakespeare in Love)?

I could list historically inaccurate movies all day (Scotsmen in Braveheart shouldn’t have been wearing kilts! Woolly mammoths did not live in the desert in 10,000 BC building pyramids!), but why dwell on the negative?

What are some of your favorite historically accurate films? What do they get right?

Torie Atkinson longs for a historically accurate take on the Romans. Please? I’ll make you some dulcia domestica


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