Making a good film is hard, making a good historically accurate film is even harder apparently. But I really dont see why we can't have both.
Weve all seen the common phrase 'based on a true story' regurgitated continuously throughout cinema history but how true are any of those claims really? Its nothing more than a clever trick by the filmmakers to get you to disregard any issues you may have with the film because you wouldn't dare argue against a true story would you? Then again the question has to repeatedly be brought up regarding how true to the original source material the film is and whether it is accurately representing history faithfully or is it twisting key moments of our past to make our 21st century minds accept the outdated period of history with a modern narrative?
This brings me to a man I'm sure everyone has heard of called Mel Gibson. The negative effect this man has had on history in general is genuinely quite staggering and how he is constantly allowed to get away with replacing or erasing part of history to sell tickets is beyond me. I could go on for days about his many failed attempts of accuracy but I think it would be best just to narrow it down to 'Braveheart' given the creative control he had on the project. The Scots didnt wear kilts in the 13th century and the battle of Sterling Bridge for some bizarre reason instead takes place on a huge open field and defeat the English using sticks (seriously watch it its pretty hilarious). Completely misunderstanding why they chose Sterling in the first place to stage a battle and its general importance. None of this is ever mentioned or discussed and its brushed off with a simple 'just because' mentality. The dates in which any of these events take place are completely off or just flat out ignored in favour of rolling a dice a few times and seeing what number comes up. Some of the characters had miraculously aged a few decades given the time in which these events take place and some were completely invented for the sake of adding new lines of dialogue.
"But this is just petty nitpicking" I hear you ask. Okay so a film has just claimed to be set in a time period they ignore the date of, none of the characters dress to fit that time period, some of the characters would have been too young to even be considered relevant in this time period, and they give absolutely no context to what is happening and why. And no a cheap 3 lines at the start of the film doesnt count for context. Especially when the dates and facts are wrong. So they couldn't even get that right. This film, apart from ignoring centuries of Scottish history treats the audience as idiots who have never read up on anything that William Wallace did and just assume no one is going to call them out on it. The time difference between some of these innacuracies would be the equivalent of someone cracking the Enigma code using a smartphone. That is how little care the filmmakers had to historical accuracy. Then again it was never their intention to stay true to the source material, all they needed to do was sell tickets and entertain us. And apparently it worked.
I cant tell you just how damaging these films are to not just the film industry's reputation but also to everyone who just doesnt know enough about history to right these wrongs. History is too important for us not to get right, if we forget our past then we have no future. And films such as these (which there are a lot of) unfortunately make us forget the true representation of history that we need to be learning from. Otherwise some poor soul years from now like a lot of people see these films as historical fact and think to themselves as they leave the cinema "Oh so that's how it used to be?" They see those 'based on a true story' words and instantly they're hooked and they do this because deep down we all want to learn about our history but its increasingly hard to do so when films like this tell us a fictional part of history totally made up and romanticised to the point where we become blisfully ignorant of our past and therefore ourselves.
Am I saying historical films have to be word for word accurate to history, no of course not. Any film is allowed to take the odd creative liberty every now and then but to quote Alfred Hitchcock "Drama is life, with the dull bits cut out." We need to make sure that the bits we are cutting out or replacing arent in any way damaging our view of history. Who is to say a hundred years from now a Holocaust film will be made where Jews and Nazis sit around drinkng cups of tea together and people being ignorant of history take it as fact. I think you can see why I think films such as 'Waterloo' should be praised for their historical accuracy and astonishing attention to detail and why cash grabs like 'Braveheart' should be shunned. I will leave you on this quote by Edmund Burke: "Those who dont know history are doomed to repeat it."
I will share a link below to a Youtube channel called 'History Buffs' who do a far better job than I do of finding historical accuracies and inaccuracies in popular films. If your interested in this sort of thing then please do give him a watch.