Playing Fast and Loose With History, Part III: Why Does It Bother Us?

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It’s been a while, but let’s return to an ongoing point-of-view series about movies playing fast and loose with history. Of course they do it, it’s not new, and it happens for plenty of logical and sensible reasons. Make sure to read the first two parts of this series (and the comments!) to see where we’ve gone with the topic.

Now, I’m going to look at why we may feel this is a problem. I mean, really, if it wasn’t a problem, Frock Flicks wouldn’t exist! We’d just watch The Tudors and Reign all day and love the heck out of it all, right? Yeah…

 

Movies Playing Fast and Loose With History

Historical costume movies and TV shows that play fast and loose with history really bug us. By “us,” I mean “a significant portion of Frock Flicks’ audience” plus the Frock Flicks staff. We get annoyed by a movie that says it’s set in, say, 1850 but the actors are wearing poly-baroque satin prom dresses and crappy Selix Formalwear morning coats instead of period-correct historical costumes. We cry foul when the new Tudor drama obviously uses stretch velvet and zippers and all the women’s hair is hanging straight down their backs. Just as bad, we swear a blue streak when a TV series claims to be based on historical characters but has a plot that resembles daytime soaps more than anything that really happened in the past.

But why does it bother us?

Movies and TV shows are just entertainment. They’re not supposed to be history lessons. We’re not in school. People go to the movie theater, tune in to TV, or download and stream a show for fun, in their free time, to kill a few brain cells. What’s the harm in watching something with pretty costumes and a silly storyline that riffs on history? Why does everything have to be so serious? Jane Q. Public Movie Viewer doesn’t give a crap about period hairstyles or historical dates, she just wants to to be entertained! (And in Part 2 of this series, I explained how movies and TV shows are big business, and people produce them for reasons that have nothing to do with historical accuracy).

In Part 1 of this series, I talked about how the public tends to see history as boring due to various factors. And how we here at Frock Flicks are obviously not part of that general mainstream audience with Jane Q. Public. Apparently, we demand something different from our entertainment. So much so that it really irks us to see historical costume movies and TV shows that get history wrong. Let’s look at some of the reasons why and consider if this does or does not hold water.

 

They Think We’re Stupid

“They” being the filmmakers, collectively the directors, writers, producers, costume designers, actors, and studios, of both movies and TV — they think we, the audience, is too stupid to notice the history is wrong. Or we’re too stupid to tell the difference between their movie’s version of history and the real thing. Or maybe we’re so stupid, we can’t handle the truth. I’ve seen variations of this refrain of “they think we’re stupid” or “they’re insulting our intelligence” in many fans’ complaints when movies get the history wrong.

Another Period

But this assumes a level of calculation on the filmmakers’ part that just doesn’t sit right with me. Movies and TV shows are big businesses, and like any other business, multiple people have input along the way and are required to give sign-offs. Various stakeholders will get their say on the final budget and the overall production design — and you can bet that not all of those folks are historical experts. So if you’re looking for “stupid,” you might well trace it back to the business that thought historical costumes for a thousand extras on shoestring budget would be easy.

Now, if you really feel a movie or TV show is talking down to you, of course, don’t watch it. But I’ve found that stupidity comes through more in a production’s writing than in bad historical costumes. There are definitely movies and TV shows that think we’re stupid, there are whole categories of movies and TV shows that revel in being stupid for stupid’s sake (think of teen-exploitation flicks, stoner films, the Farrelly Brothers’ movies). But it’s not typically about history or costume.

Then there are comedies that use history and costume as a joke on purpose, such as Mel Brooks’ History of the World, Part I (1981). It’s a pretty smart movie that assumes you actually know history — you’re not going to understand some of the jokes if you don’t. Ditto the beloved Monty Python’s Holy Grail (1975) and Life of Brian (1979). While you can laugh along with them if you don’t understand, say, Marxist theory or Latin grammar, the jokes are funnier if you get those references. Likewise, the series Another Period (2015-) purposefully mixes tropes from reality TV with a Downton Abbey-ish construct for comedic effect, and the costume designer knows what she’s doing in creating outfits for characters that are both of a historical period but act in totally modern ways.

Monty Python's Life of Brian

 

People Will Get the Wrong Ideas About History

In our podcasts, we compare how a movie or TV show depicts historical costume versus how the historical clothing would have actually been worn in the era. And if it’s a historical story (like Elizabeth, 1998, or Marie Antoinette, 2006), we discuss how the plot compares to actual historical events. We do this because we’re interested in the comparison, and we hope it’s helpful to our listeners who may not know as much in-depth history about each topic we’re covering. That said, I don’t think it’s the job of any of these films, or any other historical costume movie or TV show, to teach you about history.

Now, it is true that the images of history that movies and TV present can stick in people’s minds. Research on memory and perception suggests that, essentially, the more you repeat a lie, the more people will believe it as the truth. Whether that lie is “George Washington had wooden teeth” or “Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” the result is the same — people get the wrong ideas about the past stuck in their heads.

Yeah, it does suck that movies and TV might be one of the main sources of historical education for a lot people. Because even the most perfectly historically accurate show will never be as comprehensive as reading a well-researched book about the topic or going to a museum of objects from the period or going to a well-preserved historical site or basically learning about the topic for yourself.

I freaking LOVE the BBC’s 1971 series Elizabeth R. It was hugely inspiring to me growing up. But, even though it’s longer than a two-hour movie, it’s only six hours and still truncates the events of Queen Elizabeth I of England’s life. Almost nothing about Elizabeth’s childhood is shown, so the series doesn’t give much background context for her and Dudley’s relationship, for example. I learned about that from Allison Weir’s biography and other books on the period.  (The amazing An Historian Goes to the Movies has a series of blog posts detailing exactly why NO filmed production can ever be historically accurate — I highly recommend you read it if, like us, you’re into bitching about historical accuracy on film!)

OK, so sins of omission are not as great as sins of commission. What about all the kids today who think that Mary Queen of Scots is a willful, dark-haired girl in Alexander McQueen gowns, shagging a curly-haired blond guy? Is that so wrong? Shows like Reign are obviously intended to be pure entertainment, with a bit of historical set dressing.

Reign

The Reign audience is teen and 20-something girls who adore the romantic fantasy of being a queen, marrying a king, living in a castle, wearing fancy clothes, and having all kinds of exciting things going on in your life. I perused Reign fan forums, Facebook pages, and Twitter (the things I do for Frock Flicks), and found that these fans love the hell out of the show, love the characters, love the stars, and really don’t think of the history at all. It’s like a fairy tale for them, except it has an air of reality because they’ve heard some of these names somewhere. They might also watch pure fantasy, such as Game of Thrones, but the idea of a queen in her own right who actually lived once upon a time and ruled two different countries, with a claim on a third? Wow, how cool is that! The story is custom-made for a soap opera.

And you know what? There may be a small portion, just 1%, of that audience who loves a show like Reign (or The Tudors or Point of Honor or whatever other totally inaccurate historical TV series or movie) and gets turned onto history. They’ll use that as a jumping off point. People do it with fantasy all the time. I’ve seen it with Tolkien, Narnia, and Game of Thrones. The Society for Creative Anachronism was started by Tolkien fans mixing fantasy with the Middle Ages, after all. Some people in the SCA get more historically accurate, while others stick with the fantasy side. Maybe some of those Reign kids will get hooked on Renaissance faires and eventually make their way towards researching the actual history for themselves. Or maybe they won’t. Is that so wrong?

It’s true that even bad historical costume movies can lead to positive results. We all love to hate on Braveheart. It was every historical costumer’s favorite thing to hate before Reign. But damn, that flick was good for Scottish tourism! In 1996, right after the movie’s premiere, Scotland counted at least ₤7 million to as much as ₤15 million in tourist revenue traced back to that movie. People interested enough in a flick to actually travel to another country might just pick up a book on the topic and figure things out for themselves — let’s face it, that level of interest is more akin to Frock Flicks’ audience than Jane Q. Public who’s watching movies for a jolly night out. So if an utterly crap historical film like Braveheart can inspire a deeper understanding, imagine how more accurate productions can serve as inspiration for learning and investigation of history.

Braveheart

 

Teachers/Historians Have to Correct Bad History

This should be a subset of the last objection, but I’ll call it out specifically because we hear it a lot. Historical costume movies and TV shows that get it wrong mean teachers, historians, and everyone who works in history-related fields have to deal with people getting mistaken ideas about history.

Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure

Frustrating? Sure. Annoying? Yep. But you know what? If you’re a teacher, historian, or otherwise work in a history field, you are an educator, and I believe this is what’s called a teachable moment. Hi, we built a web empire around this concept, you’re soaking in it. We do it with a side-helping of snark, and I realize that may not be suited to your situation, but find your niche! Consider this your personal challenge. Remember, there could be a germ of history interest in people who get it wrong due to movies and TV. They watched and paid some measure of attention if they’re parroting back a nugget of historical myth. Think of it as a cry for help. Send ’em a lifeline.

 

OK, these are just some of the biggies I’ve heard. Why does movies playing fast and loose with history bother you?

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About the author

Trystan L. Bass

Twitter Website

A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. When she’s not dressing up in costumes, she can be found traveling the world with her sweetie and, occasionally, Kendra and Sarah. Her costuming and travel adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also maintains a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

64 Responses

  1. MoHub

    The only place I want to see Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots (historically inaccurately) together is in the opera Maria Stuarda—because Donizetti.

    Reply
    • Susan Pola

      Same here. Although a miniseries with Elizabeth and Mary reading their letters to each other in split screen would be nice.

      Reply
        • Susan Pola

          True, and it was a great way for two queens/cousins to get the measure of each other.

          Reply
        • Overhire

          There was a documentary last year, I think, about the relationship between the two queens that drew heavily on their letters.

          Reply
  2. Susan Pola

    It bothers me because I feel that the history behind a historical movie/TV show is slot more interesting than what the PTBees show us.
    I completely understand that a small costume budget will reflect on the costumes, but I really wish that the leads would be dressed appropriately. Front lacing garments for 18th century women (Good example is Dangerous Liaisons), hair worn up for any character over 16 and out in society, proper undergarments. AND NO SLOUCHING, MS. FANNING.

    Reply
    • MoHub

      I think this is the main problem. There’s an assumption—much like the automatic assumption that kids won’t eat vegetables unless you hide or disguise them—that modern audiences will find real history dull and in need of enhancement. More often than not, real history doesn’t need the “help” given it by modern authors and producers; it’s pretty damn fascinating on its own.

      Most “historical” dramas need to come with a disclaimer stating that they are fiction based on real events and people.

      Reply
  3. Atelier Nostalgia

    I think the main thing for me is that they’re changing something I love. I really like historical costumes, they have loads of amazing details, and by changing things it basically feels as if they’re claiming ‘the original wasn’t good enough, we can do better’. And while I sort of get that when you’re designing for a modern audience, it feels like a missed chance to show the world more of the beauty that lies in the original, historical versions.

    Reply
    • Susan Pola

      Those are points that I agree with. If you are able to look a period clothes and their details, which is now possible as many museums have online digital photography, they, the dresses, coats, men’s clothes are incredibly beautiful.

      Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      “changing things it basically feels as if they’re claiming ‘the original wasn’t good enough, we can do better’”

      See, this feels like the “they think we’re stupid” argument, & I honestly don’t think there’s that much machinations in it. Movies/TV are a business product. The ppl behind it are trying to appeal to a broad demographic. They research, test, & focus group what works for that demographic. When prom dresses appeal to ppl who buy movie tickets or buy the crap from advertisers who support TV channels, movie/TV productions will dress historical characters in prom dresses. It’s more simple than thinking prom dresses are “better” than the original.

      Reply
  4. mmcquown

    History is what has brought us to where we are now — for better or for worse. How can people ever learn the lessons of history if they are constantly skewed? I love history; I lived history, spending years doing living history and historical reenactment. (BTW– the SCA started out as history/fantasy, but not long after their national establishment, they officially ruled out the fantasy element. NO MORE ELVES)

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      No more elves, but the SCA oaths are still straight outta Tolkien (at least in the West)! And in recent years, I’ve had plenty of SCA newcomers ask how they can be Game of Thrones characters in the SCA — using the GoT names / heraldry / costumes.

      Reply
      • Susan Pola

        I was a member of the SCA yoinks ago and then we couldn’t use names not associated with our historical timeline. If your persona was, say Italian Florentine Renaissance, you weren’t allowed say a Viking name. And no fantasy names, etc.

        Reply
        • Trystan L. Bass

          Sure, if you want to get your SCA name approved, that’s still the case. My point is that plenty of newbies still join the SCA inspired by a mishmash of fantasy & history, just like when it started :)

          Reply
            • Alys Mackyntoich

              The prevalence of Game of Thrones names can also be chalked up to the fact that GRRM did his historical research. Many of the character names in Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire are, in fact, historical. The College of Heralds won’t let you register a major character’s name, but you wanna be “Matilda Stark?” It will take me about 2 minutes to document that to medieval England.

              Reply
              • mmcquown

                The stark reality is that, no matter how hard the SCA tries to sell itself as a “nonprofit educational organisation,” it is in reality a big RPG. Not to say they haven’t turned out some terrific costumers, and their college of heralds is still first-rate, but in many ways they’re as bad as the movies for historical inaccuracy.

                Reply
  5. Bea

    We have now completely dated ourselves since you made the allusion–and I got the allusion–of Madge and Palmolive.
    Thanks a lot, FF! :D

    Reply
  6. Katie

    To me it matters because there is a substantial subset of people who, when given bad information from movies and tv, especially when that bad information fits with prevailing narratives, will refuse to be taught. Because at that point you aren’t just presenting information, you’re challenging their worldview.

    It also bugs me because so often the story is a cliched modern soap opera when the real history is so much more interesting. Which is why I’ll defend both Borgia series-a lot of their more OTT bits are based on if not fact, than in contemporary gossip.

    Which isn’t to say I’m a purist. I don’t mind things that are done deliberately, for a valid artistic or practical reason. It’s when it’s done out of laziness or sloppiness that it bugs me. Because I don’t think that it’s “just entertainment”. I think that people want to learn something in an engaging and interesting way. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be seeking out historical fiction.

    Reply
    • Shellie Eyre

      Oh I know; I’ve had “discussions” with people who actually reference Elizabeth Woodville’s curse as a genuine reason for the dearth of long lived male heirs in the Tudor line; who genuinely believe that Henry VII was a rapist and that Elizabeth of York and Richard III were lovers; who believe that Margaret Beaufort was a card carrying loony who spent her life plotting to get her son onto the throne and killed children in order to do it. It’s the new orthodoxy and it’s wallowing in ignorance.

      Reply
    • ProUSAJournalist (@Rhonda9080)

      Never posted on one of these rant sites, although I read sometimes to get the angst out because my daughter is a huge Reign, White Princess, etc fan. BUT, the new White Princess has gotten me going. I know its one of history’s greatest mysteries, but to portray Margaret Beaufort as murderer of the little princes, Jasper Tudor, goes WAY OFF track. What I hate most about these modern costume dramas is the portrayal of real people from history as villains without a shred of historic evidence. The portrayal of Beaufort as a child murderess and devious schemer enough to murder her (presumed) beloved Jasper is contrary to all known evidence we have from her life. And – considering the known evidence against Richard III, it seems an injustice that the Lady Beaufort will now go down in history as a murderous scheming “Maleficent” just so Richard III can be portrayed to pubescent girls as a tragic, hunky hero. Note that Phillipa Gregory writes HISTORIC fiction, not a true unbiased historic portrayal. I recommend reading Allison Weir’s Princes in the Tower for “light” but more factual treatment of the regicide/coup.

      Reply
  7. eadon216

    I’m always a little forgiving of historical inaccuracies in historical tv/movies/fiction books because it was The Other Boleyn Girl (book) and 1998’s Elizabeth that first got me interested in Tudor history.

    Reply
    • Susan Pola

      If you want to read a good historical novel on Anne Boleyn, try Mademoiselle Boleyn by Robin Maxwell. It’s sort of a prequel to The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn.

      Reply
  8. picasso Manu

    Alexandre Dumas once said “You can rape History if you make her beautiful children”
    Now, not that I want to be a rape apologist, but you have to admit the man knew what he was talking about, no?

    He also had talent… And did his friggin’ research! (okay, he had it done for him, but he read it, obviously.)

    I can forgive a lot of things if you can see that people have TRIED, and at least googled a few things before getting the cameras rollin’
    (Reason why I have more indulgence with old films: they usually did try, and didn’t have the Net at their fingertips.)
    And getting some hairpins, for f***k sake!
    Yes, I know you’re on a budget, and the lead actress want to show her layered 500$ haircut, BUT FOR CHRISSAKE, GET THAT FLOOZY HAIR UP!!!

    *pant* *pant*

    (just in case you wondered, no, I don’t watch movies in theaters either…)
    I think it’s more the lazyness that gets me more than anything else.
    This morning, I was listening to a podscast on Champagne, and heard “The coupe, rumored to have been modelled on Marie Antoinette left breast as a present to Louis XIV”. I almost facepalmed, which would have been a BAAD idea since I was doing ironing at the time.
    Now, the coupe was said to have been modelled on the breast of many women, the Pompadour or the du Barry, and yes, also Marie Antoinette (especially in the US)… But a present to Louis XIV? The man was dead an buried long before before she was even born!

    And I know some people think every king of France was named Louis XIV, but if you’re going to go public, a small amount of research wouldn’t go amiss.

    Amadeus was bad costume wise, but it tried, with minimal budget and all the difficulties of making a historical movie when no one wanted to, so it gets a pass from me. Valmont doesn’t, because it had budget, time and everything… And they didn’t even try!
    I guess what I want to say is you get points for effort… But had to make a novel out of it!

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      Definitely points for effort! But also, I go back to ‘what’s their motivation?’ (see part 2 of the series). Is their effort expended on crazy history nuts like *me* or on a big money opening weekend box office or selling to Netflix or what. Or if the motivation is to make a prestige movie/TV show that’ll rack up Oscar/Emmy nominations, that might mean more historical accuracy. You can only hope.

      Reply
      • picasso Manu

        In a better world, historical accuracy wouldn’t get in the way of a big money opening weekend…*sigh*
        And the women on screen would have their hair UP! (I’m gonna start studying voodoo soon, I swear. May branch out on back lacing and head necklaces, lol…)

        Reply
  9. ladylavinia1932

    Reason why I have more indulgence with old films: they usually did try, and didn’t have the Net at their fingertips.)

    My indulgence tend to appear only when I’m in the mood not to be critical, whether I’m watching an old or recent film.

    Reply
  10. Andrew Schroeder

    I remember when season 2 of Outlander was in full swing, and many fans, up to and including Tom and Lorenzo, were going on about how accurate the costumes were, basically “because Terry Dresbach said so.” So the idea that “People Will Get the Wrong Ideas About History” does at least hold some water.

    As someone with a costume design background, I try to toe the line in my criticism between acknowledging the right of artists to create what they want, and advocating for accuracy for the sake of the audience. My criticism of inaccurate costumes tends to boil down to the fact that, from my point of view, the more a designer deviates from the historical period, the more unattractive and tacky the costumes tend to become. Of course that may just be down to my taste :P

    Reply
  11. Alys Mackyntoich

    Shows that play fast and loose with history annoy me because the people who are fans of non-history history are the same ones looking down their nose at the fantasy genre. Braveheart would be a perfectly good low fantasy movie if we filed the historical names off it and let it be what it is.

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      Really? Fantasy is so hugely popular today & such a big part of mainstream film/TV business. I’m not sure who ‘looks down their nose at the fantasy genre’ anymore, except at film/TV awards, & even that’s changing.

      Reply
      • Alys Mackyntoich

        You are right that the “respectability” of fantasy has improved a lot since Game of Thrones and comic book movies began making dump trucks full of money.

        Reply
  12. Ashley R

    I admit that Reign is my guilty pleasure, even though I have spent time researching Elizabethan England (I started reading Weirs Biographies when I was 13).

    I just refer to it as Historical Fan Fiction when I describe it to other people.

    Reply
    • Susan Pola

      I too view Reign as a guilty pleasure. Fan fic? Never thought like that, but makes sense. Lots of Mary Sues tho

      Reply
  13. Caroline

    I get frustrated because imposing modern characters and narratives onto history results in a really boring flattening of stories, just like modernizing costumes too much can create visual monotony. Doesnt have to be highfalutin’ or even completely accurate – Disney’s Mulan always stands out to me when Ariel, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and Snow White blur genetically because she’s got Confucian values and a concept of family honor that at least nod to a time and place. I’m not pretending that’s high cinema or a documentary about China – it just tried to give us someone who wasn’t written to sell dresses to six year olds.

    A lot of research tells us that a value of stories is teaching empathy. I think we lose that if we just soak in stories that are our own wish fulfillment. And the more modernized/fake histories we see and filmmakers get away with, the less likely the industry is to produce something authentic, so it won’t be there for those of us who want it.

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      That’s actually the problem I had with the current “Victoria” series on PBS — she acts like a petulant teenager fighting w/her mother & then she moons over Lord M, it’s all very modern high school drama, not 1830s. Yet folks are eating it up ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

      Reply
      • Susan Pola

        But Victoria was only 18 when she became Queen. She did have an adversarial relationship with her mother due to Conroy. Whether or not Conroy was the Duchess’ lover is moot. It was believed at the time. He embezzled from the Duchess and abused Victoria. With the restrictive Kensington System, Victoria was isolated from her peers, — other teens, etc. Conroy wanted to control her. No wonder she behaved like a teen of today. That may have been the writer’s point. But I would have liked more background. I do enjoy the show..

        Reply
      • Shellie Eyre

        To be fair Victoria was a bit of a, well, princess; she did have a crush on Lord M and serious issues with her mother (and Conroy), and as soon as she was able she severed any influence her mother had on her.

        Reply
    • mmcquown

      The difference is that Mulan was based on a real historical person. Which didn’t stop Disney from getting all sorts of copyrights on the image.

      Reply
  14. janette

    Unfortunately people do believe the “History” that Hollywood serves up to them and I believe that makers of historical tv series/films do have a responsibility to not lie to their audiences. Yes of course there have to be omissions and edits and every depiction of anything is subjective but to deliberately misrepresent history is unacceptable.
    A few years ago the Guardian also had a series of articles on the historical accuracy of films titled “Reel History”. It was one highlights of my week. (Braveheart was a fail but Life of Brian scored rather well.)
    I have too often heard people say, “that is the way it was” purely on the basis of a film or TV series with no clue of the reality. Yes all “masters” were kind and benevolent towards their servants just like the Crawley family. Audiences conflate history with fiction so it does matter when fiction distorts history. Yes some people are inspired to read up and find out the reality behind the fiction and it is easier and easier to do so. Wikipedia is not a bad starting place. Far better than anything I had available to me as a teenager.
    My love of history was inspired by the BBC 1971 War and Peace and I Claudius. I also loved Elizabeth R but it was many years before I really read up on the Tudor period. And as for fiction not being taken as a source of history, I got a B in my Yr 12 mid year exam purely due to reading a trilogy of historical novels. They were exceptional though. Written before anyone had done any research into Australian history the author had only primary sources available to her and she quoted extensively from them. She spent almost ten years researching before writing and I did cross check a little. (The ABC did an adaptation of her books in the 80s which was ok given the budget. Sadly it is not available now.)
    so keep up the snarking guys. You are providing a valuable service.

    Reply
  15. Charity

    Historical inaccuracy bothers me a lot, and I think a sizable chunk of why boils down to INTENTIONALLY misrepresenting real people and using them as the writer’s personal plaything; it’s fine to speculate on what happened in-between the lines of history, but I have a real problem with intentionally skewing the facts with the intention of making the audience “hate” a historical figure.

    (I could rant about this for an hour and 12k words, and have done so via chat boxes before, but I’ll stick to a few personal favorites.)

    I mean, where the hell do you get off making Thomas Boleyn a rapist? (Here’s looking at you, “The Tudors”! The show also had Thomas Seymour sodomize a prisoner with a hot poker. I have no love for JerkWadSeymour, but … gimmie a break. And they needed to put a mustache on Thomas Boleyn so he could twirl it, while cackling and hatching evil plans, because they totally were seducing Henry and all. It’s not like this dirty old man was preying on a virtuous girl or sexually harassing her from court or anything. :P)

    Or Henry VII a rapist? (Here’s looking at you, “The White Princess”! Here’s the fun part: Margaret Beaufort, who was impregnated at TWELVE YEARS OLD, tells her son not to marry Elizabeth of York without checking her “fertility” first; so he literally blackmails her into having sex with him for weeks before the wedding. Yeah, that’s how Gregory EXPLAINS how Arthur came so soon. Not conception on the wedding night, nor them falling in love or lust… but forced sex. And people wonder why I hate her books.)

    Or Henry VIII a rapist! (Hello, “The Other Boleyn Girl” movie! And that god-awful “Henry VIII” miniseries which, oh gosh, look at that, was written by the TOBG screenwriter! Honestly, it makes me wonder if the man loathes Anne Boleyn, since he wrote a from-behind rape scene for both movies, involving the same two people. Thanks for propagating an unpleasant “heh, this is her punishment, bitch deserves it” vibe, jerkweed.)

    Or Anne Boleyn an incestuous whore? (Hello, Phillipa Gregory. I want my life back. I’m so tired of your BS and trying to straighten people out, I can’t even…)

    I get it. The Duchess of Devonshire’s husband was an interesting soul. Why does he need to exert his “dominance” over her by raping her in the movie? Was that necessary? Is there proof that happened? If not, you just made an entire generation of people hate his guts.

    Etc. Etc. Rage on.

    I’m a writer myself, and know how hard it can be to stick to historical facts, but I still have made a promise to myself and my readers never to misrepresent the CHARACTER of a historical figure. Maybe I’m out of it, but I think historical fiction comes with a sense of responsibility, and writers / screenwriters / producers need to remember these are actual people they’re slandering. :P

    Reply
    • Lynn S

      If the last paragraph is your writing ethos, i need a link to your Amazon page immediately!!

      Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      “Intentionality” or “cluelessness” tho? I keep coming back to what I said under the “they think we’re stupid” heading — I’m more ready to ascribe dumb to ppl than malicious calculation. Maybe it’s my worldview having dealt with a lot stupid ppl? Dunno :)

      But really, I think many screenwriters/producers think that sensationalist actions like rape are great plot points. It’s not even just men, bec. we see it in the historical fiction of Phillipa Gregory & Diana Gabaldon (Outlander). It’s easy/lazy to use rape/torture/violence as a motivation or plot twist instead of build up a more complicated & probably slower story.

      Reply
      • Andrew Schroeder

        I tend to agree. I think it’s a lot more of the case where writers and directors apply what they know (standard screenwriting/storytelling techniques and tropes) to historical stories and it sometimes turning out wonky, rather than them being intentionally malicious or concocting some grand scheme to hoodwink an ignorant audience.

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      • Charity

        I’ll give some people a pass for “stupid” — it’s clear, for example, almost zero actual historical research is done for something like “Reign” (which yes, I watch, and then I laugh over them drinking out of modern wine glasses in a Regency house wearing pseudo-Tudor gowns, surrounded by Georgian paintings). But even then, is there really an excuse when you could read up in two days with the unlimited amount of resources now available at the public’s fingertips? :P

        (Basically, I don’t suffer laziness well.)

        But when I see glaring inaccuracies from people who HAVE done the research… there’s really no excuse for that, except that they read it, went, “Nah, doesn’t suit MY version of events,” and chucked it. Which kind of offends me.

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    • ProUSAJournalist (@Rhonda9080)

      Just wrote a comment echoing yours – which I hadn’t read yet. You nailed it! These people were real! Speculations (with evidence provided) are one thing, but to portray someone like Margaret Beaufort as a scheming child murderess is just plain slander – or if you want to get moral about it: “bearing false witness.” Costumes aside, as a history junkie, I’m a fan of historic fiction and movies, but not playing so loosely with facts that real people are slandered and smeared who are not here to defend themselves. Seems almost criminal to me.

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  16. ladylavinia1932

    Unfortunately people do believe the “History” that Hollywood serves up to them and I believe that makers of historical tv series/films do have a responsibility to not lie to their audiences.

    Hollywood isn’t the only film and television industry that is guilty. In fact, filmmakers aren’t the only the only ones who are guilty. I realize that all of you know that historical inaccuracy in art has been going on for centuries. Actually, one can find a good deal of historical inaccuracy in schoolbooks. But I must admit that I do get tired of Hollywood bearing most of the brunt of the blame.

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  17. ladylavinia1932

    As for those male historical figures committing rape . . . I’m not saying that they did commit such an act. But I would never claim that they did not. We really don’t know. But if we don’t know, I guess writers and film/TV producers should not make assumptions one way or the other.

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  18. Frannie Germeshausen

    I remember seeing the movie Elizabeth in a theater and wanting to shout at the screen for the way they played so fast and loose with history. What pissed me off so much was, the truth was more interesting than the crap plot they have concocted. On the other hand, knowing much of Game of Thrones was based on the Wars of the Roses and those general centuries of history made me run back to my 4-book set of Thomas Costain about the Plantagenets for the pleasure of knowing how well-anchored that plot is in the way actual politics played out (sans dragons, of course).

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  19. Lin

    I read The Other Boleyn girl when I was a kid and it launched an undying love affair with history. I soon realized the many ways in which the book was inaccurate, but that thrill of learning about the past and the people in it never changed- whether it was from some salacious historical fiction or contemporary records listing deaths and burials in different London boroughs during the 1605 plague.

    So I think Reign is great for that reason. I know a ton of people on tumblr who were so invested in the show that they started researching the actual people in order to figure out what would happen next. Of course there were a few who refused because they didn’t want any spoilers on how the love triangle between Mary, Francis, and Bash ended (yea, total mystery on who Mary marries *eye roll*).

    So I never really minded liberties taken with costuming….until I found this website. Now I die a little every time I see backlacing on what is clearly meant to be a front closing dress. Ya’ll’ve ruined me.

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  20. janette

    Was thinking of this discussion today while watching To Walk Invisible. I felt as though I was looking through a window into the period. Nothing jarred. The costumes weren’t exciting or sexy but to my eye anyway, they looked period and appropriate to the characters. (I did not notice if they were wearing gloves when out of doors but I did not notice that they weren’t either.) When costumes are evidently “wrong” it is jarring. I love BBC North and South but I am continually reminded when watching it that I am watching a TV series made in 2004. The historical inaccuracies constantly throw me out of the story. If people don’t like historically accurate depictions of the past then why watch historical dramas?

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  21. mmcquown

    Another sad example: the writer/creator of “Victoria” claims to have read all the diaries, and swears that the shirt-cutting incident was true and was cited in the writings of several witnesses to the event. Well and good — but then she goes on to push the romance between Victoria and Lord Melbourne. I guess she didn’t read the same diaries as one of the commentators on this site did, who came away with the impression that Victoria never regarded Melbourne as anything but a father figure.

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  22. Daphne

    I’m a bit torn as I think it is fabulous that TV series’ like Reign and ITV’s Victoria is shedding light on history and making it more mainstream. However, what I hate is the total disrespect for the historical figures that so often happens. Mary Stuart was a real person, as was Queen Victoria, but no one seems to pay that any mind when they write TV series’ in their name. There is no respect for the dead, as it seems. Poor Victoria must be rolling in her grave with the knowledge that people are cursing her for marrying Prince Albert when she should have married Lord Melbourne, duh!!!! And in cases such as Reign, where roughly only the names of the characters are accurate (no, wait! They couldn’t even get that right. Hello, Lola, Greet, Aylee, and Kenna), I don’t understand why they had to use Mary Queen of Scots at all when it could’ve simply been fictional. It wouldn’t exactly have less fans, since I doubt they all started watching because they wanted to learn about Mary Stuart’s life, and those who hate it for its historical inaccuracy wouldn’t, in this case, have been as irked by the anachronisms.

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    • mmcquown

      Your last point is a very good one — if they’re going to make up the story, then they may as well make up the characters, since only serious history buffs will know who many of them were. I much prefer the approach of writers who will mix real and fictional historical characters, but who don’t expect the reader to believe for a moment that it’s all true. Dorothy Dunnet did it masterfully in the six-part Lymond Chronicle, my fave series. And it’s never been filmed.

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      • Karen A.

        You may be interested to hear that DD’s six-volume Lymond Chronicles have been optioned by the British company Mammoth Screen (Poldark, Victoria) for a multi-season series a la Outlander. Now we just have to hope it actually goes into production. Casting could be interesting.

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        • mmcquown

          Casting Francis is going to be the very devil. He is described as fine-boned, and by implication almost — but not quite — feminine in appearance, yet masculine and powerful enough to command the respect of hard-bitten men. Part of this also hinges on finding a good Marthe who is strongly similar in appearance. I suspect that, whatever the result, nothing will please everybody, and there has been a great deal of time to develop a highly opinionated following. My second wife had suggested David Bowie, but he is too old now.

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          • Karen A.

            Yes, there already has been extensive speculation and suggestions for casting the characters on the FB DD groups such as The Crawford of Lymond Appreciation Society, particularly Lymond. David Bowie is a popular choice, but of course the fact that he isn’t alive kind of puts him out of the running, even if age wasn’t a factor. Aside from that he’d be a shoo-in.🙂 Lymond d has to be androgynous enough to successfully masquerade as a woman (of course they could skip that in the show) and sexy enough to attract both men and women.

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            • mmcquown

              I only hope I live long enough to see it.
              BTW — if anyone hasn’t seen it, George Macdonald Fraser wrote a wonderful book, “The Hollywood History of the World,” which resonates strongly with the viewpoint of Frock Flicks. And as a screenwriter and historian, he knew whereof he spoke. And he’s a very readable writer.

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  23. Annie

    Not being an expert, I probably wouldn’t notice small details that were wrong, but glaring inaccuracies just pull people right out of the story. Slinky or revealing gowns that are obviously not correct for the time period, people parading about in their undergarments, adult women with their perfectly cut and curled hair just hanging down. Especially things that would be an easy fix even for a penniless community theater. Ok, most people don’t know that color wasn’t possible in that time period, but at least put sleeves on the dress! They don’t know the exact hairstyles for 1880, but at least pin the ladies’ hair up!

    That said, I once watched something set in Victorian times (can’t remember which decade) with accurate hairstyles that were so ugly they actually pulled me out of the story. The main characters had those styles, and I could hardly tear my eyes away from the unflattering mess on their heads long enough to follow the story. In cases like that, I don’t mind applying a little “movie magic” and tweaking the hair just enough that it looks historic without being hideous.

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