History vs Hollywood

How the Past is Filmed

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Pub Date 30 Mar 2024 | Archive Date 07 Mar 2024
Pen & Sword | Pen & Sword History

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Description

Film studios have been making historical movies now for over a century. In that time, thousands of films have been made covering not just centuries but millennia. Did Neanderthal woman really look like Raquel Welch in her bearskin bikini? Did 6,000 rebellious slaves claim that they were Spartacus? Did Berengaria complain to her husband, Richard the Lionheart, ‘War, war; that’s all you think about, Dick Plantagenet’? Was El Cid strapped to his horse’s saddle to lead his army after he was dead? These aren’t questions of history; they are questions of Hollywood.

Charlton Heston was a foot too tall for General Charles Gordon. John Wayne was a tad too American for Genghis Khan. Eric von Stroheim’s bald head was an odd choice for the perfectly hirsute Erwin Rommel. And Warren Beatty and Fay Dunaway were far too gorgeous for bank robbers Bonnie and Clyde.

Hollywood never gets it right. History and its characters are endlessly complicated, and producers, directors and screenwriters have a simple story to tell. They have a maximum of two hours to explain what happened over weeks or months or years and many of it give it their best shot.

Yet for all Hollywood’s shortcomings in recreating the past, it has managed to evoke eras and people long dead in a magical way that has kept millions of us enthralled for generations.

Film studios have been making historical movies now for over a century. In that time, thousands of films have been made covering not just centuries but millennia. Did Neanderthal woman really look...


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