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One Queen and her Spy Master
"Hollywood Blockbusters and Historical Reality" 
30th-Oct-2009 01:57 pm
Walsingham: Fucking Hot
Here's a lovely little article from the "History Magazine" (and free to access to non-subscribers! W00t!) all about fact and fiction in historical films, namely in both Elizabeth and The Golden Age.

Linky linky: Hollywood Blockbusters and Historical Reality

It was published in September 2008, so is fairly recent, and written by Michael Mulloch, who is a teacher at Shrewsbury School.

This article does well in that it both defends historical movies (and tv shows) with all their inaccuracies, whilst also taking the time to point out the many errors in the Elizabeth films and correct them, though not without opinions being given for the reasons for such "errors" being made. (The author also does well in explaining why TGA is somewhat inferior to Elizabeth, something which I've felt is true for a while, but have not been able to fathom why - beside the fact that Walsie is rather too bumbling for my liking in TGA.)

Overall, I think it's nice to have an article which dispels the "myths" the Elizabeth films have possibly created (if you haven't picked up a history book, or even consulted Wikipedia, since watching them). It also makes one realise how much of an "historical remix" (my new favourite phrase!) both the films are. (But then, so is Quills, and we won't even get started on Shakespeare in Love.)

As you all know, I'm quite happy to watch factually inaccurate films since I have no problem with going to read a book afterwards and proceeding to separate fact from fiction. Films are usually the catalyst which set me on the path to research so I owe them a lot - even Ray Winstone's trashy Henry VIII (2003) left me with something! :D The only historical series I can't abide is The Tudors. I watched series 1, don't get me wrong, and it is entertaining enough, but it doesn't even try remotely to resemble historical figures, fashions or facts. I see purpose in the way Elizabeth was crafted, I can tolerate the modern-ness of the BBC's The Virgin Queen (2005) because it still retains the basic skeleton of historical fact, but The Tudors...? My God... Mills and Boon on-screen. I can't believe it was penned by the writer of Elizabeth! I guess the directors and producers do not share the beautiful, epic vision of Shekhar Kapur.

But I digress. Enjoy!

--x-posted to geoffrey_rush
30th-Oct-2009 03:59 pm (UTC)
Well, anyone who has worked in Hollywood and knows the reality of screenwriting and funding and distribution knows quite intimately that historical accuracy can only take you so far. If you do not have conflict - which is what drives a story, fiction or non-fiction, your work is not going to be seen. You can sell it to PBS or the BBC, but it isn't going to fly at Cannes.

Making movies is expensive, even on the low end. 'Elizabeth' was made with maybe a third of the budget that Elizabeth the Golden Age was - and I think Kapur absolutely blew it on the second one. Elizabeth I, with Helen Miren covered the later years of Elizabeth I with much better efficacy. And I won't get into the whole Scottish accented Mary Queen of Scots that Kapur did with Elizabeth the Golden Age. That was ridiculous. At least Gunpowder Trason Plot got that one right. Mary Queen of Scots would have had a French affectation of speech and most definitely not a Highland brogue.

My point is, Hollywood the film industry takes creative license at every opportunity because the writer, director or producer wants to do this sort of "creative non-fiction" approach. The problem comes with the "creative" aspect in that they have to justify the exhorbitant budgets and history just sort of falls by the wayside.

30th-Oct-2009 06:49 pm (UTC)
Can I ask if you have worked in the film industry at all? It sounds as if, from your words, you might have.

"...I won't get into the whole Scottish accented Mary Queen of Scots that Kapur did with Elizabeth the Golden Age."

I think Kapur mentioned something about the Scottish accent on the TGA DVD commentary - something to do with Mary trying to demonstrate some kind of affinity to Scotland. I can't recall fully - it's a while since I listened to it. The accent thing was a bit odd, I confess, but then one could question the whole depiction of Mary as something of a she-wolf in TGA, as well as her being a very beautiful and shapely woman which, let's face it, she certainly wasn't by that point in time. It's all part of the fabric of Kapur's quite fantastical, almost mythical, version of history. The Helen Mirren series was better in terms of accuracy, though it did have its glaring discrepancies, each done for quite understandable reasons - but I don't think Kapur is about accuracy. He seems more about getting across messages and creating atmosphere with his distinctive style. I was quite fortunate to speak briefly to him when he was in the UK, when TGA was released, and he's very interesting to listen to, even if one doesn't appreciate his style and license-taking. He naturally has a more eastern philosophy and his attitude to history is also very much rooted in the east.

"My point is, Hollywood the film industry takes creative license at every opportunity because the writer, director or producer wants to do this sort of "creative non-fiction" approach. The problem comes with the "creative" aspect in that they have to justify the exhorbitant budgets and history just sort of falls by the wayside."

Hollywood certainly is associated with overblown budgets and thrills and spills, but is it fair to say that they take creative license at every opportunity? Sometimes, certainly, but not all the time. There are some films, not just historical, (and not just from Hollywood) but also contemporary dramas or literary adaptations (the latter being another genre highly scrutinized for accuracy) which are fairly respectful to their source material, in essence if not in content, and not all elements which could be called "creative license" seem to be unwarranted. Disney utterly destroyed Notre Dame de Paris after all, and yet made a dark but stylish animation out of the wreckage which had an atmosphere not unlike the novel. The reasons for the many changes seem fairly justifiable in a family film - and also for brevity's sake.

The recent The Tudors series is the only historical TV show/film that I've seen which totally takes the mickey, in my opinion. It does seem to be complete spectacle over content. Otherwise I don't have a problem with "creative license" in historical dramas since I can generally understand why changes have been made - even if they are not done successfully, or end up seeming quite ridiculous. (TGA is full of examples of that... though I think ITV's Henry VIII pips it to the post quite easily. A very tacky and inferior sort of historical adaptation.)
30th-Oct-2009 08:01 pm (UTC)
To answer your question, yes I have and yes I do. I am an Associate Producer, currently working on pre-production for a documentary project for Route 66 that will film in the Spring of next year. And then we are in negotiations toward another fictional script that is historical in nature. I am listed on the Professional Side of the IMDB. What that means is that I am not important enough to list on the public side. In other words, I am a "little person" in the industry.

I thought Kapur was an absolute genius with the first film and watched that DVD and listened to the commentary over and over and over again. How he reused sets and all of that, was amazing. I don't believe that the large budget made his sequel any better. And yes, Helen Mirrem's version had some inaccuracies, too. I think it was less evident and Mirren, being a woman up in her years understood far more intimately what it was to portray Elizabeth at that period in her life. This is something, that Cate Blanchett, unfortunately, has not arrived at yet. I still think she makes the best Elizabeth by far - but there was a consciousness that was missed in the performance in the last film.

Don't get me started on Disney! *g* Even though I think that Michael Wincott's Rochefort was probably one of the best portrayals, Disney's wholesale butchery of history was hard to forgive. It was that movie, however, that inspired one of our screenwriters to do some serious research into the historical Rochefort and there is so much that even Alexandre Dumas missed and took his own poetic and creative licenses with history!

You know, I have the first season of the Tudors, and I liked it - even though it was really....just not historically accurate. HBO is not on my happy list since they cancelled Deadwood - which did follow a great deal of history, too. Quite a few people don't realise that Al Swerengen was a real life person in fact, he was from my home state of Iowa. ;) That series, for all of its faults, unmasked and showed the West for all of its grit, filth, treachery, and malice. This something that Hollywood has shied away from. Great Britain seems to have done a whole lot better as far as really pushing forward that raw feel in film. The whole Bobby Sands thing in the movie, "Hunger" starting Michael Fassbender.....just amazing. That is one man that every one needs to watch. Beyond his "pretty" factor, the man has such talent and range both in front of and behind the camera. I would personally love to see Fassbender be the one to direct Cate Blanchett in the next Elizabeth installment, and have Kapur be executive producer....or something along those lines. The first Elizabeth movie had a raw hunger and realism to it that is just not present in the second film and it became a caricature of itself - much in the way that the Tudors has become.
2nd-Nov-2009 05:05 pm (UTC)
Rochefort! Yay, another favourite character of mine from a favourite novel! I really liked Christopher Lee's version of the character in The Three and Four Musketeers movies from (I think) the 70s. Dumas' novel also made me interested in finding out more about Cardinal Richelieu, but I still haven't had the time to research that man... Alas, so much history to read about and too little time to do it in. (I'm buried in books on the Reformation, Puritanism, Elizabethan Life and, of course, Walsingham at the moment. I seem to start researching one thing, which always leads on to needing to research something else and, before I know it, I've lost track of what I originally sought to find out about!)

It's really nice to speak to someone in the industry, BTW, to get a different perspective - even if you claim to be only "a little person". I don't know if that sounds naive or anything... Best of luck with your projects and work.

And I love your icon! XD I am such a cruel person to my characters when I write, so it seems applicable to me as well.
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