23 Comments
Dec 4, 2023Liked by Henry Oliver

I think it’s inherently cruel to make up drama about living people’s private lives. It’s a kind of entitled voyeurism and often a form of humiliation. I can’t think of any TV examples pre-internet. It’s a genre that arrived with the consumerist branding of the self via social media. It’s a denial of dignity. It’s part and parcel of the death of privacy. It’s just in poor taste.

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Well stated. Perhaps even worse, the misstatements and falsification of meant to serve a contemporary political agenda. That makes it even more pernicious form of fraud. It’s a literally Orwellian, it’s the kind of thing that the Ministry of Truth did, or rather the kind of lies that it told.

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Dec 4, 2023·edited Dec 4, 2023Liked by Henry Oliver

Thank you for writing this. As a historian, I loathe this concept. It's one thing to make minor changes to a historical record for better narrative flow- that's what Hollywood has always done. But it's entirely reprehensible to use fictional narratives as a way of getting revenge on the past and the people in it.

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I gave up on The Crown because of the distortion of facts, especially after the plot of then-Prince Charles plotting to overthrow the Queen.

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I enjoyed this. Thanks. I feel educated! I’m not a Crown watcher - I don’t see it as historical drama, rather as soap opera so I don’t go there. Thank you for explaining anathema in terms of historical fiction.

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Jan 12Liked by Henry Oliver

"What causes true controversy are programmes like The Crown, where timelines are altered, facts changed, fictional behaviours inserted, and all presented as if that was the truth."

That is the quintessence of the new Napoleon movie by Ridley Scott. The altered timelines weren´t the major problem, only a minor inconvenience, but the person pretending to be Napoleon was absolutely ridiculous. If Napoleon had been anything close to what is portrayed in the film, he would never have left Corsica, let alone become emperor of France and conqueror of Europe.

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Excellent article!

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As a lover of history and historical fiction, yes!

And Napoleon had so much promise and was so dull.

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Very thought-provoking! I was going to write a brief comment, but it got too big so I turned it into a post. https://danallosso.substack.com/p/history-plausibility-motivation

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I find this really interesting, and although the distinctions you draw are obviously true and helpful, I have a slightly different take, which comes from my horror at how little history is being taught these days to schoolchildren. My three, now into their twenties, only ever seemed to study Eleanor of Acquitaine and the causes of WW2. I was struggling as a working single mum but still really regret that I never noticed how inadequate the syllabus was until it was too late. That's why I love Catherine's homeschooling diary, I know that these children will grow up knowing about the English Civil war and the Victorians. So I have a great respect for historical drama if it sucks young people in and makes them curious - and at least for the first couple of series, The Crown did that. I expect The Favourite did, and Napoleon will do the same for some, and I'm happy with that. But I can't watch them!

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Ooooo Shakespeare and Lanthimos is such a great comparison!! Nice!

When I went to Rome as a youth I did a tour of the ruins and they informed us that Julius Caesar was not stabbed on the steps of the senate, as it is told in Shakespeare, but in a back alley next to the senate. I think that kind of slight alteration to create dramatic tension or metaphor is perfectly fine although quite interesting to realise (1) it's not well known, or not as far as I know, that it is an alteration (2) now that I know the truth I actually think I may prefer the truth as metaphor; this deed being done in the shadows is more poetic for being accurate I think.

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What annoys me is when contemporary language is used in period dramas. So someone might say something like -we need to discuss these issues- when issues to describe a problem wouldn’t have been part of the vernacular in the period. Picky I know but it just jars!

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