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How important is historical accuracy in a historical film?
The notion of accuracy in history is a really difficult one in drama because you know, it's like saying, you know, was Macbeth accurate, was a Shakespearean drama accurate. The thing is it's not about historical accuracy; it's about whether you can make a drama work from history that means something to an audience now. So I tend to take the view that in a way accuracy isn't the issue when it comes to the drama. If you're writing a drama, you have the right as a writer to create the drama that works for you, so you can certainly change details. The truth is nobody really knows how people spoke in Rome or how people spoke in the courts of Charles II or William the Conqueror or Victoria, or whoever. You have an idea from writing, from books, and plays, and so on. We know when certain things happened, what sort of dates happened. I think it's really a question of judgement. If you make history ridiculous, if you change detail to the point where history is an absurdity, then obviously things become more difficult. The truth is that the more recent history is, the more difficult it is not to be authentic to it. In a way, it's much easier to play fast and loose with the details of what happened in Rome than it is to play fast and loose with the details of what happened in the Iraq War, say, you know. So it's all a matter of perspective in some ways. It's something that you have to be aware of and which you try to be faithful to, but you can't ultimately say a drama has to be bound by the rules of history, because that's not what drama is.

Do you think the writer has a responsibility to represent any kind of historical truth?
Not unless that's his intention. If it's your intention to be truthful to history and you put a piece out saying this is the true story of, say, the murder of Julius Caesar exactly as the historical record has it, then of course, you do have an obligation, because if you then deliberately tell lies about it you are, you know you're deceiving your audience. If however, you say you're writing a drama about the assassination of Julius Caesar purely from your own perspective and entirely in a fictional context, then you have the right to tell the story however you like. I don't think you have any obligation except to the story that you're telling. What you can't be is deliberately dishonest. You can't say this is true when you know full well it isn't.


Can you think of any examples where you feel the facts have been twisted too far?
Well, I think the notion of whether a film, a historical film has gone too far in presenting a dramatized fictional version of the truth is really a matter of personal taste. The danger is with any historical film that if that becomes the only thing that the audience sees on that subject, if it becomes the received version of the truth, as it were, because people don't always make the distinction between movies and reality in history, then obviously if that film is grossly irresponsible or grossly fantastic in its presentation of the truth, that could, I suppose, become controversial. I mean, you know, I think that the only thing anybody is ever likely to know about Spartacus, for example, the movie, is Kirk Douglas and all his friends standing up and saying 'I am Spartacus, I am Spartacus', which is a wonderful moment and it stands for the notion of freedom, of individual choice and so on. So Spartacus the film, made in 1962, I think, if memory serves, has become, I think, for nearly everybody who knows anything about Spartacus the only version of the truth. Now in fact, we don't know if any of that is true really. There are some accounts of the historical Spartacus, but very very few and what, virtually the only thing that's known about is that there was a man called Spartacus and there was a rebellion and many people were, you know, were crucified at the end of it, as in the film. Whether that's irresponsible I don't know, I can't say that I think it is, I think in a way it's, Spartacus is a film that had a resonance in the modern era. There are other examples, you know, a lot of people felt that the version of William Wallace that was presented in Braveheart was really pushing the limits of what history could stand, the whole, in effect, his whole career was invented in the film, or at least, you know built on to such a degree that some people felt that perhaps it was more about the notion of Scotland as an independent country than it was about history as an authentic spectacle. But you know, again these things are a matter of purely personal taste. I mean, I enjoyed Braveheart immensely.
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