In any part of a history class, the main learning materials will often be literary or theatrical interpretations of historical events. The literary materials can be history books, online articles, or ancient stone tablets. Meanwhile, the theatrical portions include documentaries from the History channel or a big-budget reimagining of historical events.
The literary works are typically accurate, but a historical film has a challenge: how close to the actual events can the story be? Sometimes, movies may have characters wearing the wrong clothes during an event, or has a person die the wrong way or at the wrong time, or even make characters say things that were actually never said. Even if these details aren’t exact, the film has a chance to present an event to a huge audience and teach what may have been forgotten.
Big-budget historical films usually cast big-name actors and actresses and transform them into historical icons. When working with historical accuracy, the actors taking part will take months to get into character, often studying up on their known habits and quirks in order to best give their original take on the person. It’s a learning experience for everyone when someone steps into the shoes of Abraham Lincoln (2012) and portrays the titular man to show his legacy through the theater.
Historical films that deserve to be shown to a wide audience should strive to serve as learning material for future generations, rather than strive to be huge box-office successes. These films should be told in a fashion that allows the viewer to relate to the events of whatever time period is being portrayed, regardless of year.
For example, The Imitation Game (2014) proved to be a worthy piece because of how it relates itself to the upbringing of current technological innovations and the challenges of identity which haunt people everywhere. Meanwhile, The King’s Speech (2010) portrayed a king who wishes to be heard, and was released at a time when finding your own voice truly means something, especially with the widespread communication advancements of each respective time period.
Making any type of film relative to your audience allows the viewers to want to watch these events and learn the messages from history that we need to know.
Although we enjoy reading and imaging how events took place, seeing it in action on the screen can prove to be an entertaining experience. Both versions, whether literary or theatrical, work to help those who read or watch history to learn the messages that are presented such as fighting for what you believe in, building the impossible, or conquering the Roman Empire.
In a way, forms of historical reinterpretation teach those who view its content the same messages.
History is a subject that cannot be removed from film or literature’s grasp because the subject must always be remembered. The most powerful form of immortality, whether it be physical or spiritual, is through the power of memory. An event that is forgotten is a lesson unlearned by its society. Both film and literature seek the same means of allowing history to survive the fabrics of time and still, even after hundreds or maybe thousands of years, impact current events.
With history, we as a civilization will always find a way to indirectly repeat it. With the events that we recreate currently, we better give the world the relative events to view, or else we’re going through the events of 10,000 BC (2008) all over again.