The thing is, here’s the thing: 99.9% of all people who bitch about movies or TV or what-have-you being historically inaccurate are either just trying to exercise some kind of know-it-all superiority or are your typical shrieking nerds desperately striving to create a factual basis for a subjective dislike. That’s natural. However, in many cases they’re right. Not because of the boneheaddery, not at all. But because, in most cases, historical “accuracy,” whatever the christ that means, is part and parcel of a larger problem, which is that the past is being packaged to viewers as familiar, and that’s about the worst fucking thing that could ever happen to you. I was going to talk about Warren Ellis’s Crecy, but what are the odds that any of you here have read it? It has one really good thing going for it, which is that it portrays the English army of the Hundred Years’ War as essentially terrorists. That’s a worthwhile endeavour; the cognitive dissonance of empathizing with a terrorist is a good experience for the brains. But the rest of it is just the usual second-hand pop-history about medieval warfare. That’s not a criticism; that’s par for the course. Instead, let’s talk about something you’ve all seen, Mel Gibson’s film Braveheart, which is a fucking pile of nads.
In slow motion.
So you’re expecting to hear a bunch of elitist whining here about how the film is nuh historically accurate, and I hope you won’t be disappointed, but there’s a deeper message I’d like to communicate. Filmical bullshit falls into some different categories:
a) easy/lazy/artistic. The soldiers in the film wear these scale-mail or jack-of-plate trousers, and it looks fucking stupid. But this is clearly a choice made by some ridiculous twat of a costume designer who thinks it looks “medieval,” or at worst doesn’t think that Americans can take a film seriously where the bad guys have no pants on. Whatever.This is an artistic “choice”, and it is dumb as shit but at least it’s meant to be that way.
b) inspired by ignorant Hollywood notions of “dramatic necessity”, i.e. the romantic relationship between Mellington Mellorson and that one French chick, which is impossible, etc. Sure, but film got to have a love story! I’m just amazed there isn’t a demeaning stereotype of a black person in this film. So this is horseshit, but it’s horseshit that is fundamentally nothing to do with history, so whatever.
c) an explicit load of revisionist bullshit. And this is where it fucking matters. If you portray the conflicts of the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries in this way, you’re portraying them as part of an ongoing conflict between two types of people. English people are like this, and Scottish people are like that, and the conflict will always go on because They Hate Our Freedom. See also The Patriot.
Now that’s easy to think. But in fact, the real history is complicated and weird, and involves Norway and Sweden and stuff. Scotland’s relationship to England changes, and there are weird questions of identity, and the Scots claim to descended from the Scythians, and Robert the Bruce murders someone in a church. It’s not easy to think. And therefore fuck all attempts to portray the past in this reassuring light, because your ancestors were not just like you. They were in some ways, but in other ways they were huge fucking weirdoes, and the sooner you begin the process of trying to get your head around that, the smarter you’ll be, especially if you’re able to come to the conclusion that you also are a giant weirdo and half of what you do makes no sense whatsoever.