Thursday, 7 August 2008
Movies vs History
Alternative title - Why does Mel Gibson hate the English?
I thought, based on the response to the tombstone bit a little while back, I would try to introduce a short, light sort of regular bit about the historical accuracy of movies. More for interest than anything, in most cases these will be movies I actually liked but sort of enjoy the complete diversion they take from fact.
I will start with the king of just plain making stuff up movies, Braveheart. A few random examples, I think we all know the battles and dates are going to be iffy.
Fact from Braveheart - Edward the first, or Longshanks, is the sneering over the top villain of history. He kills homosexuals, makes dickish remarks and generally rocks all over the movie. This is why he is my favourite character.
"Not the archers. My scouts tell me their archers are miles away and no threat to us. Arrows cost money. Use up the Irish. The dead cost nothing." - Edward I, in the movie
Historical Accuracy - Actually, yeah, he kind of was. The specifics are all made up, but he was a bit of a mean chap. He crusaded his way through his prince years (that is the years of being heir to the throne, not the years in which he was a fan of the musical artist formally known as Prince) and among his many interesting contributions to history was forcing jewish people to wear yellow badges to mark them out and expelling them entirely (while confiscating their stuff.) Two ideas another famous dick from history happened to copy. Plus his solution to "coin clipping" a common problem of the day (since coins were made of quite valuable metals back then, literally shaving bits off to make bullion) was to arrest all the heads of major jewish families, because why investigate stuff... if money is involved, it was probably the jews.
He did love fighting, took a certain joy in being the dude who conquered most of Wales and big chunks of Scotland and emalgamating them into what would become the United Kingdom.
When he died he requested his son "boil [his] body, extract the bones and carry them with the army until the Scots had been subdued." Sadly Edward II neglected to do such an awesome thing, instead just burying him, but with the glorious epitath "Hammer of the Scots".
Fact from Braveheart - Edward the second is a raging soft gay lad. He doesnt care about ruling Scotland because he is too busy being gay with dudes, so had no interest in sleeping with his hot wife.
Historical Accuracy - Yeah, probably. His father was certainly strongly concerned about his tendency towards certain "favourite" friends, history has pretty much surmised he was probably a bit gay.
He did father 4 children with his wife, though. So clearly he hit that sometimes. Plus he had at least one illegitimate child.
He was certainly a lot weaker than his feather. Robert the Bruce would make dickish remarks about his lack of military skill and the dude spent most of his time losing the bits of Scotland his dad had conquered in the first place. He didnt care for warring upon the Scottish, which is pretty gay in my book.
Fact from Braveheart - William Wallace was a good, honest scotsman. Until the EVIL English came and killed him and his woman and his puppy. He went away for an education and eventually came back and was forced to throw off the yolks of oppression for FREEEEDOOMMMMMMM!!!! Before being betrayed and executed, but he never lost his noble spirit.
Historical Accuracy - Well, he wasnt a commoner for a start. He was a minor noble. He was probably of Welsh stock, the name Wallace probably means "welsh" or "foreigner" apparently.
As for his noble war on the English... wellll maybe. You could make him out to be a guy who was involved in the war against an evil oppressor, but really it was more a war between which bunch of nobles would get to gouge the scottish people more.. local ones or ones from further south. We certainly dont have enough historical accounts to actually know Wallace's views, or enough details of the battles he took part in and what his actual importance was. A lot of what is assumed comes from poetry, which as a historical source is always at least 90% crap. Thats where the "avenged the killing of his bint" part of the movie comes from, a poem.
He is sort of the robin hood figure of Scotland (only was definitely actually real) so you would expect him to be massively built up, but the lack of evidence means you should take this as a bit of literary conceit. He was a guy who killed some English, hid from them for a while and eventually got handed back to them for execution. He could be a hero, a villain or more likely just a pretty hard dude among hard dudes in a time of conflict and politics.
If it wasnt for his dramatic evasion and capture, he wouldnt really be so well remembered. His final statement before execution as a traitor, "I could not be a traitor to Edward, for I was never his subject", was pretty cool though.
Fact from Braveheart - William Wallace banged Edward II's missus, presumably impregnating her and giving the sly wink that maybe the next king of England would be a Wallace.
Historical Accuracy - Hahahaha. No.
He never met her. And at the time the film was set, she would be three years old.
I am not saying William Wallace didnt sleep with her, but you know, if he did... it adds a certain extra dimension to the movie.
Fact from Braveheart - Wallace didnt have a vaguely scottish accent. He sounded like a dude who had just heard about Scotland in myths or legends.
Historical Accuracy - There isnt anything that says this isnt the case. Power to you, Gibson.
Final conclusion - Well, the creators of the movie point out they didnt want exact historical accuracy, instead they deliberately based it on the poetry of Blind Harry, someone famous for helping to create the myth of William Wallace, but constantly made stuff up. He references things that categorically just didnt happen. Beyond that they made a lot of stuff up, because it made the movie more hollywood if the morality was cleaner cut, Wallace slept with someone hot (even if she was 3) and it had a more meaningful ending.
Still an awesome movie. But about as accurate as a Robin Hood flick. The decision to make England the traintrack-woman-tieing-up sort of villains sort of makes sense, though I can see why they got a little stick for making out Edward II to be a bit of a fairy. Little bit offensive that anyone thought to bang dudes has to mince around whenever he is one screen.
My favourite obtuse fact from the movie, the hilarious bit where Longshanks throws his sons gay lover out of a window...
"Gibson asserted that the reason the king killed his son’s lover was because the king was a “psycopath,”and he expressed bewilderment that some audience members would laugh at this murder" - From Wikipedia
..wasnt meant to be funny. Ah Hollywood, you will never understand us.
A spur of the moment murder of a campy guy is ALWAYS funny.
I will leave you with my second favourite quote from the movie (like all of them, from Longshanks.)
"The trouble with Scotland is that it's full of Scots."