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Fake History and Tall Tales

Fake History and Tall Tales

Just when you thought it was safe to back into the cinema, along comes another biopic, as they call them to excite your history taste buds.

‘’I never let the truth get in the way of a good story.’’ The words of William Shakespeare, as interpreted by actor Kenneth Branagh in the new film All is True. Are you beginning to get slightly confused between fact and fiction?

We live in an era when we are all subjected to great dollops of fake news. If we are to listen and believe the Tweeter-In-Chief.

So if there is fake news, there must be fake history. The new film from Kenneth Branagh has me reeling. The film is described as a mellow, bustling, sweet-natured literary biopic romp. It is the autumn of the great writer’s life. His treasured Globe Theatre has burned to the ground following an accident during a performance of Richard VIII. Poor Shakespeare never wrote a play again according to the producers of this jolly romp.

Throughout the film, you cannot help thinking did the Bard of Stratford-on-Avon actually say ‘’I never let the truth get in the way of a good story’’, or is this just spin and spoofery as it is the key soundbite used to promote the film. It is a bit odd for a fiction writer to say this.

I am one of the doubters about William Shakespeare actually writing all of the 884,667 words and 118,406 lines. I can’t help wondering if we are all being subjected to a melancholy kaleidoscope of history being rewritten with fake history, or do fact checkers actually exist when it comes to the movies.

As a lover of history, life has been great at the movies recently with a stockpile of wonderfully interesting series on TV, Netflix and now the cinema. I remember the time when the brilliant Neil Jordan produced and screened the brilliant 1996 film Michael Collins. The film was described as a historic biopic. However, movie critic Roger Ebert referred to the closing quotation by Eamon De Valera that future history would vindicate Collins at his own expense.

The critic wrote ‘’even Eamon de Valera could hardly have imagined this film biography of Collins, which portrayed Dev as a weak, snivelling prima donna, whose grandstanding led to decades of unnecessary bloodshed in and over Ireland.’’

Last year, Winston Churchill’s life was condensed into the remarkable Gary Oldman film Darkest Hour, which depicted Britain teetering on the edge of defeat to Nazi Germany in May 1940. Many of the critics panned it as playing fast and loose with the truth. More recently, Saoirse Ronan’s latest film Mary Queen of Scots was criticised for portraying a meeting between the title character and Queen Elizabeth, which never happened.

I often wonder where all the historians have gone to allow this level of fake history.

‘’Thank you Satan for giving me inspiration to play the role’’, the words of a very talented Christian Bale who plays the US President George W. Bush’s Vice President Dick Cheney in the superb film Vice, which has just opened.

If I am not mistaken, there now appears to be a pattern of historically significant films tumbling out of Hollywood, but no-one appears to be pulling up the directors for not checking content and rewriting history.

It is remarkable that many historians or serial commentators have not risen up over the serial inaccuracies presented as fact, or is it a true case, as William Shakespeare might say ‘’never let the truth stand in the way of a good story.’’


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