Movies & History
I spent most of Sunday happily curled up in front of the tv watching the Academy Awards--the preshow, the red carpet, the awards themselves, the post show. (I did work on various projects while watching, though not during the actual awards). From the time I was a preteen, I’ve been glued to the television for the Oscars. When I first started watching, the awards were on a weeknight and often coincided with the end of March Madness. My father would kindly surrender the television to me when the awards started, but not too long after he gave me my own tv for my birthday.
Now that the awards on a Sunday, there’s practically a whole day of fashion details and movie clips to revel in. How could I not love an event that combines movies and fashion, two of my favorite things? But watching the awards this year, I realized there's something else I love about them. History. There's movie history that's made each year with the awards themselves. There are the montages (like this year's salute to horror and the lovely John Hughes retrospective) that capture movie history. And there are nominated movies which recreate historical events and eras, like this year's Invictus, Young Victoria, An Education, and A Single Man.
Thinking about this aspect of the awards this year made me realize how much my love of history grew out of my love of movies. As I've mentioned in prior posts, the roots of the books I write now are in two old movies I saw with my parents as a child, Pride and Prejudice and The Scarlet Pimpernel. The Keith Michell Henry VIII series and the Glenda Jackson Elizabeth I series started my fascination with Tudor history. The Richard Lester Three Musketeers movies sent me seeking more information about Louis XIII, Anne of Austria, the Duke of Buckingham, and Cardinal Richlieu. A Lion in Winter introduced me to the Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine and their brood (well, building on what I knew from the Errol Flynn/Olivia de Haviland Robin Hood, not to mention the cartoon version with the foxes and other animal characters).
Of course the historical accuracy of film adaptations of historical stories various widely (from say the meticulously researched Henry VIII and Elizabeth series to Robin Hood which is inspired by legend). Timelines are compressed, characters combined, villainized or heroized. But my response to a historical film was almost inevitably to ask my parents "what really happened?" which would lead to pulling out the encyclopedia and then to trips to the library. So I fairly quickly learned that the Olivier/Garson Pride and Prejudice is set twenty years later than the book, that there are other views of the French Revolution than that presented by the Baroness Orczy, that (even before A Lion in Winter), it's a bit more complicated than evil Prince John and heroic King Richard.
Now historical films about events I'm not familiar with tend to send me googling. Recently I came home from An Education, and read an article by the writer whose memoir the film is based on (and learned the film is remarkably faithful to the memoir). And though as an historical novelist, I'm more likely these days to spot plot or setting details that diverge from the historical record, I still love the power of movies to transport me to another era.
On a completely unrelated noted, the picture above is my new author photo.