Last weekends I went with a friend to see the movie Dunkirk. It was his first time seeing the film and my second. (it worked on a second viewing all well as the first.) After the screening as we walked out the theater he pointed to the lobby display and spoke about the rifles carried by the UK and French forces. If I recall what he said correctly the British carried rifles that were made for WWI but that they really weren’t that common in the army by the time of the evacuation and that in the film the French carried newer rifles but in reality they had been equipped with an older model. I theorized that perhaps the director selected these long guns for their distinctive shapes and while they were period correct he went ahead and let them appear in period incorrect numbers.
This has gotten me thinking about accuracy in historical films.
The issue of accuracy in historically set stories is far larger than a single blog post. Hell if you want to dive into the weeds watch the YouTube channel History Buffs which is dedicated to reviewing historical films from an accuracy perspective. What I did think about is how often the details that matter to us are the ones that touch on the subjects and aspects that engage us.
Someone with an interest in fashion will noticed that the character reaching in a pocket shouldn’t be able to because pockets hadn’t been developed yet.
That the battle of Sterling Bridge really should have a bridge will annoy some but not others.
That the destroyers seen at Pearl harbor are ships that will not be built until decades after the war.
That the yellow noses of the German fighters didn’t start until years after the evacuation of Dunkirk.
That the vast sea of white faces on the beach of Dunkirk really should have had more color.
What’s fascinating is that sure if you have an interest in one subject sure you’ll notice the errors there, after all it is your thing but so often the other errors a person will wave aside. That shouldn’t be.
Really, even if you enjoyed Braveheart, and its a thrilling film, or if you are moved by the madness of Amadeus, one should be aware of how they lie about history. If they lie about an area that isn’t your special interest, you should still care.
Accuracy matters, details matters. It is better to get it right and the best case is where art and history are in sync but know when they are not.