This is what I consider an example of “historical drama/fiction” – which is probably no surprise because I wrote it:
The once living character Thomas Jefferson above is written to keep within what falls within what historians know of his general life and behavior; and he actually wrote all of what he says in that excerpt. The fiction of it from “Robert” is constructed to help us possibly see Jefferson as that once living person; and note “Robert” there does the “thinking,” not Jefferson. Overall, the aim is to use the history to ground us in the time and the place in which the drama is set.
Historical drama/fiction should NOT take once living people outside the boundaries of what we know about them from solid historical evidence. One good rule in historical fiction writing is to use fictional characters to do any “thinking” (unless it is easily demonstrable what a historical one thought) and keep those once alive to their historical script insofar as one can. The fictional ones, really, create the drama.
Matters are different when a drama is built exclusively around those who once lived, and even may be still alive, and has those “characters” think and behave in ways that may not be consistent with the historical record:
The new series of The Crown is catching heck from various people, including former prime minister Sir John Major above, and actor Dame Judi Dench, who terms it “crude sensationalism” and that she fears “a significant number of viewers, particularly overseas, may take its version of history as being wholly true.”
I enjoyed its earlier seasons (as you may have too):
It had since its start been under some criticism for taking certain historical liberties. However, that criticism had never really been this clear or emphatic or loud. This series it appears must have drifted too far from the historically demonstrable behavior of living (or recently living) people into, apparently, falsehood.
Netflix says it “has always been presented as a drama based on historical events.” That seems to say a lot, but actually says little at the same time. Because there is a decided difference in dramatizing historical events as opposed to utilizing real people as characters and basically making stuff up about them.
The notion that viewers will supposedly “know” it is drama is never a defense. Seeing what appears to be an authoritative tale, acted by highly-regarded performers playing real people under their real names, inevitably creates a “knowledge base” that may well be correct at times but, as in this case, could well be disturbingly inaccurate. The problem with such historical inaccuracies in such productions is once its falsehoods embed in the public mind any number of solidly researched histories and biographies, which will have only a fraction of the readership of a streaming/television drama like that one, will be unable to undo it.
A “disclaimer” making it blunt this is fiction would help at least some. We have enough trouble with truth in the world already to add to our woes even more on any subject. I suppose I will watch it just because I want to see how it continues, but it is a shame if the series ends on this historically sour note.
That sorta depressing post is appropriate, I guess, for a Monday. Try to have a good day regardless, wherever you are. 🙂
One problem today is that with the lower standard of education in many countries, including here in the UK, and the rise of social media with unchecked ‘facts’, and ‘fake news’, people are ill-equipped to understand what is historical fiction and historical fact.
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Spot on, definitely. Facebook and other social-media-posted nonsense is bad enough. It is far worse when well-crafted and presented historical drama veers off into la-la land.
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