On My Utter Inability to Watch “Historical” Movies/TV

It has come to my attention this week that I’m not capable of sitting quietly and watching a movie or TV show that is based on true events. I’ve suspected this in the past; when Indiana Jones used the thighbone of a thousand-year-old skeleton, wrapped in tatters of its shroud, as a torch, I admit that I cringed a bit at the idea of an archaeologist destroying an important piece of history that way, because it just didn’t ring true. This week, though, I attempted to watch The Tudors on Netflix, and I found that I just couldn’t do it. I sat through the conflation of Henry VIII’s sisters into one character (whom they named Margaret but showed doing all the things his younger sister Mary actually did, such as marrying a king and then later Charles Brandon–but the real one married the king of France, not Portugal, and he was 52, not 80ish)  and the portrayal of Catherine of Aragon as a brunette, even though period portraits show her as a fair-skinned blonde. I even sat through the portrayal of the Duke of Buckingham’s daughter as Brandon’s mistress, though the female relative who actually played a part in the story was one of his sisters (either Elizabeth or Anne Hastings), and her affair was actually with the king. But when Catherine of Aragon, a Spanish princess who married an English queen, spoke such broken Spanish, I got annoyed. And when they showed Henry Fitzroy dying at the age of six from sweating sickness, when in reality he was 17 and had been married for 3 years by the time he died, I gave up.

Then on to the following evening, when I watched Funny Girl, the musical based on the life of singer/comedian Fanny Brice. Now, being a bit of a theater geek, I knew a bit about the life of Fanny Brice. The movie calls her mother “Mrs. Brice,” when Fanny Brice was a stage name, and shows her mother as a woman of fairly modest means, when really her parents were reasonably well-off and their saloon was by most reports pretty successful. It portrays Fanny as a virgin and a newcomer to the theater scene when she met Julius “Nicky” Arnstein; she had actually been previously married to a man she’d met on tour. It portrays Arnstein as a good guy who turned to crime when he couldn’t handle being financially dependent on his wife, even though he’d done a stint in Sing Sing before the two were married. It shows Brice pushing Arnstein for marriage soon after they met, when the two lived together for years prior to actually getting married, and Arnstein pleading guilty to the charges brought against him, when actually he fought the charges for four years on his wife’s money, costing her a fortune. It also cuts the length of his prison term in half and completely ignores the existence of their younger son. Seriously, people? I know it’s a musical and all, but geez, how hard is it to get the facts somewhere close to right, especially in a film adapted from a Broadway show about a Broadway legend?

And don’t even get me started on Braveheart–the clothes were from the wrong century (the kilt didn’t come into usage until the 1800s, and even the belted plaid, which came before, didn’t originate until at least the 1500s, two whole centuries after William Wallace died), there is little to no evidence that the decree of the right of the first night ever existed, Isabella was never Princess of Wales (she married Edward after he was king) and never met William Wallace, because she didn’t marry Edward until after Wallace was dead because she was a SMALL CHILD at the time Wallace died…OK, I’ll stop now.

I guess I really shouldn’t watch historical movies if I know anything about the subject. I’m too much of a stickler for detail for it to work, and the inaccurate details (or in some cases, major plot points that don’t line up with history) just make my brain hurt. From here,  I only watch fiction that’s been made up from whole cloth, because I can’t enjoy it if I know it’s bad history.

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