Right now, popular media is in a love affair with historical bio-pics and that’s great! “Lincoln,” starring Daniel Day-Lewis and directed by Stephen Spielberg, made great box-office numbers and walked away from this year’s Academy Awards with two Oscars. Another movie in this vein recently released was “Hyde Park on Hudson” starring Bill Murray as Franklin Delano Roosevelt. This one was a flop, going in and out of movie theaters with few people even acknowledging its existence. However, the biggest issue with both of these movies was the controversy over their historical inaccuracy, which was rampant among academic communities. Historians say the films are entirely misconceptions about the past, embellished for entertainment. However, I don’t see films as a detriment to historical academia, but a way for those who aren’t the biggest history buffs to explore historical themes.
Yes, films will embellish facts to make a story more exciting or relatable to the audience they’re marketing to, but what if that movie becomes a stepping stone to a love affair with history? Kids and teenagers were dragged (kicking and screaming) to screenings of “Lincoln” all over the United States. They sat through the 150 minutes of speech after speech. But what if that child or teenager didn’t know that Lincoln had actually stretched the powers of the presidency to fit into his plan to end the Civil War? What if they did not know Lincoln actually bribed congressman, as he did in the film? Maybe this film will peak these kids’ interests enough to at least Wikipedia the beloved president. Maybe they’d like what they read and research the presidents’ exploits even more and grow up to become the next great Civil War historian, writing books about the man who is still so mysterious to us.
These films aren’t meant to be historically accurate. They’re meant to be entertaining gateways into the field of history. Historians need to stop looking down their noses at these big budget flicks and enjoy them. As soon as it’s over, they can flock to their laptops and rant about how this was wrong and this was wrong and Lincoln would never wear that color coat. This is a new way of teaching, and sometimes people learn a lot from others telling them what is wrong. These films should open a historical discourse, not a snobby 1-star rating from an author who refuses to see the film at all.
As for me, I didn’t particularly like “Hyde Park on Hudson.” The acting was so-so, and the movie’s plot (although humorous at times) was just strange. It focused on a part of FDR’s life that I didn’t really need to know about. It was an overall awkward movie and I’d give it a C rating at best. “Lincoln” has been my favorite bio-pic so far. Daniel Day-Lewis gives a performance of a lifetime. This movie paints a vivid and, from what I have read on the subject of Lincoln and his personality, accurate portrait of the former president even though it only spans a short time. Overall, this film gets an A from this would-be historian. However, I may be just a tad biased because of my already undying love for the man who saved a nation from tearing itself apart.
Lincoln was released to DVD on March 26th.
Hyde Park on Hudson will be released to DVD on April 9th.
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