Historians Consulting on Historical Films

Historians often critique historical films through film reviews and newspaper articles that are written after the films are released or when Oscar nominations generate media buzz. Journalists sometimes ask historians to “fact check” and assess the “historical accuracy” of blockbuster feature films set in historical periods.

Less often, historians are invited to act as historical consultants on films during the production process. Historians serving as consultants might engage in screenplay writing or offer feedback during filming and editing.

Filmmakers sometimes utilize historians’ works without having them serve as consultants, however, and sometimes without even acknowledging their publications.

The Guardian reports that: “The ever-expanding number of history programmes on television ought to mean boom time for historians. Yet a growing number of authors and academics believe they are being unfairly cut out of the process. The Society of Authors says it has seen a rise in complaints from members about their work being used in TV shows without credit or payment.”

A complaint regarding the series Harlots has been particularly significant, according to an article by James Tapper, entitled “Historians Fight Back as TV Raids their Research Treasures for its Shows,” which appears in The Guardian.

“Two years ago,” according to Tapper, “Hallie Rubenhold complained that ITV had used her book, The Covent Garden Ladies, as inspiration for Harlots, the drama about the sex trade in Georgian London. She has since been credited as the series inspiration, and her complaints galvanised the Society of Authors, who had been looking at the issue, to draw up guidelines, with Pact, the body that represents independent TV producers.”

One of the best works on the complex relationships between filmmakers and historians is a conversation between filmmaker John Sayles and historian Eric Foner, published in Mark C. Carnes, Past Imperfect: History According to the Movies, rev. ed. (New York, NY: Henry Holt, 1996).

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This entry was posted in Careers in History, Cultural History, Early Modern Europe, European History, Historical Film, History in the Media, Museums and Historical Memory, Noble Culture and History of Elites, War in Film. Bookmark the permalink.

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