Actors, directors and designers come up with all sorts of reasons why they didn't stick to the story or reproduce the accent or the clothes:
I was just trying to make what had obviously happened even more clear. (Lady Carrados in Margery Allingham's Coroner's Pidgin tries to explain why she swapped poison bottles and moved the corpse.)
Stephen Knight explains his approach to Great Expectations: When I was asked to adapt the book I didn't take it as an invitation to climb the mountain, but simply to do my own sketch of it... This is more like a dream about a book, a way of using the timeless characters to explore timeless themes. (Such as gay orgies and opium dens...)
My objective was not to be an historian, but rather to find a sort of logical truth. (Deborah Davis, writer of a recent TV series about Marie Antoinette)
The real codebreaking machine, the Bombe, was housed in a Bakelite box. Production designer Maria Djurkovic and her team researched the working replica that is on display at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire, England. "Our version of the machine had to look convincing," says Djurkovic. She and director Morten Tyldum decided to reveal the machine's inner workings. They also added more red cables to give the audience the feeling that blood was pumping through its veins. (Tumblr)
The director of Wild Mountain Thyme suggests people around the world wouldn't understand realistic Irish accents. (2020)
“We’re not slavish to history,” say the makers of a series about Catherine the Great. “I don’t think the real Peter ever consummated the marriage. But that’s not good TV.” (History relates that it took him 14 years.)
The costume designer for The Great Gatsby “did a lot of research” on 20s clothes but thought they were “frumpy”, so picked and chose from 20s and 30s styles and modified them to make them tighter. (No costume designer can ever quite bear to make actresses wear cloche hats in the proper way – pulled right down to the nose.)
The show’s screenwriter, Alex Cary, said he had used artistic licence because in espionage “you never quite know what the truth is, and I took that as a licence to tell a greater truth”. (Daily Telegraph, 2022, on a new film about Kim Philby. He’s winched in a working-class female character who didn’t exist, following a trend, says the Telegraph.)
I had to find a voice for the Queen: I didn’t want to do an impression or turn her into a caricature. (Clare Foy, paraphrase. The Crown's costume designer explained how she did a lot of research but the clothes were “reimagined from my research” and weren’t a copy of something historic. OK, so she turned herself into a 50s dress designer, but surely in a historical drama we want an accurate reproduction of everything?)
Chefs given the task of recreating Titanic’s last meal “include historic hints” and think they are fulfilling their brief. “It was opulent but heavy. It had multiple meat courses and rich sauces so we adapted it a bit for modern taste,” says Titanic Belfast’s head caterer Leo Small. “We included historic hints in every course – such as our toasted barley jus as homage to the cream of barley soup – but we used modern techniques and equipment such as sous-vide ovens, foams and Heston-like touches.” (Times April 5, 2012. So he did not recreate the menu at all. Plus nobody ate their way through the whole menu – you picked and chose.)
The Dig: Key theme from Basil Brown: "The past - it speaks to us". Oh, it has to be about US, not the Anglo-Saxons. People in the present Learning Lessons. The preachy bit. We found some amazing Anglo-Saxon art and Now We Are Better People For It. (@TimONeill007. Apparently the film shows people discovering that the Dark Ages were not so dark after all, plus a lot of marital strife, tremulous romance and cross-class friendship.)
I call this the Titanic Complex. There is a very dramatic real bit of history going on but the film makers think they need to make it more interesting by adding extra drama, like a couple having marital problems, affairs, etc... Blablabla wedding ending, oh drama, pretty young things finding love, handsome chap in uniform, blablabla... some hanky panky... who on earth thought this story needed any of that completely made-up nonsense? (@fakehistoryhunt)
So Orwell never said “the working classes smell” – but he was disappointed by them, look at the way he denigrated their reading matter in that piece about Boy’s Own stories. (He was disappointed that the magazines fed the working classes a fantasy of “aristocratic” schools with titled pupils and old grey stones.)
At the end the director states, after I thought I was watching a movie that was historically accurate, that he had changed several characters and other aspects to make them more contemporary (meaning: what he thinks the way things ought to have been 100+ years ago, vs reality) re: gender, sexual preference, racial matters, etc. As such, the movie to a degree is fiction; a lie. Which is sad, as it detracts from the ground-breaking path that Colette lived. (kjr03215 on the film Colette, imdb)
I personally think you have to look back to see forward. My collections were inspired by my early, most powerful memories. I remember the way my mum dressed and how back then young girls dressed like their mums. I've taken shoulder pads and reinterpreted them, rejuvenated them. First of all a few people were a bit shocked to see them again but could see I'd updated them. (Young designer quoted on bbc.com. So it's OK to revive the shoulder pad as long as you "update" them in some way – I wonder what that way was.)
I recently learned that no historical drama - not even the ones that put real effort into accuracy - ever gets courtly male clothing quite right for certain time periods, because the things they actually wore look SO ridiculous to modern eyes that it would change the whole story. (Abi Brown via Facebook. Another designer explained she couldn't use authentic male dress of the period because it looked too modern.)
Ben Macintyre in the Times (19 Nov 2023) plays cliché bingo. He calls those who complain about historical inaccuracies in The Crown and Napoleon “pedants and purists”. (Ad hominem.) He claims that “based on a true story” films are more historically accurate than ever before. As for his own books: In each case, the screenwriter took the true story and remade it in a new art form, for a different audience, with close historical guidance. Each was faithful to the essence of the tale, context and period detail... Film-makers are not trying to reflect truth (which is impossible anyway) but rather to create a new, believable emotional reality. The Imitation Game played fast and loose with the Enigma story but led to a massive surge of interest in what really happened at Bletchley Park. (See Lourdes below, also new Agatha Christie "adaptations" that, however unfaithful and crude, "will draw in new readers".)
Was the “swearing, sh*gging, pop music, pretty people, lovely costumes” version of history created by Netflix – which doesn’t have to worry about stuffy advertisers? There is probably an acceptable artistic justification for making a film about Queen Anne with added lesbianism, swearing, rock music and rabbits, but I can't face looking for it.
Restaurants claim to be bringing back “real British cheese” and it turns out to be mozzarella. They claim they are reviving “real British food”, but it’s all over chilli jam and rocket because it’s been given a “modern twist” or “fusion elements”.
Or architects building housing “in keeping” with the surroundings by throwing in one “witty reference” to Victorian architecture (that red stripe!). Or those flats by the sea that had portholes because it’s nautical you know and rocks behind chicken wire to symbolize er er the seabed. The flats were instantly christened the “tin can” and the rocks had to be taken away because they were dangerous.
See also plans to “rebuild the Crystal Palace” by, um, not rebuilding the Crystal Palace but building something new with a couple of “Victorian” details. (It was dropped.)
And interior designers who claim "You don't want to live in a museum!" while ripping out period features.
It all reminds me of the nun who said that people who went to Lourdes and didn't get better "had been healed in a different way". The visions of Fatima may not have been genuine, but they brought many people back to the church. See also the therapists who tell you your psychic integration is really coming on, even though you're no happier. And the people who say a statement is "true in a very real sense" when they mean "it's false". In the 70s feminists even used to say that women might not have org*sms but they "enjoyed s*x in a different way".