Thursday, March 17, 2011

Sentimentality overwhelms the need to study history

From: Conservative History

Tory Historian was quite excited by the prospect of a film about George VI, the Abdication Crisis and the beginning of the Second World War. All these events were within living memory (still) but, because of the lack of historical teaching in schools, are not as well known as they ought to be. A viewing was in order as soon as possible and a few subsequent discussions. Tory Historian has been somewhat discouraged both by the film and, especially, by the discussions. Sentimentality seems to overwhelm the need or desire to study history.

It is necessary to acknowledge that the film is good. It is not brilliant but it is good in a solid way: good script, good acting with many of the best known British thesps on parade, accurate in detailed knowledge of the period. Compared to most films that have been produced in the last ten years or so, it is very good, but that is a reflection on the state the film industry is in around the world.

The historic background, on the other hand, is very poor. Whoever did the research should have their salaries docked. Or be told to wash dishes in future, if they can manage it. This is not about details of when exactly the Duke of York or George VI made the first truly successful speech. This is, after all, a film not a biography and certain dramatic tension is required. It is perfectly reasonable to build the story towards the speech at the outbreak of war when the fairy tale comes to fruition: the younger son (in this case a prince but that is irrelevant) overcomes the many handicaps and difficulties, gains the throne and the love of his people as he already has the love of several princesses who are his wife and two daughters.

What is objectionable is the complete disregard for historical accuracy in other matters. It is not possible to imagine that George V (or, for that matter, anyone else) said in 1935 (readers, please mark the date) that whoever inherited the throne from him would be facing Hitler threatening half Europe and Stalin the other half. Nobody thought that about Hitler and nobody paid that much attention to Stalin except on domestic matters.

Baldwin did not resign in 1937 because he thought "Winston was right". Very few people thought that in 1937, before Anschluss and invasion of Sudetenland; certainly not Baldwin who supported Chamberlain in 1938.

All this amounts to a promotion of Churchill as the secondary hero of the story, presumably for the American market. It culminates in the complete reversal of Churchill's role in the Abdication Crisis. The film shows him broadly supportive of the Yorks. In reality he supported Edward beyond any realistic expectation, making a speech in the Commons as late as December 1936 in his favour. He was humiliatingly shouted down.

There is, in addition, a problem with Timothy Spall who plays Churchill or rather a pantomime Churchill as one reviewer said. Mr Spall is the one exception in the film - among all the other superlative performances his is dreadful.

Does any of this matter? Tory Historian has been assured by various people that it does not as the film in itself is a good thing and will probably encourage others to go away and find out more about the Abdication Crisis, George VI and other related matters. Sad to say, this does not seem to be true. There is no evidence that the film is driving interest in the actual events of that period. In fact, all references to historic facts or inaccuracies are pooh-poohed with a somewhat gooey sentimental sigh. It is just so lovely, that film and gives one such lovely warm feelings. Who needs to learn history? Tory Historian remains very sad and disappointed.

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