When does a story turn into a tall tale?
(Minor spoilers ahead for Jurassic Park, Broadchurch, The Imitation game and Hamilton)
Creative Licence or artistic licence is a term used when writers change the facts of a recorded story. There could be several reasons for doing so. If the story they are telling is about a person who is currently alive the writers may want to edit out some of the more unfavourable parts. Sometimes the writers change facts to make the story more exciting. The best example of this is from Jurassic Park. If I said velociraptor you would think of something like this.
A scaly lizard with sharp teeth and claws. From watching the films you would assume that they lived in the land that would one day be America and that they lived in packs. Whilst working together a full pack could take down a T Rex. The word velociraptor translate from latin into “swift feet”.
The real velociraptors looked like this…
The velociraptors were feathered, not scaled. They lived in China and were solitary creatures. The name velociraptor does mean swift feet but it is a misnomer. They looked more like large turkeys with long tails and they couldn’t run very fast on their short legs.
Here are a few more examples of Creative Licence…
(Note: I’ve excluding stories created for propaganda purposes such as William Shakespeare’s Richard the Third.)
Broadchurch was written by Chris Chibnall and broadcast on ITV between 2013 – 2017. The first series focused on the death of an eleven year old boy, Danny Latimer and the investigation led by Alec Hardy (played by David Tennant) and Ellie Miller (played by Olivia Coleman). The death of Danny Latimer is reflected in all three series but it is the second series that caused controversy.
The second series had two different plot strands. The first was the reopening of the Sandbrook case, a case that Hardy was involved in before arriving at Broadchurch. The second plot strand was the court case of the killer from the first series. Several lawyers commented that Broadchurch had taken liberties to increase the drama in the courtroom.
- The mother of the deceased, gave evidence against the accused while her husband watched. In a real court case a witness would never give evidence with another witnesses present as it could effect their testimony.
- Jocelyn Knight, leading counsel for the prosecution, called upon the Latimer family household before the start of the trial. This is frowned upon by barristers as it could compromise the case. Knight did look uncomfortable during this meeting but she also attended the exhumation of Danny Latimer’s body when she was under no legal obligation to do so.
- The final point is maybe the most trivial one but I think it is the most interesting. While waiting to enter court the cast of characters are served tea and coffee. In reality the only coffee they would be able to buy would be from a vending machine. The fact that there was free parking available also caused the lawyers watching to chuckle at their TV screens.
Overall I don’t think these points ruin the story of Broadchurch series two. I didn’t notice them on first viewing and I don’t think someone without a lawyer background would either.
The Imitation game
The Imitation Game staring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley retells the story of British Codebreaker Allen Turing and his efforts to help the allies during World War Two. Turing was responsible for breaking the German’s Enigma code, historians estimate that as a result of Turing’s breakthrough he was responsible for saving over fourteen million lives and shortening the Second World War by two years. Turing was gay and in the nineteen fifties he was chemically castrated for his “crime’. Turing was found dead in his bedroom from cyanide poisoning. Officially it was stated that he committed suicide by eating a poisoned apple (Turing was known for his love of the Snow White story) but there are conspiracy theories that he was murdered by the British Government. In 2009 the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologised for the way the Government had been treated Turing and largely as a result of the film raising the public’s knowledge of Turing he was granted a posthumous pardon in 2013 by Queen Elizabeth II.
Despite the film’s various awards it has been criticised for its portrayal of Turing and its historical accuracy. The film makers were accused of beefing up the relationship between Joan Clarke and Turing for dramatic effect. The casting of Keira Knightly for the character of Joan Clarke was also commented on because Knightly was “too pretty” for the role.
Cumberbatch plays Turing with syndromes close to that of Aspergers or Autism. This may have been Cumberbatch’s decision as he is well known for portraying characters in a similar manner such as Sherlock Holmes in the BBC show Sherlock or Stephen Strange in Marvel’s film Doctor Strange. It was reported by Turing’s friends and family that although he preferred his own company and liked to work by himself, Turing was very friendly, had a good sense of humour and was nothing like Cumberbatch’s interpretation.
I think the biggest difference are the details surrounding the code breaking machine. In the film the machine is called Christopher after Turing’s childhood lover. Turing built the machine by himself and only received help from his team after they realised the potential of what the machine could do. In real life the machine was called Victory and Turing didn’t invent it alone. He worked in a large team to build the second code breaking machine after the first was built by a polish inventor.
These facts don’t ruin the film for me but it does lessen the impact of Turing’s achievements.
Hamilton An American Musical is the life story of Alexander Hamilton, one of the founding fathers of America. He fought in the American Civil War, helped write the U.S. Constitution, drafted the American financial system, founded the the United States Coast Guard and The New York Post newspaper, served as the first Secretary of the Treasury, established the national banks of America and assisted George Washington in running the country. He is also known as the Forgotten Father, until the musical was released the public did not know who he was. The musical of Hamilton’s life landed on Broadway in 2015 and will be reaching London’s West End in 2018 (I already have my ticket).
Despite the show’s success there are many differences between the narrative of the musical and historical records. Aside from the most obvious point that the real Alexander Hamilton didn’t burst into song during cabinet meetings, (that we know of) Hamilton and Jefferson are simplified as good and bad guys for the convenience of the audience. Hamilton was often contradictory, he was an immigrant who preached about diversity yet failed to trust other immigrants, he supported the masses yet when he was in power he ignored human rights and was quick to stomp out protesters and rioters. Perhaps most controversially he ignored his friend Lafayette during the French Revolution after promising support.
The biggest injustice to the real Alexander Hamilton is that he is helped Martha Washington name her cat. During the number A Winter’s Ball Aaron Burr sings:
Martha Washington named her feral tomcat after him.
This joke is repeated in The Story of Tonight (Reprise):
“If the tomcat can get married
HERCULES MULLIGAN/MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE
if Alexander can get married
there’s hope for our ass after all.”
The story of Martha Washington naming a cat after Hamilton is a myth that started with one historian’s comment and steadily grew throughout history.
It is documented that Hamilton had many affairs and was a womaniser. His most notorious relationship was with Angelica Schuyler, his wife’s sister. They flirted with each other through hand written letters. In the number Take A Break Angelica sings:
In a letter I received from you two weeks ago
I noticed a comma in the middle of a phrase
It changed the meaning. Did you intend this?
One stroke and you’ve consumed my waking days.
“My dearest Angelica”
With a comma after “dearest.” You’ve written
“My dearest, Angelica.”
In the book Hamilton The Revolution the writer Lin – Manuel Miranda states:
“They’d slip commas between the words and change the meaning… Comma sexting. It’s a thing. Get into it.’
Although Hamilton and Angelica did not have a documented affair their relationship is exaggerated in the musical. Seeing as this results in some of the best lines in the musical, I don’t think many listeners will mind.
My biggest bugbear can be found in one of my favourite numbers The Reynolds Pamphlet. Rather than just a pamphlet Hamilton wrote a 95 page essay on why he was innocent of embezzling government funds whilst admitting to having an affair with Maria Reynolds. Although the song doesn’t say how long the pamphlet is, it does suggest it was a short piece of text by merely by calling it a pamphlet. The song states that Angelica came from London to confront Hamilton and support her sister but she was already in the country when news of the affair broke.
Despite these changes I think I like Manuel’s version of Alexander Hamilton more than the real person.
Are you concerned with historical accuracies when watching a film? Do you think any of my points above are nitpicks? Leave your comments down below and I’ll see you next time.