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Film and history

Feature film

Using feature films provides a visual representation of a historical period and/or historical characters that is unrivalled by any other medium. Films give sometimes very simplified views of the past that can be used to teach students about historical interpretations in an accessible way. 

However, use of film, with its fictional elements, can also be problematic. These questions should be raised and discussed with your students, to engage with the value of film as a historical source:

  • Does the use of fictional characters reduce the usefulness of historical films?
  • Many historical films are ‘based on’ or ‘inspired by’ a true story – does this matter?
  • Scriptwriters, directors and producers sometimes change the order of events, or the outcome of them, to fit the ‘narrative’ of the film – does this make a difference to how useful a film is to a historian?
  • What kind of research did the people involved in making the film conduct? How does this affect the usefulness of the film in learning about history?
  • How accurate is the film’s portrayal of the period in which it is set? Is anything missed out? Does this matter?
  • What is the message of the film? Does it tell us something about the time it was made or the time it was set? Or both?
  • What is the purpose of the film? Is it to reflect on the present? Is it political? How does this affect its usefulness as a historical source?