During the week I watched the movie The Duchess with Keira Knightly as Geogianna Spencer Cavendish -The Duchess of Devonshire. It is based on her life over a ten year or so period from her marriage to the Duke through to her disgrace and subsequent reintroduction to society. (Sorry no spoilers). It is an excellent depiction of marriage rituals in the aristocracy if not completely accurate with her life. And besides all that her costumes and the sets were magnificent!
It posses an interesting question though… this is classed as an historical movie but as we know from past experience Hollywood can be somewhat loose with the truth. Perfectly understandable -they have an audience to please. To its credit it does start with “based on a true story” but like all other movies there are no sources or references listed. Intrinsically movies much be fiction- they must write dialogue and scenes to tell the story – often of a very intimate nature and hopefully no one was standing around taking notes at the time nor where the participants writing tell all books.
The combination of visual and audio for long lasting impact is monumental. How many people would have read a book about Georgianna and had such an emotional connection with her? Who knows but I suspect far less than if you saw the movie. Most movies do not pretend to be historically accurate or a portrayer of truth but often documentaries do. This is far more dangerous.
Simply because it is labelled a documentary it implies credability, but they too often lack a list of sources or references, often going as far as not airing counter or contrary thought. Combine this with being produced by a reputable institution, eg BBC, it immediately takes on the value of gospel.
The documentary on the theory of the Salem witch trials is a classic example. A biologist put forward the idea of ergot posioning to explain the fits and a subsequent documentary made it appear a for gone conclusion, even though the historical evidence does not support this theory and few academics believed it.
So back to the movie… amazing! Well worth a look even if your not into history.