This weekend, I watched a dreadful submarine film, K-19: The Widowmaker’. It had an all-star cast, including Joss Ackland, Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson, but it annoyed me for its historical and technical inaccuracies. As ever, the writer of the screenplay distorted the science of nuclear physics to suggest that a reactor meltdown could somehow become a bomb capable of starting WW3 by accident. It is such a popular myth I suppose it can be forgiven. However, the true story of the nuclear accident at sea was surely fascinating enough without all the remaining distortions.
It led me to wonder why film makers feel the need to change true stories so much. In the film Braveheart, William Wallace has an affair with Queen Isabella of France, even though she was actually 3 years old at the time and living in France. Perhaps the blame for the portrayal of the Highlanders in belted plaid and kilts 500 years before their time cannot necessarily be placed at the feet of the writer, though. Why did James Cameron include in his film Titanic, the scene where First Officer Murdoch panics and shoots passengers before committing suicide, despite there being no evidence of the deeds and it upsetting his living relatives? I suppose writers of screenplays have two thoughts; the true history is not dramatic enough and needs to be embellished; and the audience will be too ignorant to notice the inaccuracies.
All my novels are based on true stories that I deem worthy of bringing to the attention of today’s readers. I confess to making up dialogue for real characters, combining events into one timeframe or shifting the dates of the action to suit the structure of my story, but I do take great care to research my stories accurately and try to avoid distorting the facts. Where I have played a little with history, I do confess to it in my author’s notes to avoid misleading the reader. After all, my aim is not just to entertain my readers, but to leave them a little more knowledgeable about historical events and even to inspire them to study more of the events afterwards. Perhaps, after I have finished my current work, I should consider writing a screenplay.