New: real history in the movies as you’ve never seen it
Britain’s whispered mention in the Oscars nominations this time is likely to be a paean to fake history, a romantic movie that takes historical fact and invents new bits to make it more interesting.
It reminds me a bit of the famous description by Peter Cook’s E L Wisty, I think it was, of the Old Testament being a very accurate account of what never happened. Young people, as far as I can tell, are not in the least interested in the Oscars, it’s the middle-aged largely American, white and female fan that gives anything like a damn, and these offerings seems to be a reactionary response to liberal youth’s anger at the new right.
So Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk contrives to burnish Brexiteer nationalism - it’s all about Brits escaping from Europe after all - and The Darkest Hour with Gary Oldman as Churchill manages to have the great man getting inspired to give his “fight ‘em on the beaches” speech by gossip with the hoi-polloi on the Tube, the sort of true Brits that would, of course, have voted Leave.
Well, history isn’t what happened, it’s what historians believe happened. But one of the greatest fairy tale spinners of our time, Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings fame, doesn’t have to resort to Tolkien this time or graphic descriptions of what it would have been nice to have been so.
The Imperial War Museum has given him and his genius free run of its enormous film archive and he is bringing all the real life drama you can handle - and the stories of real people - to the big and small screens in the autumn with footage that has never been seen before, remastered, digitised in full 3D and hand-coloured, with audio from the BBC archive.
It is part of the last element of 14-18 NOW, Jenny Waldman’s programming of the centenary years of the First World War, all of which has excited millions – 30m so far, three times what was projected for the whole five years, and there’s still one to go – without recourse to fantasy, but using all the wiles and guile of artists.
And what a year this last centenary anniversary has to deal with. It’s not only the last year of the war to end war, it's the year of the Representation of the People Act, giving British women the vote for the first time for which the heroism and steadfastness of women in the war rather than the activities of the Suffragettes was responsible. It’s also the centenary of the Spanish flu epidemic which killed a third of the world’s population to put the devastation of the war into some perspective. And it will be art, adhering closely to the known truth, that will bring these things to what has become a more avid audience larger by a ratio of thousands than the Oscars will ever have.