Artistic Licence. All You Need Is Confidence (or Determination)

Any subject, any genre, any style, no matter how assiduous your research and effort, you run the risk of annoying a pedant (put that mirror away lad and concentrate on the post!) or someone who has delusions on the breadth of their knowledge on a subject, genre, style etc, etc, etc. As these folk will be so pleased they have the chance to go on at great length to you or even better the world about the mistake you made.

Now yes, a writer must make an effort. Having a motorcar in a novel set in the mid 19th century does indicate ‘not trying very hard’. (Steampunk of course gets a free pass these days)  Henry VIII biding one of his wives farewell before riding off to the Battle of Bosworth Field 1485 (he was born in 1491) is just stupid. Whereas you can work an ahistorical scene where Charles I and Oliver Cromwell have a discussion; having Cromwell say:

‘Get real Charles! The people need a democracy! Like now, man’

People will find it lacking something……unless of course you are doing satire or very off the wall humour in alternative Universes.

This does not mean you have to be hemmed into a place which leaves your imagination and general creativity stifled into something narrow and dry. To assist here I give the example of a new high profile film:


The King (2019 Film)

Now this revolves around A Henry V of England ( famous for Shakespeare, Agincourt etc), I write ‘A’ for the reason that both historical and “Shakespearial” as devotees of both might well go spinning off into the higher regions of the atmosphere when they hear about this.

The film has Henry as being a fellow who liked a bit of fun (as did Shakespeare’s Henry) and kills rebellious Hotspur (just like Shakespeare’s). Historically Henry (Then Prince of Wales) followed his dad (Henry IV) around putting down rebellions etc with sword, not frank and open discussion. Hotspur did die at the Battle of Shrewsbury and the winning side got to write the account, so keep an open mind on who killed him.

In The Film the larger than life Shakespearean character Falstaff figures as something of a mentor to Henry and sage advisor when Henry gets to invade France and gets to fight at Agincourt. In Shakespeare Henry IV Part 2 he gets ditched by Henry (now the V) as now a low life beneath him, Henry now being grave and austere. (In the hands of good actors the scene is at one sad and chilling). In the play Henry V he only gets an aside on account of being dead off stage (in reduced circumstances). History records one Sir John Fastolf, who was nothing like Falstaff and got the blame for losing the Battle of Patay against the French, who had Joan of Arc of their side, so you can’t blame the guy really.

In the Film Henry does not want to fight the French in France, he would rather stay at home, doing ‘stuff’, but due to all sorts of pollical skulduggery is manoeuvred into others’ cunning schemes whereby he is obliged to invade France. Here he reluctantly beats the French. In Shakespeare’s Henry V he invades France because it makes for a good plot and lots of rousing speeches. Historically Henry invaded France because he wanted to get back the lands that belonged to the Plantagenets who had been sort of French and he reckoned he should thus be King of France. His invasion and treatment of the civilian population would now qualify as war crimes, but ‘Business as Usual’ in those days.

Now, as you can imagine  Historians and Shakespeareans will be hopping up and down and for once sharing cause at the outrageous misuse of material.  Let us not bother with these possibilities.

Let us look to The Film:

Firstly you will notice it is called THE KING. It’s about A ‘king’

Thus we have a plot when a prince in A land called England becomes A king; the 5th one to be called Henry and gets drawn into fighting a war with A Royalty of A land called France and later on realises he has been suckered into the war.

That’s it. All you really need to know.

I have not seen the film, I may never see the film….actually curiosity makes me most likely to get a DVD to see how it goes. The point is there was a great deal of artistic licence used with both facts and previous dramas to get where the film arrived. And in these terms this is all that matters. Henry does not stab his father to death to gain the throne, (Yes, I know Mr Martin, I’m should you would have made sure he did). He does not ride into France on a fire breathing dragon (cool idea though?). Nor does he meet, fall in love with Joan of Arc, then tragically is obliged to betray then slay her in battle at Agincourt (I bet Marlow would have loved that one). Thus although historical credibility is stretched it is not unto ridiculous lengths. Artistic licence is used and hopefully the average viewer who has no axe to grind with history or classic drama will like the film.

I would thus urge you all the bear in mind this film when you are fretting over whether you should be doing what you are doing with a plot where history or ‘classics’ or ‘facts’ come into play. You are the captain of your own ship and can steer into any harbour you choose. It’s not only people with ‘big’ names who can play fast and loose.

In conclusion when was the last time you saw a film which stuck remarkably tight to the historical facts or the original book/play?

Artistic Licence and also interpretation.