Exercise 1

A. You’re going to listen to an interview with Adrian Hodges, who has written screenplays for several historical movies and TV shows. Listen to Part 1 of the interview and choose the best option.

1   Adrian thinks historical details don’t matter as long as they’re things that most people wouldn’t notice.

2   Adrian thinks historical details don’t matter as long as a drama is honest about whether it is history of fiction.

3   Adrian thinks historical details don’t matter at all.

B. Listen again and check (✓) the points Adrian makes.

1   It isn’t a problem that Shakespeare’s plays are not historically accurate.

2   Writers can change historical details if the drama requires it.

3   Most people never notice historical inaccuracies.

4   Nobody is certain how people spoke in ancient Rome.

5   Historical inaccuracies with costume are worse than with dialogue.

6   It’s easier to be accurate when you are writing about recent history.

7   If you make it clear that something is fiction, it doesn’t matter if it’s not historically accurate.

8   Julius Caesar is not a good subject for drama because we know so much about him.





Sts should have checked: 1, 2, 4, and 7


I = interviewer, A = Adrian Hodges

Part 1

 How important is historical accuracy in a historical movie?

 The notion of accuracy in history is a really difficult one in drama because you know, it’s like saying, well, “Was Macbeth accurate?, Was– is Shakespearean drama accurate?.” The iro– the thing is, it’s not about historical accuracy, it’s about whether you can make a drama work from history that means something to an audience now. So I tend to take the view that, in a way, accuracy isn’t the issue when it comes to the drama, if you’re writing a drama you, you have the right as a writer to create the drama that works for you, so you can certainly change details. The truth is nobody really knows how people spoke in Rome or how people spoke in the courts of Charles II or William the Conqueror or Victoria, or whoever, you have an idea from writing, from books, and plays, and so on. We know when certain things happened, what sort of dates happened. I think it’s really a question of judgement, if you make history ridiculous, if you change detail to the point where history is an absurdity, then obviously things become more difficult. The truth is, the, the more recent history is, the more difficult it is not to be authentic to it. In a way, it’s much easier to play fast and loose with the details of what happened in Rome than it is to play fast and loose with the details of what happened in the Iraq War, say, you know. So it, it, it’s all a matter of perspective in some ways. It, it, it’s something that you have to be aware of and which you try to be faithful to, but you can’t ultimately say a drama has to be bound by the rules of history, because that’s not what drama is.

I   Do you think that the writer has a responsibility to represent any kind of historical truth?

A   Not unless that’s his intention. If it’s your intention to be truthful to history and you, and you put a piece out saying “This is the true story of, say, the murder of Julius Caesar exactly as the historical record has it,” then of course, you do have an obligation, because if you then deliberately tell lies about it, you are, you know, you’re deceiving your audience. If, however, you say you’re writing a drama about the assassination of Julius Caesar purely from your own perspective and entirely in a fictional context, then you have the right to tell the story however you like. I don’t think you have any obligation except to the story that you are telling. What you can’t be is deliberately dishonest, you can’t say “This is true,” when you know full well it isn’t.

C. Now listen to Part 2. In general, is Adrian positive or negative about Spartacus and Braveheart?

D. Before you listen again, can you explain these phrases Adrian uses?

1   “it becomes the received version of the truth”

2   “grossly irresponsible”

3   “the notion of freedom of individual choice”

4   “a resonance in the modern era”

5   “pushing the limits of what history could stand”

6   “a matter of purely personal taste”

E. Listen again and answer the questions.

1   What is the most famous scene in the movie Spartacus?

2   Why is it an example of a movie becoming the “received version of the truth”?

3   What does he say about the portrayal of William Wallace’s life in the movie Braveheart?

4   What did some people think Braveheart was really about?



Adrian is positive.


1   It becomes what everyone believes to be true.

2   extremely irresponsible

3   the idea that people have the right to choose

4   a significance / meaning in today’s time

5   being so inaccurate that it wasn’t really history anymore

6    a question of individual judgement


1   The most famous scene is when Kirk Douglas and all his friends stand up and say “I am Spartacus, I am Spartacus.”

2   Because there are very few accounts of the real Spartacus.

3   His whole career was invented in the movie.

4   Some people thought Braveheart was about the idea of Scotland as an independent country.


Part 2

I   Can you think of any examples where you feel the facts have been twisted too far?

A   Well, I think the notion of whether a film, a historical film has gone too far in presenting a dramatized fictional version of the truth, is really a matter of personal taste. The danger is with any historical film that if that becomes the only thing that the audience sees on that subject, if it becomes the received version of the truth, as it were, because people don’t always make the distinction between movies and reality and history, then obviously if that film is grossly irresponsible or grossly fantastic in its, in its presentation of the truth, that could, I suppose, become controversial. I mean if you, you know, I think that the only thing anybody is ever likely to know about Spartacus, for example, the movie, is Kirk Douglas and all his friends standing up and saying ‘I am Spartacus, I am Spartacus’, which is a wonderful moment and it stands for the notion of freedom of individual choice and so on. So Spartacus the film, made in 1962, I think, if memory serves, has become, I think, for nearly everybody who knows anything about Spartacus, the only version of the truth. Now in fact we don’t know if any of that is true really. There are some accounts of the historical Spartacus, but very very few and what, virtually the only thing that’s known about is that there was a man called Spartacus and there was a rebellion and many people were, you know, were crucified at the end of it, as in the film. Whether that’s irresponsible I don’t know, I, I can’t say that I think it is, I think in a way it’s, it’s, it’s a, Spartacus is a film that had a resonance in the modern era.

There are other examples, you know, a lot of people felt that the version of William Wallace that was presented in Braveheart was really pushing the limits of what history could stand, the whole, in effect, his whole career was invented in the film, or at least built on to such a degree that some people felt that perhaps it was more about the notion of Scotland as an independent country than it was about history as an authentic spectacle. But you know, again, these things are a matter of purely personal taste, I mean, I enjoyed Braveheart immensely.

Exercise 2

A. Try to match the historical movies 1-5 with the periods in which they are set a-e. Then listen to five speakers talking about the movies and check your answers.

 Apollo 13


 The Last Emperor



a   early 20th century China

 US, early 1970s

c   Roman Empire

 1979-81 Iran hostage crisis

 late 20th century South Africa

B. Listen again and match the speakers 1-5 to the reasons why these movies are the speakers’ favorites A-G. There are two reasons that you do not need.

Speaker 1

Speaker 2

Speaker 3

Speaker 4

Speaker 5

A   the acting

 the director

 the plot

D   the main character

 the costumes

 the ending

G   the photography



1 b   2 d   3 a   4 e   5 c


1 F   2 C   3 G   4 A   5 D


Speaker 1   My favorite historical movie has to be Apollo 13, starring Tom Hanks. It tells the story of the Apollo 13 US space mission in 1970 … and ah …to the moon and all the mechanical malfunctions that happened during the trip. The movie focuses on three astronauts who have to fix the space ship mid-mission just to survive. The movie is definitely suspenseful. The ending is the best – I always cry when the astronauts make it back to Earth successfully.

Speaker 2   I think my favorite historical movie is Ben Affleck’s thriller Argo. The movie tells the story of the rescue of six American diplomats in Iran when relations between the two countries were starting to break down in the late 1970s. It’s got to be one of the most exciting movies I’ve ever seen – I spent the whole time sitting on the edge of my seat. Some of the events may be a bit exaggerated, but it’s a true story all the same.

Speaker 3   The Last Emperor has got to be my favorite historical movie – it’s based on the autobiography of the last emperor of China, Puyi, who died in 1967. Puyi grew up in the Forbidden City in Beijing, and the movie’s director Bernardo Bertolucci was lucky enough to get permission to film inside this magnificent palace in Beijing. Visually, the movie is absolutely stunning, and not surprisingly it won nine Oscars.

Speaker 4   I thoroughly enjoyed the historical movie lnvictus when it came out. It, um, relates the events that occurred in South Africa before and during the 1995 Rugby World Cup and it stars two great actors: Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela – the President of South Africa at the time, and Matt Damon as captain of the rugby team. Both men play their parts brilliantly: at first they’re somewhat mistrustful of each other, and then they become friends. That’s why I like the movie so much.

Speaker 5   This movie isn’t particularly well-known, uh, but it’s definitely my favorite historical movie. It’s a drama called Agora, and it’s based on the life of a Greek philosopher named Hypatia, who lived in Roman Egypt in the fourth century. Hypatia was also a mathematician and an astronomer and she taught at a school in Alexandria. Hypatia is admired by many, including myself, for giving her life trying to protect the library of Alexandria when it was attacked.

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