Films are one solution to the problem of tedious history lessons. This medium of sights and sounds, combined with the factual liberties afforded to dramatizations of historical events, makes the past real, turns staid accounts and lifeless facts into visceral sensations—and refashions the study of history from a mechanical transfer of data into a transformative human experience with emotional gravity. That is the idea, at least.
First there is the complication of films as vehicles for history lessons, lessons being quite a controversial concept in the context of art. Filmmakers are storytellers first and foremost, but in the process of making historical movies, they involuntarily have to take on some of the difficult functions of preaching and teaching. The very act of selecting a subject, and choosing which details about that subject is presented, is a statement bound to generate dissatisfaction one way or another. The filmmaker may choose to present history in a straightforward, agreeable manner, and then be accused of naivety. She might also choose to deconstruct history, to subject the past to critical scrutiny, revealing heroes to be not so heroic, revolutions not so revolutionary—and then be accused of being unpatriotic, of blasphemy. Tasked with telling a story from the past rather than from imagination, the filmmaker cannot then proceed with her work without implicitly staking a position between these two extremes.