A Hollywood epic has been given top billing on a history study guide but the move has been dismissed as a marketing strategy. Adi Bloom reports
He broods. He smoulders. And he is entirely relevant to the curriculum, honest.
Russell Crowe, the Oscar-winning actor renowned for baring legs and breaking hearts in the epic film Gladiator, has a new starring role - on the cover of an educational study guide.
Dashing and battle-scarred, he stares moodily out of the guide, produced by media-studies organisation Film Education, to accompany Master and Commander: the Far Side of the World, his latest pound;100 million blockbuster. The film is released next Friday and tells the story of a sea captain's adventures during the Napoleonic War, and the guide is being sent to every school history department in the country.
It is is based on two novels charting the adventures of Captain Jack Aubrey. The novels, by Patrick O'Brian, form part of a series of 20 books, written between 1952 and 1999.
The guide is intended for GCSE, AS and A-level students and has been paid for by Twentieth Century Fox, the film's distributor. It examines life on board a warship in the 19th century and recommends teachers use the film as a classroom resource.
It includes a glossy historical wallchart, information panels on battle, punishment and food on board a ship, and stills from the film. There is also an extended section on the distinction between fact and interpretation.
The Historical Association has already said that the guide is more relevant to media studies than history.
Madeline Stiles, its chief executive officer, said: "Basically, they are marketing their film. This is obviously meant to promote the film, and Russell Crowe - who I did like very much in Gladiator. The guide includes more analysis of the film than discussion of the history involved."
But Ian Wall, who wrote the guide for Film Education, defends using film to generate discussion about history.
"The excitement of film is a way of hooking children's interest," he said.
"What we see in the cinema and on TV becomes history for a lot of us. That needs to be questioned, in the way that history teachers get students to question any sources."
Sadie Jones, head of history at Eastbury comprehensive, in east London, agrees. "Anything that grabs pupils' imagination and get them interested in history can't be bad," she said.
"Even though the film may not be historically accurate, at least it engages them in historical events. It allows pupils to examine why the film was made."
She has used a variety of film and television resources in the past to get pupils interested. But Mrs Jones said there are particular advantages to this new resource.
"Anything with Russell Crowe in, I'll pin up straight away," she said.
"Now if only they could put Mel Gibson on the front of a Year 7 textbook, I'd be very happy."
Media studies Teacher magazine 22 http:www.filmeducation.orgmcindex.html