Venetian is blind to real history;Opinion

30th April 1999 at 01:00
OH DEAR, in an attempt to encourage the girls' interest in history I've agreed they can go and see The Honest Courtesan which opens tonight. No doubt this is a very silly film.

"She defied the decadent world of 16th-century Venice to transform the hearts of men and the fate of women," says 20th Century Fox. She also saves the city from invasion, so I'm told, helps the Doge realise that women should be educated to university level and probably campaigns for free nursery places in the Palazzo Ducale while she's at it.

Don't get me wrong. As the father of females I am all in favour of positive role models and agree that no one should be disadvantaged by dint of class, gender, race or creed. But then who - with the possible exception of Mr. Milosevic - doesn't believe in that these days? Where I do discriminate however is in insisting that we each stick to our own century.

The Honest Courtesan is no doubt one of those naive historical films where you can spot the good guys because they're the ones talking about democracy, the benefits of dietary fibre and what high hopes they have for this new continent called "America".

Heroism By Hindsight: it's an old trick but cinemagoers keep falling for it. When Ken Branagh directed himself as Baron Victor Frankenstein he had more right-on ideas than Ben Elton with an opinion poll stuffed up his microphone. (Not that 90s values stopped the Branagh Baron doing something foolishly fatal like sticking a lightning conductor into the inert form of Robert de Niro.) The problem with historical movies is that they are, in the main, contemporary stories enacted in fancy dress. When Clark Gable played Mr Christian, Fletch was very 1930s and clearly slapped the dames around a bit whereas Mel Gibson's Christian was an 80s hearthrob who believed in women's rights.

Hollywood's view of history all too often encourages us to judge the past by the values of the present. As a result my daughters now think David Livingstone a monster because he didn't consult his wife, Thomas More is no longer a saint because he tortured heretics and Elgar once made a racist remark. We have to judge the past on its own terms or it makes no sense at all.

They also think dads are no fun to go to the cinema with any more.

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