Institute for the Public Understanding of the Past

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Review of Cannadine, D. (ed.) 2004, History and the Media (London)

Review by Dr Adam Gutteridge, IPUP Research Fellow

David Cannadine’s edited volume contains eleven contributions from an extraordinary range of academics and media professionals, with an introductory overview by Cannadine himself. Two of the contributions were previously published elsewhere, and most of the remaining nine derive from a three-day conference held in London in December 2002 which examined the relationship between history and the media.

Cannadine’s introduction begins by contextualising the book’s field of enquiry: the extraordinary rise in the popularity of history in wider British society in the few years surrounding the turn of the millennium is noted as being unprecedented. The ultimate cause of this is mysterious, but there are many possible contributing factors: the election of New Labour, the millennium itself, the demise of the Empire, a variety of Royal occasions, the ever-increasing number of history graduates, and fundamental changes in much deeper social structures of education and media consumption are all intertwined. Cannadine is also at pains to stress that the relationship between professional historians (most usually situated within the academy) and those who work in the media need not be antagonistic, and ought where possible to transcend hoary stereotypes that have the potential to denigrate the character and output of both sides of an illusory ‘divide’. Despite this, he also sounds some warnings about the nature of historical discourse on television, most specifically about the preponderance history programmes concentrating on the twentieth century, and about the estrangement of history and current affairs (especially when one has the potential to elucidate and contextualise the other). Finally, he suggests that whilst one needs to inevitably approach the relationship between history and the media by focussing on how the former appears in the latter, one should also not neglect the task of historicising the media itself, and especially examining how it has come to attain the pre-eminent status it has as the communicator of information in contemporary society. The media’s own history “…may in turn influence the sort of history programmes that get commissioned and made”, and it is important not to neglect this.

The first chapter is entitled “Bringing the Past to the Small Screen”, and is written by Taylor Downing, and independent producer of history documentaries for television. Downing takes the opportunity to reflect on the social impact of the programmes he has been responsible for, examining what it means, in practical terms, to tell stories about the past on television that are watched by millions of people in their own homes. He also explores something of the history of history programmes themselves, drawing attention to the predominance of war as the main topic of early attempts to bring history to the small screen. The Great War, broadcast in 1964, is usually taken to be the first history documentary; ten years later it was followed by the epic series The World at War, and together these two explorations of the two World Wars set down a blueprint for the presentation of history on television, using eye-witness footage interspersed with archive film, layered with dramatic commentary and music. Inevitably, the reliance of this kind of documentary on archival film footage has effectively led producers to concentrate their series-making efforts on events (especially war-related ones) in the twentieth century. Downing also remarks on the growing trend for using archival footage in colour, which one might suggest makes the presentation of the historical images more appealing, especially for a younger audience, although he warns that colourising black-and-white footage would be a dangerous road to take. Because of its reliance on film footage, there were multiple aspects of the past that television did not, or could not, traditionally address; generally, these unexamined arenas of past lives fall under the heading of ‘social history’. In recent years, however, television has found ways to broach those subjects that lack first-hand filmed footage: either explore them through immersive public-participation (e.g. The 1900 House and The Trench), or else deploy dramatised reconstruction or re-enactments. Downing defends the use of the latter, arguing that although they may (due to inevitable budgetary constraints) be poor at depicting the large-scale, they can have great success conveying small-scale vignettes. Reconstructions have also allowed programme makers to expand outside of the twentieth century and visually explore periods that inevitably lack filmed images. Downing goes on to remark upon the resurgence of the presenter-led documentary, something that seemed to have died out in the post-A.J.P. Taylor broadcasting world, but which has seen a rebirth in the persons of Richard Holmes, David Starkey, and Simon Schama. All three are excellent story-tellers, and the quality of the narratives being deployed is what makes their programmes so very successful. Downing concludes by saying that he views the work he does as a vital bridge between academic historians and wider society, allowing historical narratives to find their way into contemporary culture, and for which there is a great public appetite.

Simon Schama’s second chapter, entitled “Television and the Trouble with History”, is a reflection on the processes behind making his History of Britain series. He begins with Walter Benjamin’s now famous Angel of History blown by heaven’s winds with the wreckage of history piling up at his feet. Schama uses this image to meditate on the task of making sense out of the fragmentary chaos of history’s events, on the jumbled and fractured qualities of modern media communications, on the need to shape history programmes to the tastes of audiences and commissioners, and on the urgent need for historians not to distance themselves from popular discourse but instead to engage with mass culture. He identifies three ‘big words’: freedom, empathy, and community. These are ultimately what history as the repository of shared memory can safeguard, because it offers us the anti-deterministic possibilities of alternative outcomes, the immersive alterity of other’s experiences, and the forged connections of pasts shared. Schama then asks whether television can be used to capture these shared memories for the common good. Traditionally, the answer (from many academics at least) has been that it cannot. Some would say that history is something intimately connected with the printed word, that television cannot carry serious argument, and that only those full-time historians with professional training ought to be responsible for the past’s narratives. Schama argues against all of these assumptions, saying, for example, that history has always been about more than the written word, and has from its inception involved the visual and the oral in its explorations of the past. Schama then moves to defend his own series against those who sought to criticise it, arguing that charges that it was too Anglo-centric and too focussed on kingship were spurious; four episodes examined the issues surrounding the British nations, and an emphasis on royal authority in the medieval period was a conscious and necessary choice. Schama suggests that those who have been critical of his series’ depiction of the past have, underlying their specific and particular critiques of point and approach, a more general “…deep-rooted prejudice against the possibility of serious television history”. He argues for the continued importance of a history that is consciously for the public, and which can even create communities that are sharing their knowledge about the past in an equitable way. Yet this cannot be the case without a television history that marries argument and debate, that allows the past some sort of interaction with the present (as achieved, with some success, by Culloden), and which ultimately creates what he calls “the poetic of television history” in which the viewer feels drawn in to another world. In outlining how these objectives might be achieved, Schama speaks up for the quality of film over video, and explores the perils of historical re-enactments becoming clichéd, or even unintentionally amusing. Schama also addresses some of the more specific choices he made with regards to the imagery and back-drops used in his series, arguing that visuals and imageries are more than décor; rather, they are chosen to be an intrinsic part of the series’ holistic story. Ultimately, he argues that television history has nothing to apologise for, and it has the potential and the range to communicate, engage, and stimulate debate across a wider audience.

The third chapter by Jeremy Isaacs, “All Our Yesterdays”, reflects on a lifetime involved with television and history. He accepts the ever-present need to balance the ambitious and popular in television production. Isaacs tells the story of his own career in the production of documentaries, which began in 1961 working on a weekly programme called All Our Yesterdays which reran and contextualised Movietone newsreels from twenty-five years earlier. In this, and other early efforts, he learnt the crafts of combining archival film footage with voice-over narration, attempting always to achieve a viewpoint that was calm rather than committed, and remained always ‘in period’. He also realised than one if one could have history on television without visual aides (as A.J.P. Taylor did), one could not have it without a historian’s mind, ordering content and guiding interpretation. At any rate, the landscape of history television production changed dramatically in 1964 with the BBC’s The Great War, which was a massive undertaking, and set a new standard for ambitious and all-encompassing documentary-making. Isaacs makes two points in relation to The Great War: firstly, that there was a tension throughout between a narration that was never intended to relate events through the filter of an anti-war position and a series of images and interviews that evoked an explicit emotional revulsion to the conflict (a tension that was never resolved), and secondly that the subsequent accusations of an improper use of reconstructions (being passed off as first-hand archive footage), whilst doubtless true, ought to be regarded as a minor cavil. When plans were being made some six years later to cover the Second World War in comparable depth and breadth, Isaacs was honoured to be approached by Thames Television. He tells the story of the conceptions and execution of the series that was to become The World at War, explaining how his fundamental desire had been to address the concept of ‘total war’, expanding the series’ remit beyond a forensic examination of military history, to embrace how the war affected the social lives of those who lived and died in it. Isaacs acknowledges the extraordinary work done on the series by the small team of researchers, people who are frequently neglected or under-appreciated, both within the industry and by those who watch at home. In total, the series took fifty people three years to make, and reflecting back on it from the present, Isaacs suggests that perhaps there was a neglect of the early years of the Eastern Front (a fault at least partially caused by problems with Russian co-operation with the film-makers). Isaacs then went on to make Ireland: a Television History with the BBC in 1978, a series written and presented by Robert Kee. The first six episodes (of thirteen) were Isaacs first foray into a pre-film era, and he reflects on the challenges involved in making television history when no archive film survives, and admits that he struggled to find visuals that might act as metaphors for an unfilmed past. Finally, he discusses his last major series, the CNN-produced Cold War, which aired in late 1998. The series was controversial in the US, being unpopular with the right-wing and neo-conservatives, and this suggests to Isaacs the danger of making programmes about the very recent past, which might drag one towards ideological and political controversies in the present.

The fourth chapter is entitled “Why is so Much Television History about War?”, and is written by Roger Smither, Keeper of the Film & Video Archive at the IWM. Beginning, he suggests that in reality there are two sub-questions that sit behind the titular one: why do programmes on military subjects get commissioned, and why do those that air find such a keen and receptive audience? Smither begins, as previous papers have already done, with The Great War, the 1964 BBC production which is considered the first modern historical television documentary series. Innovative and experimental, the producers combed archives for film footage, interviewed survivors, and enlisted an impressive cadre of acting talent to provide voice-overs. Still controversial is the series’ utilisation of filmed reconstructions (albeit contemporary ones), but Smither dismisses concerns suggesting that, due to the paucity of original footage, such things were understandable on the part of the film-makers and should in no way detract from the overall achievements of the series. The Great War was followed by The World at War, which Smither calls “…probably the most successful television series ever made”. Together, these two series showed that it was possible to make successful and popular television history, and more importantly for the question under investigation in this chapter, they created a blue-print for history series that mixed interviews with archive footage, a technique that was followed by countless other programmes. The third series that shaped the course of television history, The Civil War, was made in the US by Ken Burns for PBS and broadcast in 1990. Here, with no survivors to interview, no film footage to use, and no original sounds to play, Burns used a mixture of location footage, still photographs filmed on a rostrum camera, and actors reading from contemporary diaries and letters. In the years subsequent to The Civil War two further developments have emerged: firstly, the innovative use of colour film to make the past seem ‘more present’ (and subsequently the ethically tricky issue of colourisation of black-and-white film), and secondly, thanks to Simon Schama’s A History of Britain, the return of the presenter-led programme and the deployment of the judiciously-used re-enactment to stand in for archival film. Smither points out that neither of these two techniques are new, but rather Schama’s series allows for a new norms, and rehabilitates techniques that had to a certain extent gone out of fashion. In looking towards the future, he envisions a time when history producers will use more CGI techniques. At this point, Smither returns to the question he posed at the start: why does war dominate television history? He suggests that for one reason, commissioners are likely to respond to a successful series with one like it, and if many of the aforementioned major successes in television history have been about war, then that is most likely what will continue to be made. Yet there are other reasons, and may of these circulate around the relationship between television and newsreel. Reusing already-existent archive film is always cheaper than shooting new material, and it would not be unfair to say that the decades subsequent to the late 1890s, when newsreel was first deployed, was a period notable for a near-endless succession of wars and atrocities, much of which was committed to film in one form or another. Newsreel was never news, as such, being shot to entertain and, in wartime, to rouse. “To the reasons of economy that make archive film in general attractive to programme-makers…it is possible to add reasons of interest and quantity to explain why film of war is likely to feature in archive-based programming”. Yet if that is the first sub-question answered, it still yet leaves unresolved the second: why are programmes about war so well-received by audiences? In Britain, some have tried to attribute this to a mixture of nostalgia and xenophobia. Smither addresses other issues besides, including the usually clear-cut nature of the history being described by war-based programmes: there is familiarity, little muddle or need for contextualisation. In addition, Smither suggests that the programmes focussing on the twentieth century’s wars are also appealing because they fall within the bounds of social memory: viewers are likely to be able to recall relatives who may have had a personal relationship with the events depicted. Fundamental to this is the fact that the generations that fought in the wars had a complex relationship to the events of war in the later lives: initially most wanted to ‘move on’ and not speak about the past, and yet when they arrived a much older age, they found they had a desire to ‘tell their story’ before they died, and the sight of veterans talking about their experiences is thus a powerful talisman for those who are watching at home and who wished to do the same. Yet Smither accepts that these are complex issues, and ideas surrounding witness, testimony, and trauma with regards to war and television is a difficult field.

Melvin Bragg authors the fifth chapter, which is entitled “The Adventures of Making The Adventure of English”. Denying the axiom that language and literature are harder to translate onto the small screen than more visual arenas of art, Bragg looks back on the process of making his eight-hour series The Adventure of English for ITV, which grew out of an earlier series he had made for BBC Radio Four. Bragg dissects sections of episodes, shot by shot, looking at the way the voice-over narration and his to-camera pieces overlapped with the imagery being deployed, to form a coherent narrative structure that drove the story forward. The series used much location shooting, with the stated desire being to be seen to be ‘reporting’ from locations connected to each stage of the story of the English language. Bragg also points out that although the story of the English language may at first sight seem something of an esoteric subject, the continued success and respectable listening figures of In Our Time, his programme on BBC Radio Four, illustrates a receptive potential audience for introductions to complex subjects. Bragg touches briefly on the apposite way that television can investigate something a complex as language, by simultaneously being able to show images on screen, throw up captions that can be read, and have all of this supplemented by a voiced narrator. The open, explicatory, nature of the programme was intentional, as it was from the start positioned as a series that was very much for a ‘lay’ audience, using linguistic examples derived from weather forecasters and football clubs, and examining the origins of familiar terms such as ‘OK’. Yet despite this desire to make the language’s adventure accessible for the widest possible audience, Bragg purposefully eschewed dramatic reconstruction, save for a very few (and subtlety-employed) occasions; on the whole, he suggests reconstruction do not work in history documentaries: too frequently under-funded, they run the risk of looking ‘cartoonish’. In conclusion, whilst the series was enjoyable and a success, Bragg does reflect on the difficulties of tackling such a vast subject in a mere eight-hour span, as there were stories, shadings, and nuances he was ultimately forced to omit for space considerations.

Tristram Hunt sixth chapter, “How Does Television Enhance History?”, begins by rehearsing the myriad accusations that academics throw at television history, being considered to be dumbed-down, without nuance or subtlety, and too interested in the old-fashioned view of history as a parade of kings and battles. Yet, despite these kinds of critiques thrown at television history by university scholars, history in the public realm continues to flourish and documentaries might be seen to be at least partly responsible for enlarging the public’s appetite for the past, so it now seems as though television history’s benefits outweigh its drawbacks and that in general we ought to think of it as a powerful potential force for good. The first requirement for anyone seeking to engage with television history, argues Hunt, is to discard the idea that one is dealing with a monolithic unitary genre; instead, there are multiple different kinds of history productions of television, all with a different format, intent, and scope, from single-author programmes, to travelogues to reality and experiential history, to pop-culture glances at the very recent past. Hunt argues (in agreement with Schama) that history, as a concept, is not coterminous with the printed book, and that television history is, effectively, a modern variant of much more ancient oral forms of story-telling. Indeed, television is potentially an even more powerful tool as it can ally these narratives of the past with attendant imagery that will aid the viewers understanding. Yet, despite all this, opposition to television history remains, and most of it comes not from those professionals and practitioners engaged with the interface between the past and the public, but rather from tenured university-based historians. Why is this so, asks Hunt? It certainly wasn’t always the case, and Hunt points out that mid-century, many of the most famous and illustrious historians in the country ventured into debates in the public sphere. None felt this diminished their scholarship. Yet from the 1960s onwards, alongside the rise in faculty numbers, there has been a concomitant rise in the attitude that the university is the arbiter of historical relevance and the assumption that the academy is to be revered as the only true seat of discourse. There are signs, however, that this might be on the wane, however, and years to come might see a new opening out of historical studies beyond the walls of the academy. At any rate, statistics seem to show that television history is at least partially behind the upward trend in the number of people applying to study history, which one might think would be something welcomed by the academics themselves; instead, their voices continue to be raised against television history, as it continues to be accused of ‘treading on the toes’ of so-called real academic history. Hunt argues that such an attitude betrays an absolute and straightforward misconception of what television history is for; rather than attempting to supplant university-based history, it is instead about exciting and informing a wider audience, which may in term stimulate many to venture inside the lecture-theatre. In fact, Hunt suggests that in the present, the “…writing of history to inform or educate the public sphere is arguably a dying art”. This is increasingly fundamental is a present world where not only is the place and role of history in secondary education constantly under threat, but where wider society seems increasingly content to sever any real ties to the social experiences of past societies. Television history can step into this narrative gap and elucidate the past’s stories in a way that Britain’s school curricula seem increasingly ill-equipped to do. In thinking through areas for improvement, Hunt suggests that television could do more to explore social history, and the history of ideas, although he accepts that there are difficulties involved with the production of such topics on the small screen. Television history ought also to unashamedly embrace its power to shape national self-assessment and public dialogue, and to guide the public beyond cosy or reassuring visions of history.

The seventh chapter is entitled “Hacks and Scholars: Allies of a Kind”, and is written by Max Hastings, who begins by suggesting that there traditionally exists a kind of mutual suspicion between journalists and academics, and yet both sides frequently yearn somewhat for the life of the other. Hastings suggests that there exists something of a hierarchy of analytical quality when it comes to explaining history, with books sitting very much at the top, television programmes by necessity at the bottom, and newspaper articles floating somewhere in between (and he has worked in all three formats). Television’s limitations are unavoidable, and due to the primacy it gives of the visual over the verbal, and the length restrictions imposed on producers and writers who are forced into simplification and glossing inevitable complexities: “The only way to make successful television programmes is to develop a limited number of relatively simple thoughts”. Thus, the history that is being told must be crafted and shaped to fit the medium through which it is being related. Television has always, and will always, favour hams, he suggests. Yet academics would do well to accept it on those terms, and deal with television without condescension as it performs a valuable service. Reflecting on his own field of expertise, the Second World War, Hastings expresses surprise and frustration that certain out-of-date stories and interpretations about the conflict, long disproved by academic research, have continued to find a place in the media. These include downplaying the role of the Russian campaign in determining the course of the war, and the relatively scant media coverage of British war-time breaches of the laws of war, long well-accepted by researchers but under-discussed in the British public sphere. The great growth area of history in recent years has been the boom in oral history, and whilst it is an area of evidence that very surely has its benefits (most especially when it is concerned with events for which there is a paucity of other surviving evidence), Hastings is keen to sound a note of caution over the use of witness accounts. Oral testimonies can often represent uncritical emotional reflections which are the province of memory rather than of evidence, and he suggests one ought not to allow the memories of survivors to attain an evidential parity with surviving documentary records. Hastings laments of the modern school curriculum that demands students empathise with oppressed peasantry, when he feels they ought to be studying British battlefield triumphs and similar more martial stories that work to capture the imagination. History should be brought to life through broad sweeps rather than the forensic specialisations of academics. Yet despite all this history on television, and in newspapers, is always derivative (by time and cost constraints) of history written by academics; in many ways, this is actually a valuable public service rather than a case of idea theft. Academics ought to write more publicly-accessible volumes, but they regrettably do not, and thus the media is in fact a very valuable bridge between the academy and the general populace.

Ian Kershaw, an academic, writes the book’s eighth chapter, “The Past on the Box: Strengths and Weaknesses”, and he begins with the paradox of contemporary Britain, where history has never been as popular with the general public (and undergraduate lectures never more full) and yet academic scorn at history pitched at the public has never yet been more withering. He goes on to evaluate the undoubted positive aspects of television history: it has power, spectacle, and its combination of images and words can when on occasion produce a narrative more compelling than the written word. Yet its weaknesses count against it: it is too superficial, and frequently constrained by concerns of time and cost; this leads to whole areas of historical explanation being shredded down to a single line with no room for elaboration or nuance. It is also, at the level of the commissioning, too beholden to audience figures. Thus, weighing its format and limits, television history is surely at its best when dealing with a a narrative, and at its worst when it forlornly attempts to tackle any subject demanding sustained interpretation. Today at least, television appears mostly interested in themes that touch on the macabre, the titillating, and the iconoclastic. Yet, at its most macroscopic level, if one is moved to adjudge that it is a good thing to increase and widen the public’s interest in the past, then it cannot be denied that television is the medium through which to achieve this goal. Finally, Kershaw offers some advice for historians who seek to be involved with television production: don’t always accept every offer, do research on the company in question, attempt to involve yourself in all stages of the production wherever possible, and do try harder to make the fruits of one’s research more appealing and comprehensible to the wider public sphere. “History on television is here to stay” he concludes; “If historians do not help to mould and influence it, others will”.

The ninth chapter is written by John Tusa, entitled “A Deep and Continuing Use of History”. The uses of history is which many members of the public are currently engaged, especially in the burgeoning field of genealogical enquiry, is frequently about discovery and the joy and delight it can occasion. Talking from a family background in the Czech Republic, he remarks upon how history is ever-present: even long-dead figures from the national past can be brought up and discussed over Sunday dinner. History was always, to Tusa, something to be enjoyed and delighted in, even when he moved from the family supper-table to the undergraduate lecture-hall. Only later, he reflects, when working as a journalist in the 1960s did he gradually become aware than history could also be used, as well as enjoyed. He describes how he was able to put into practice techniques he had learnt from historians dissecting documentary evidence when he was called upon to interpret the political positionings and repositionings of the Cold War, and how this made it clear to him than history could be a valuable analytical tool-kit of methodologies that might be used to understand the present more clearly. Sadly, he suggests, more and more contemporary journalism avoids a detailed analytical approach to the recent past in favour of speculative and predictive engagements with what might happen in the future. This is a fashion that ought to be firmly rejected: the media ought not to engage in inevitably futile attempts to guess what will happen in the near future, and should instead be more attuned to trying to use the past in order to learn from it. In his years at the BBC World Service, Tusa learnt the importance of an organisation’s history being saved, curated, and codified in order to give it a better idea of who it was and why it was doing what it did. Recovering and articulating an institutional history was an instrumental part of maintaining the World Service’s mission, identity, and independence. Tusa suggests that this valuable experience was in sharp contrast with the appalling years of mismanagement at the BBC presided over by John Birt, whose comprehensive failure and near-destruction of the organisation was due to a rejection of ‘history’ in favour of ‘management’. A historically-nuanced understanding of any organisation is worth more than any brand-led management consultancy exercises, a piece of learning he put into practice in his role running The Barbican.

The penultimate chapter is by the BBC’s official historian, Jean Seaton, and is entitled “Writing the History of Broadcasting”. Seaton is naturally more interested in exploring the histories of broadcasting in her article, rather than the presentation of history itself in the media. One can no longer do a ‘proper’ history of the recent and contemporary past without an examination of events historical packaging and presentation in broadcast media. Further, changes to broadcasting itself and fields of media innovation have to be discussed in context alongside the events they discuss and dissect. Inevitably the news-cycle has speeded up, and the viewing population now has an expectation of ‘live’ coverage from anywhere, and anytime. In almost every area of our lives, the media seeps into our ways of thinking about the world, and in doing so it simultaneously captures and reflects our own anxieties about the world. The relationship in this country between broadcasting organisations and governments has also been a complex one, especially as Britain is proud to have an institution devoted to public service broadcasting. The BBC survives, attacked remorselessly at times, and determinedly politically independent, but it still approaches topics that are controversial and strives to make valuable and factually-correct programmes about them. The BBC continues to work to protect, curate, and create its own institutional archive, and a whole generation of historians led by Asa Briggs in the early 1960s can now write serious histories of broadcasting. A central problem in these accounts remains discussing the process of creativity that goes on behind the production of good programming. Very frequently, the best management structures are those that allow for individual creativity on the ground, and for historians it is always necessary to get as many perspectives, from people working in many different and varied positions, as is possible. This allows, Seaton argues, for a fuller, organisational depiction of creativity at work. Fundamentally, Seaton advises, a good historian of broadcasting ought to have spent much of their life watching the media output of that organisation. This ought to be augmented by trips to the archives, and a good, sophisticated understanding of how the nuances of scheduling affect the reception of programming.

The final piece is written by David Puttnam, and in an article entitled “Has Hollywood Stolen our History?”, he reflects on the relationship between the past and big (rather than the small) screen, and more specifically, on the reception of British history by American film-makers and the problems of cross-cultural translations. As a boy he adored and absorbed a whole range of films that touched on stories from the past; many were American films that questioned the idealised image of ‘America’ (and here he specifically mentions Inherit the Wind). Many films from that era have a quality and an intelligence (both moral and cultural) that is absent from contemporary films. It is a medium of immense power for disseminating ideas and that power has been lost, or even neglected, in today’s film-making communities. Partially, this is due to the production of films that are increasingly divorced from any kind of grounded reality, where actions happen without consequence and spectacle is all: “…a whole world of human experience…has effectively been abandoned”. Film now takes a reductionist view of the past’s events, stripping it down to good-versus-evil, simplifying its stories, and rejecting its nuances. This is baffling, to the extent that reality is so much more layers, so much more interesting, that its portrayals on film. It remains absolutely vital that film-makers somehow reconnect the things they produce with the complex experiences of lives as they are lived.