The Battle Between Historical Drama and Scholarly History: Fact vs Fiction

The Power of Historical Dramatizations in Shaping our Perception of the Past

In an era dominated by historical drama, the question arises: can history compete with the allure of fiction? With shows like Netflix’s “The Crown” and Ridley Scott’s upcoming epic “Napoleon,” the line between fact and fiction becomes increasingly blurred. While historical dramas offer captivating narratives and emotional connections, they often take liberties with the truth. This article explores the impact of historical dramatizations on our understanding of the past and the challenges faced by scholarly history in this battle with Hollywood.

The Allure of Historical Dramas

Historical dramas, such as “The Crown,” have the power to captivate audiences and fill the narrative void left by historical events. The scene in “The Crown” depicting Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed’s conversations at The Ritz in Paris, although fictional, lingers in the mind and shapes our perception of their relationship. These dramas provide a glimpse into the personal lives and emotions of historical figures, offering a level of intimacy that traditional history books often lack.

The Clash of Fact and Fiction

Ridley Scott’s “Napoleon” is a prime example of historical inaccuracies in film. While the movie takes creative liberties, such as cannonballs fired at the pyramids during Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign, it has the potential to shape our historical consciousness more profoundly than the thousands of books written about the French emperor. The clash between fact and fiction becomes apparent when the film portrays Napoleon meeting the Duke of Wellington, despite their never having crossed paths in reality.

The Entertainment Business vs Elucidation

Both Netflix and Ridley Scott have faced criticism for their portrayal of historical events. Netflix responded to the controversy surrounding “The Crown” by reminding viewers that they were watching a “historical dramatization.” Ridley Scott, on the other hand, shrugged off claims of rewriting the past. It is important to recognize that these productions are in the entertainment business rather than the elucidation business. However, as these dramas approach more recent events, their depictions become less satisfying for those who remember and witnessed the events firsthand.

The Rise of Twin-Screen Experiences

As historical dramas continue to take liberties with the truth, viewers are increasingly engaging in fact-checking while watching. Movies like “Napoleon” and “Oppenheimer” have become twin-screen experiences, with one screen dedicated to enjoying the action and another screen dedicated to verifying historical accuracy. This rise of fact-checking highlights the need for a balance between entertainment and historical accuracy in order to preserve the integrity of the past.


The battle between historical drama and scholarly history rages on, with historical dramatizations often outshining their scholarly counterparts. While these dramas offer emotional connections and captivating narratives, they also take creative liberties with the truth. As viewers, it is crucial to approach historical dramas with a critical eye and engage in fact-checking to ensure a balanced understanding of the past. Ultimately, the power of historical drama lies in its ability to shape our perception of history, but it is important to remember that it is still a work of fiction.






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