Popular Imagination Versus Historical Reality


Historical films have been subject to controversy and criticism within the discipline of history upon the rise of popular interest in new and innovative forms of historical representation. The five to seven years between the release of Gladiator (2000) and Rome (2005-2007) saw an upsurge of historical films focusing on the ‘epic’: the spectacular, monumental and immersive periods of history that exude a mix of historical reality and speculative fiction. This paper argues that it is not historical accuracy or film as historical evidence that matters, but the historical questions and debates that film raises for its audience and the historical profession regarding the past it presents and its implication on history. Such questions and debates base themselves around the extent to which filmmakers are able to interpret history through images and what kind of historical understandings it hopes to achieve. This paper analyses the complexity of public history through a comparative study of reviews on five online message boards, such as IMBD, Amazon, TV.com and Metacritic, relating to HBO’s Rome – chosen due to its unique ability of igniting historiographical debate by presenting history as an accident, thus allowing audiences to question and reinterpret the outcome of historical events.

HBO; Rome; Film; Historiography; Public History; Popular Imagination

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5130/phrj.v25i0.6157

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