Two historians who offer TV writers advice have claimed that period dramas should not be judged on their historical accuracy.
Poldark’s historical adviser, the historian Hannah Greig, and Horrible Histories consultant Greg Jenner recently took part in a podcast interview with History Extra.
Jenner commented: “I don’t think dramatists need to be historians; I don’t think it’s their job. I think drama is there to entertain us. Dramatists are there to spellbind us, to make us laugh and cry and fear for our favourite characters.”
Greig added: “A historical adviser can help to drive that story forward, informed by what we know about the past, but Greg is probably right that we shouldn’t try to determine what that story is.”
She explained: “The discussion of accuracy is something that crops up a lot on Twitter and in newspapers – it’s a way in which lots of [historical] dramas are judged. As a historian involved in the process I’m always asking myself ‘what does that mean? What are we trying to achieve by creating something that’s accurate?’ Because history is continually being made by new scholarship and by historians.
“For me what’s important are ‘is the narrative meaningful for the time in which it’s set? Are the characters’ motivations informed by the choices that I would understand as being the choices that were faced by the people at the time?’
“Those are the issues that really matter to me as a historian, and less so about whether we’ve sourced exactly the right wine glass”.
Greig went on to say: “Poldark is adapted from a novel so in some ways the burden of responsibility for the production is to make sure that it’s as close an adaptation of that novel as possible.
“Whereas the Victoria series [on ITV] is about a British monarch, so there’s a responsibility there with the history to ensure that that is a fair interpretation of those real and incredibly important characters in the British past and to tell that history in a significant and informed way.”
Jenner concluded: “History doesn’t fall into three-act structures. Life is complex and difficult to dramatise in such a simplistic ways. Stories have to have very rigid structures and I’m not sure history fits that well sometimes into those structures”.