A History Of The World... In Movies

Victorian Britain

As Seen In: The Young Victoria (2009); The Prestige (2006); The Elephant Man (1980); The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981); Mrs Brown (1997)

In A Nutshell: Livewire Victoria sexes up the throne with dashing beau Prince Albert and a promise to shake up Britain.

It's a era of progress, where science eclipses magic, and society learns to accept the soul behind outward deformity.

But illicit love affairs remain taboo, and even Vicky herself is subject to scandal in later life.

Fidelity to Fact: At 63 years, Queen Victoria's reign is perhaps too sweeping and complex to do justice to.

So movie-makers have tended to use it as a backdrop for more interesting stories: some real, some made-up, all of them evocative with corsets and class, or the grime of unwashed urchins.

Character You Won't Find In The History Books: Warring magicians Alfred Borden and Robert Angier, whose blind ambition and dark secrets are case studies in the seamier side of Victorian values.

Making America

As Seen In: Red River (1948); Once Upon a Time in The West (1968); Gone With The Wind (1939); Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid (1973); The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

In A Nutshell: American pioneers crossed the land in pursuit of wealth, herding cattle or building railways.

An alternative view? Ambition and greed were the driving forces, with dissent ruthlessly stamped out.

Civil war inflamed divisions in a growing land, but civilisation slowly tamed the land, while lawmen stamped out outlaws like Billy The Kid.

Fidelity to Fact: As The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance put it, print the legend. And the vast majority of hundreds of Westerns did exactly this.

Collectively, the myth probably delivers the gist of the era...but for specifics, the later, more revisionist Westerns are your best bet for unvarnished truth.

Character You Won't Find In The History Books: Once Upon a Time in the West 's Frank, a hired killer whose bullets cleared the path for the railways.

Bit too controversial for the official record, probably.

First World War

As Seen In: All Quiet on the Western Front (1930); Paths of Glory (1957); Regeneration (1997); Gallipoli (1918); A Very Long Engagement (2004)

In A Nutshell: Modern warfare: shells, tommy guns and industrial-scale slaughter in the trenches.

No wonder soldiers went to such lengths to escape the battlefield - madness, mutilation, desertion - but millions ended up in no man's land.

And it wasn't just in the trenches of France, either - the war stretched to Turkish peninsula of Gallipoli, as any Aussies can tell you.

Fidelity to Fact: The blunt truth is that WW1 was the most monotone of conflicts, the same scene of soldiers making their push repeated thousands of times.

So it's no wonder directors tend to focus on more unusual characters: poets, dreamers and rebels.

Character You Won't Find In The History Books: Crusading soldier-lawyer Colonel Dax, the conscience and defender of all those men who died for no reason.

The Great Depression

As Seen In: The Grapes of Wrath (1940); King Kong (2005); O Brother Where Art Thou? (2000); Public Enemies (2009); Annie (1980)

In A Nutshell: Times is tough. The stock market has crashed, the banks have faltered and most folk can't spare a dime.

Best pick up sticks and head yonder in search of a job, whether the promise of work is in California or Skull Island.

Otherwise, it's a life of crime. Either that, or hope a bald-headed millionaire will pick you out of a line-up of orphans.

Fidelity to Fact: The bleak awfulness of the Depression doesn't really lend itself to movies. That's why it's called a Depression.

The occasional reality check slips in, but films about the era tend to offer what audiences of the time wanted: escapism. A steady diet of songs, robberies and giant apes then.

Character You Won't Find In The History Books: King Kong. After all, tales of illegal immigrants arriving in New York only to find U.S. employment isn't all it's cracked up to be were ten-a-penny back then.

Nazi Germany

As Seen In: Max (2002); Triumph of the Will (1935); Schindler's List (1993); Downfall (2004); Inglourious Basterds (2009)

In A Nutshell: The rags-to-riches story of failed artist Adolf Hitler, who dreamt of ruling the world.

Unfortunately for him, he was also a militant racist who pissed off enough of the world's population to band together to stop him.

Fidelity to Fact: Lurching from Triumph of The Will 's pro-Hitler propaganda to Inglourious Basterds ' Fuhrer-killing fantasy.

In between is a core of sober, horrific truth, although none does justice to the full scale of atrocity; for that, you'll need 9-hour Holocaust documentary Shoah .

Character You Won't Find In The History Books: Avenging angel Shosanna Dreyfus. If only.

Second World War

As Seen In: Pearl Harbor (2000); Memphis Belle (1990); Enemy at the Gates (2001); The Thin Red Line (1998); Saving Private Ryan (1998)

In A Nutshell: The shell has exploded, the nuts are everywhere. Time for the Brits, Yanks and Soviets to mop up the mess.

THE defining event of the 20th Century, there so many angles here - battles, strategies, triumphs and tragedies - that it's impossible to sum up beyond...

We won.

Fidelity to Fact: All of these films offer an acorn of accuracy buried inside forests of derring-do and movie-making myth.

To be honest, you might actually need a history book for this one...or, if words scare you, how about ace 1970s TV series The World At War ?

Character You Won't Find In The History Books: Private Ryan. As far as we know, the war effort wasn't really put on hold to rescue Matt Damon.

The Cold War

As Seen In: The Manchurian Candidate (1962); From Russia With Love (1963); Doctor Strangelove (1964); 13 Days (2000); The Lives of Others (2006)

In A Nutshell: Cold? COLD?

An all-American soldier brainwashed into a presidential assassin? A bed-hopping spy fighting a lesbo Commie with spikes in her shoes? A mad general hitting the Doomsday button? This war is hot!

Fidelity to Fact: The popular version is fast, furious and even darkly funny.

For a more realistic approach, 13 Days soberly recounts the backroom deals that prevented armageddon, while The Lives of Others reveals that it wasn't much fun for those on the other side of the Iron Curtain.

Character You Won't Find In The History Books: Doctor Strangelove. If he'd had his way, the few of us left would be holed up in zombie-proof bunkers, repopulating the world and eating burgers.

Actually, that doesn't sound so bad...

Vietnam War

As Seen In: Full Metal Jacket (1987); Platoon (1986); Apocalypse Now (1979); The Deer Hunter (1978); Heaven and Earth (1993)

In A Nutshell: A Marine is ordered to terminate a rogue officer with extreme prejuice. Two sergeants tussle for the soul of a raw recruit. Jungle survivors get a little too addicted to Russian roulette.

America went to war...with itself. OK, so some gooks got wasted, but won't somebody think of the Americans?

Fidelity to Fact: Actually, a lot of gooks (or, as they prefer to be known, Vietnamese) were killed. Which, sadly, makes the downer of Heaven and Earth more plausible than the fire and acid of Apocalypse Now .

Character You Won't Find In The History Books: Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, without whom these kids would have gone to war with major malfunctions in their gook-killing efficiency.

The War On Terror

As Seen In: World Trade Center (2006); United 93 (2006); Green Zone (2010); The Hurt Locker (2009); Four Lions (2010)

In A Nutshell: C'mon, you know this one.

Hijacked planes. Weapons of mass destruction. IEDs. And homegrown terrorist wannabes.

Fidelity to Fact: Worryingly close, despite the occasionally outlandish fictional flourish.

Let's face it, between Youtube and 24 hour rolling news coverage. they'd be fools to make this shit up.

Character You Won't Find In The History Books: Yorkshire terrorist Waj, declaring war on processed cheese products everywhere.

Fuck Mini Baby Bel. Fuck the history books.

The Future

As Seen In: Blade Runner (1982); Children of Men (2006); Wall-E (2008); Planet of the Apes (1968); 2012 (2009)

In A Nutshell: You think things are depressing now?

Try acid rain and city-wide landfills. Replicants instead of babies. Evolution into apes.

And all of this joy will happen only if the Mayans were wrong about the world ending in two years' time .

Fidelity to Fact: How the heck are we supposed to know? It's the future, doofus.

Character You Won't Find In The History Books: None of 'em, clearly.

But we suspect that details of Roy Batty's rebellion will be quickly 'retired' so as to protect the sensitivities of replicant owners across the galaxy.