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A History Of The World... In Movies

The Dawn Of Man

As Seen In: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968); One Million Years B.C. (1966); Quest For Fire (1981); 10,000 B.C. (2008)

In A Nutshell: Apes evolve into mankind under the baleful influence of a monolith from space, which teaches them to develop tools to kill each other with.

The Earth's fledgling caveman population has to fend itself against natural disasters and prehistoric predators, but the future of humanity is assured thanks to gorgeous cavegirls in loincloths. Hooray for loincloths.

Fidelity to Fact: Alien intervention? Humans and dinosaurs co-existing? Anthropologicals will have a heart attack, but be honest - it's more fun this way.

Although the grunting, we'll admit, is probably authentic.

Character You Won't Find in the History Books: The monolith. And that's just the way it wants it.

Ancient Times

As Seen In: Clash of the Titans (1981); Troy (2004); 300 (2007); Alexander (2004)

In a Nutshell: Greek warrior Perseus defeats various Titans to kickstart the Greek Empire. Circa 13th Century BC, the Greeks lay siege to Troy, eventually winning with the help of a massive wooden horse.

In 480 BC, 300 Spartan warriors take on the Persian Army at Thermopylae, a century before Macedonian Alexander The Great does the same.

Fidelity to Fact: Depends on your tolerance for gods and monsters. At least two of these are based on myths, and one sexes up the action with creature smackdowns.

Which, perversely, makes the much-derided Alexander the nearest to something that might, possibly, have happened.

Character You Won't Find in the History Books: Golden owl Bubo - a gift from the gods or a post- Star Wars cash-in? You decide.

Life Of Christ

As Seen In: The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965); Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979); The Last Temptation of Christ (1988); The Passion of the Christ (2004)

In a Nutshell: The Son of God is born in a manger. After inventing the table as an apprentice carpenter, he becomes a prophet and creates Christianity.

The Pharisees and Romans gang up to depose him and he is crucified, but not before being scourged and having a vision of a normal married life.

Fidelity to Fact: Our key source of information is the Bible, the debating of whose truth has led to untold troubles over the years. Let's not go there, eh?

Even taking the book as (ahem) Gospel, there are pronounced differences. No Last Temptation is documented, and surely even divinity couldn't survive this much torture-porn?

Character You Won't Find in the History Books: Naughty boy Brian Cohen, mistaken for the Messiah and crucified along with the rest of the cheesemakers.

Roman Empire

As Seen In: Cleopatra (1963); Quo Vadis (1951); Centurion (2010); Gladiator (2000)

In A Nutshell: Straddling the pre- and post-Christ years, Ancient Rome is a hotbed of sex, violence, and barking-mad Emperors like Nero and Commodus happy to throw their enemies to the tigers.

Yet, along with the aqueducts and roads, the Romans also brought history to Britain, when its occupying forces came up against the might of local insurgents.

Fidelity to Fact: We're pretty sure most of this stuff happened, but we can thank Shakespeare for Hollywood's fondness for fruity dialogue, rip-roaring spectacle and psychos in toga.

400 years ago, The Bard realised he could spice up the history lessons for paying punters; we're just getting the same in Technicolor.

Character You Won't Find in the History Books: Oliver Reed's gruff trainer of gladiators, Antonius Proximo. Shame, really, he'd have livened the official textbooks up no end.

Medieval Britain

As Seen in: Excalibur (1981); Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975); Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991); Robin Hood (2010); Braveheart (1995)

In A Nutshell: Green and, increasingly, muddy. Obviously, we didn't take too kindly to the Romans telling us to use those roads, so this era is particularly earthy in tone and texture.

Useful places, though, forests, for heroes and outlaws to strut their stuff.

This is the age of magic swords, valiant knights, Grail hunting, bows and arrows, and robbing from the rich to give to the poor - and it all seems to happen in woods and glades.

Fidelity to Fact: Of late, there have been vague attempts to add historical grit to the legends of King Arthur and Robin Hood.

Yet, unless the stars are going to get the accents spot-on, they may as well have some fun with the myths.

Character You Won't Find in the History Books: The Knights Who Say 'Ni.' Despite their love of shrubberies fitting right into the period.

Middle Ages

As Seen In: The Seventh Seal (1957); The Name of the Rose (1986); The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999); Flesh + Blood (1985)

In A Nutshell: Europe is in transition from superstition to science, and the progress of mankind itself is on the line.

While a teen queen goes to war under divine guidance, mad monks are torturing intellectuals and mercenaries are looting or pillaging.

Meanwhile, Death stalks the land, and if the Plague doesn't get'cha, he plays a mean game of chess.

Fidelity to Fact: Stark, brutal and bloody, this is the Middle Ages of our collective nightmares, woodcuts and Bayeau Tapestry brought to life.

Although...were there really Scottish monks in Italy?

Character You Won't Find In The History Books: Given that Death is there on every page (read between the lines), we're opting for tonsure-coiffed medieval sleuth William of Baskerville.

Exploring The World

As Seen In: Kingdom of Heaven (2005); 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992); Apocalypto (2006); The New World (2005)

In A Nutshell: European colonists set sail across the world - and slaughter the natives in the name of religion and/or the pursuit of wealth.

Oh, and America makes the first of many appearances.

Fidelity to Fact: Reasonably accurate. Actually, probably too accurate - taken together, these films are a bit of a downer in their exploration of the thin line between civilisation and carnage.

Character You Won't Find In The History Books: Mayan tribesman Jaguar Paw. The classroom just wasn't ready for his all-action brand of poison darts and fearsome fighting.

Tudor England

As Seen In: A Man For All Seasons (1966); The Other Boleyn Girl (2008); Elizabeth (1998) and its sequel, The Golden Age (2007)

In A Nutshell: A gutsy father/daughter combo drag England kicking and screaming into the modern world.

First daddy Henry VIII invents his own church so he can divorce and execute his way through six wives in search of a male heir.

He needn't have bothered: his girl Liz quickly learns how to deal with dissent, sees off the French and hides her shag score behind the Virgin Queen tag.

Fidelity to Fact: The original events scarcely need tarting up, but you can always trust the movies to add that extra dash of spice.

So we get Henry in a three-way with two sisters, and Elizabeth going all Michael Corleone on her enemies. Cool.

Character You Won't Find In The History Books: Most of this lot are major players, but we'd quite like to know more about Eric Cantona's enigmatic French ambassodor, Monsieur de Foix.

Changing The World

As Seen In: The Agony and The Ecstacy (1965); Shakespeare in Love (1998); Amadeus (1984); Creation (2009)

In A Nutshell: Society's ideas of art, literature, music and science are blown apart by maverick geniuses Michaelangelo, Shakespeare, Mozart and Darwin.

Of course, their ideas aren't accepted overnight: first, these guys had to contend with theological divide, romance and jealousy.

Fidelity To Fact: Varied - but then so did these guys' attitudes to accuracy. Creation , fittingly, is reasonably grounded in truth.

The Shakespeare and Mozart films, just as appropriately, are more free-wheeling in their application of dramatic licence.

Character You Won't Find In The History Books: Cross-dressing thespian Viola De Lesseps is an-joke to several Shakespearian heroines. Plus, her name is an anagram for Eased Loves Lips.

French Revolution

As Seen In: Marie Antoinette (2006); Danton (1983); Napoleon (1927); Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003); Waterloo (1970)

In A Nutshell: France was all about cool music, great fashion and cake...but only for the aristocracy.

For everyone else, it kinda sucked, so they got their own back with the help of Madame Guillotine. Chop, chop.

But as power went to the leaders' heads, the brutal in-fighting left a power vacuum, filled by a little Corsican with big ambition.

But who's this? It's the plucky Brits, and we've not taking anmy of Napoleon's empire-building nonsense.

Fidelity To Fact: Well, Sofia Coppola's anachronistic bling brought on the boos at Cannes, although it's a great way of dramatising the roots of revolution to kids raised on teen rebellion.

Otherwise, pretty accurate to the feel of the era - even the swashbuckling Master and Commander is as detailed as a lecture.

Character You Won't Find In The History Books: Jack Aubrey, master strategist, commanding sailor and a mean violinist to boot. History needs more like him.