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Hollywood's distortion of the truth alters history in the eyes of schoolchildren
2009-08-08 0:00

By Richard Alleyne | telegraph.co.uk

Kate Blanchett in the film Elizabeth - The Golden Age: not a strictly accurate portrayal

Hollywood's habit of playing with historical facts is leading schoolchildren to get it wrong too – even if they read the true story in classrooms, a new academic study shows.

Researchers have found that film is an incredibly powerful tool for teaching children about the past which can greatly increase historical knowledge.

However, it is so powerful that if the facts are wrong, pupils are more likely to believe them even if they are told otherwise by text books or teachers, they say.

When films get it right then children benefit enormously and remember much more detail when later questioned, said lead researcher Andrew Butler of Washington University in St Louis.

But when they it wrong, so do the children. Even if they have read the correct version in a textbook they remember what was in the film not what was in their book.

"When information in the film was consistent with information in the text, watching the film clips increased correct recall by about 50 per cent relative to reading the text alone," he said.

"In contrast, when information in the film directly contradicted the text, people often falsely recalled the misinformation portrayed in the film, sometimes as much as 50 per cent of the time."

Mr Butler, who published in the journal Psychological Science, recommends that teachers carry on showing films in classrooms but before it starts make a point of telling the children to look out for particular mistakes.

Hollywood stars from Tom Cruise to Denzel Washington as well as British actors like Anthony Hopkins have made films about historical events with glaring factual errors, it said.

Theses include showing Mozart as a spoiled brat in Amadeus when he was not or the Americans cracking top secret Nazi codes in the film U-571 when really it was the British.

Another error is made in Shekhar Kapur's 1998 film Elizabeth. Cate Blanchett's ruthless monarch forces her adviser Sir William Cecil into retirement with a peerage when really he stayed at her side until his death.

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