Film history

It’s a fact: A well-made historical film is better than one that gets a few things wrong

Despite a film’s limitations in providing factual detail, the medium can provide an experience that provides the appearance of historical authenticity.

Ridley Scott’s epic 2005 movie Kingdom of Heaven, about the fall of Jerusalem to Saladin in 1187, has been widely criticised by historians for its lack of accuracy. Even while the film was still in production, Cambridge historian Jonathan Riley-Smith called it “nonsense” and “Osama bin Laden’s version of history”, while Michael Haag wrote that “Scott revises history wholesale, or rather makes it up.” He concludes his review by stating that “there is nothing that bears much relation to historical fact”.

Whatever the historians may have thought, the film won critical praise – Rolling Stone declared that “Scott delivers rousing entertainment” – and took more than US$211m at the box office. The New York Times critic Manohla Dargis described the film as “an ostensibly fair-minded, even-handed account of one of the least fair-minded, even-handed chapters in human history”.

So who was right? On the one hand, the professional historians – or the critics and the public? Which rather boils down to the question of whether filmmakers should be educating their audience, or entertaining them.

Kingdom of Heaven (2005).

Film can only go so far towards creating an absolutely accurate portrayal of the past. At the most basic level, historical accuracy is impossible due to the nature of film production realities such as using actors, costumes and sets to recreate the historical narrative. Even if these achieve a consensus of accuracy among historians, these aesthetics only create an illusion of the past.

Filmmakers must rework an episode from history to become a marketable narrative that will be attractive to audiences and provide a financial return for investors. In the “definitive edition” of the DVD of Kingdom of Heaven, screenwriter William Monahan explained the need for writers to compromise history: “You use what plays, or can be made to play, and you don’t use what doesn’t.”

In her 2007 book History Goes to the Movies: Studying History on Film, film scholar Marnie Hughes-Warrington recounted the frustration of historian Natalie Zemon Davies on trying to work with filmmakers. Collaborating with the directors of the historical film, Le Retour de Martin Guerre (1982), Daniel Vigne and Jean Claude Carriére, Davies complained that “aspects of the story were compressed, altered or even left out”.

According to Hughes-Warrington, Davies “wondered if film was capable of handling and conveying ‘the uncertainties’, ‘the perhaps’, the ‘may-have-beens’”. In other words, there are limits to the way historical movies can create a narrative that will satisfy historians.

But where are audiences going to get a better taste of what life might have been like centuries before it was depicted in newsreels? As American medievalist and film scholar, A Keith Kelly put it: “What no print over centuries of writing has been capable of achieving toward an appreciation of medieval warfare, films like Braveheart and Branagh’s Henry V can accomplish in minutes.”

In other words, despite film’s limitations in providing the required factual detail, the medium can provide an audience with an experience that provides the appearance of historical authenticity.

Braveheart (1995).

It would take a whole article to detail historical inaccuracies in Mel Gibson’s 1995 blockbuster Braveheart. The politics are oversimplified into a consumable narrative of good Scottish versus bad English. But this egregious lack of historical accuracy didn’t prevent the film winning five Academy Awards (including best picture, best director and best cinematography) and taking more than US$210m at the box office.

Documentary film can provide a deeper level of scrutiny but the assumption of historical accuracy is still problematic. Documentary filmmakers must compromise on accuracy and details to construct the desired “narrative”. For example, the documentary Crusades: Crescent and the Cross, focuses on the first crusade, the rise of Saladin and his conflict with Richard the Lionheart and skips out the rise of the all-conquering Mamelukes. This creates a narrative that depicts the third crusade as the climax of the crusades – which actually continued for another 100 years.

Crusades: Crescent and the Cross (2005).

But it’s just too simplistic to assert that audiences can’t tell fact from fiction. Two studies – one from the US and another from Australia – suggest that people are more inclined to trust books and the work of academic historians and museums than they are to believe movies or TV shows.

So, not even the audience expects filmmakers to educate them – and the numbers show that historical fiction is profitable when the film is an enjoyable experience rather than an accurate retelling. A historical movie is not a history lesson, but historical fiction, which provides a level of authenticity that sets a story in a commonly perceived historical reality.

If audiences don’t expect 100% accuracy, then why bother comparing these fictional narratives to works of historical scholars? It’s necessary neither for box office nor critical success – but good historical movies can inspire people to find out more about the period being portrayed. And comparing the difference between the historical fact and the movie fiction enables the viewer to analyse not only what the filmmaker perceives about the period, but what the filmmaker is using this historical reality to say. After all, as we’ve already heard: “You use what plays.”

Patrick Masters, Lecturer in Film Studies, University of Portsmouth.

This article first appeared on The Conversation.

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The next Industrial Revolution is here – driven by the digitalization of manufacturing processes

Technologies such as Industry 4.0, IoT, robotics and Big Data analytics are transforming the manufacturing industry in a big way.

The manufacturing industry across the world is seeing major changes, driven by globalization and increasing consumer demand. As per a report by the World Economic Forum and Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd on the future of manufacturing, the ability to innovate at a quicker pace will be the major differentiating factor in the success of companies and countries.

This is substantiated by a PWC research which shows that across industries, the most innovative companies in the manufacturing sector grew 38% (2013 - 2016), about 11% year on year, while the least innovative manufacturers posted only a 10% growth over the same period.

Along with innovation in products, the transformation of manufacturing processes will also be essential for companies to remain competitive and maintain their profitability. This is where digital technologies can act as a potential game changer.

The digitalization of the manufacturing industry involves the integration of digital technologies in manufacturing processes across the value chain. Also referred to as Industry 4.0, digitalization is poised to reshape all aspects of the manufacturing industry and is being hailed as the next Industrial Revolution. Integral to Industry 4.0 is the ‘smart factory’, where devices are inter-connected, and processes are streamlined, thus ensuring greater productivity across the value chain, from design and development, to engineering and manufacturing and finally to service and logistics.

Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, artificial intelligence and Big Data analytics are some of the key technologies powering Industry 4.0. According to a report, Industry 4.0 will prompt manufacturers globally to invest $267 billion in technologies like IoT by 2020. Investments in digitalization can lead to excellent returns. Companies that have implemented digitalization solutions have almost halved their manufacturing cycle time through more efficient use of their production lines. With a single line now able to produce more than double the number of product variants as three lines in the conventional model, end to end digitalization has led to an almost 20% jump in productivity.

Digitalization and the Indian manufacturing industry

The Make in India program aims to increase the contribution of the manufacturing industry to the country’s GDP from 16% to 25% by 2022. India’s manufacturing sector could also potentially touch $1 trillion by 2025. However, to achieve these goals and for the industry to reach its potential, it must overcome the several internal and external obstacles that impede its growth. These include competition from other Asian countries, infrastructural deficiencies and lack of skilled manpower.

There is a common sentiment across big manufacturers that India lacks the eco-system for making sophisticated components. According to FICCI’s report on the readiness of Indian manufacturing to adopt advanced manufacturing trends, only 10% of companies have adopted new technologies for manufacturing, while 80% plan to adopt the same by 2020. This indicates a significant gap between the potential and the reality of India’s manufacturing industry.

The ‘Make in India’ vision of positioning India as a global manufacturing hub requires the industry to adopt innovative technologies. Digitalization can give the Indian industry an impetus to deliver products and services that match global standards, thereby getting access to global markets.

The policy, thus far, has received a favourable response as global tech giants have either set up or are in the process of setting up hi-tech manufacturing plants in India. Siemens, for instance, is helping companies in India gain a competitive advantage by integrating industry-specific software applications that optimise performance across the entire value chain.

The Digital Enterprise is Siemens’ solution portfolio for the digitalization of industries. It comprises of powerful software and future-proof automation solutions for industries and companies of all sizes. For the discrete industries, the Digital Enterprise Suite offers software and hardware solutions to seamlessly integrate and digitalize their entire value chain – including suppliers – from product design to service, all based on one data model. The result of this is a perfect digital copy of the value chain: the digital twin. This enables companies to perform simulation, testing, and optimization in a completely virtual environment.

The process industries benefit from Integrated Engineering to Integrated Operations by utilizing a continuous data model of the entire lifecycle of a plant that helps to increase flexibility and efficiency. Both offerings can be easily customized to meet the individual requirements of each sector and company, like specific simulation software for machines or entire plants.

Siemens has identified projects across industries and plans to upgrade these industries by connecting hardware, software and data. This seamless integration of state-of-the-art digital technologies to provide sustainable growth that benefits everyone is what Siemens calls ‘Ingenuity for Life’.

Case studies for technology-led changes

An example of the implementation of digitalization solutions from Siemens can be seen in the case of pharma major Cipla Ltd’s Kurkumbh factory.

Cipla needed a robust and flexible distributed control system to dispense and manage solvents for the manufacture of its APIs (active pharmaceutical ingredients used in many medicines). As part of the project, Siemens partnered with Cipla to install the DCS-SIMATIC PCS 7 control system and migrate from batch manufacturing to continuous manufacturing. By establishing the first ever flow Chemistry based API production system in India, Siemens has helped Cipla in significantly lowering floor space, time, wastage, energy and utility costs. This has also improved safety and product quality.

In yet another example, technology provided by Siemens helped a cement plant maximise its production capacity. Wonder Cement, a greenfield project set up by RK Marbles in Rajasthan, needed an automated system to improve productivity. Siemens’ solution called CEMAT used actual plant data to make precise predictions for quality parameters which were previously manually entered by operators. As a result, production efficiency was increased and operators were also freed up to work on other critical tasks. Additionally, emissions and energy consumption were lowered – a significant achievement for a typically energy intensive cement plant.

In the case of automobile major, Mahindra & Mahindra, Siemens’ involvement involved digitalizing the whole product development system. Siemens has partnered with the manufacturer to provide a holistic solution across the entire value chain, from design and planning to engineering and execution. This includes design and software solutions for Product Lifecycle Management, Siemens Technology for Powertrain (STP) and Integrated Automation. For Powertrain, the solutions include SINUMERIK, SINAMICS, SIMOTICS and SIMATIC controls and drives, besides CNC and PLC-controlled machines linked via the Profinet interface.

The above solutions helped the company puts its entire product lifecycle on a digital platform. This has led to multi-fold benefits – better time optimization, higher productivity, improved vehicle performance and quicker response to market requirements.

Siemens is using its global expertise to guide Indian industries through their digital transformation. With the right technologies in place, India can see a significant improvement in design and engineering, cutting product development time by as much as 30%. Besides, digital technologies driven by ‘Ingenuity for Life’ can help Indian manufacturers achieve energy efficiency and ensure variety and flexibility in their product offerings while maintaining quality.


The above examples of successful implementation of digitalization are just some of the examples of ‘Ingenuity for Life’ in action. To learn more about Siemens’ push to digitalize India’s manufacturing sector, see here.

This article was produced on behalf of Siemens by the marketing team and not by the editorial staff.