There are many historical movies which show exactly the way events happened in the past, can they be used as a reference for raising queries?

Example: The movie Viceroy's House shows the series of events happened before and after India was partitioned by the then British Govt. Movie raises many historical questions in minds of people. Will the SE (History) allow questions to be raised using the very same as the reference?

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    "There are many historical movies which show exactly the way events happened in the past ...". Actually, there are probably far fewer than you think. Jun 20 '18 at 8:02
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    Is there even one such movie?
    – Semaphore Mod
    Jun 20 '18 at 9:05
  • I thought I'd linked to this Guardian article about some of the historical inaccuracies in the movie Viceroy's House when I posted my comment above, but apparently not. Perhaps better late than never? Oct 1 '20 at 16:17

I think there is a difference between basing a question on a movie, and citing a movie as a source.

I would take issue with your assertion that "There are many historical movies which show exactly the way events happened in the past ...". I suspect that there are probably far fewer than you think. Hollywood is known as "The Dream Factory", not "The History Factory".

A movie might raise questions which can be reasonably answered using historical sources. In that sense, the movie is a legitimate source on which to base a question, although the question would still need to demonstrate evidence of prior research, as per the guidelines in the Help Centre.

However, in my opinion, as a general rule general a movie should not otherwise be cited as an historical source.

  • I agree fundamentally with this response - however, question along the line of "I saw such-and-such depicted in docudrama ABC - is that accurate or artistic licence? I have looked here and here without achieving satisfaction." might generate a library of useful fact-checking resources over time. Jul 20 '18 at 19:57

Actual documentaries would be OK. For Neda and Eyes on the Prize are great sources for the topics they cover. This is particularly true for events from the 20th century or later where a lot of primary sources are either audio or visual or both. There really isn't a better way to present such material other than in a documentary movie.

Of course the same caveats go with documentaries as go with written sources: they are created by living breathing human beings with their own beliefs and goals, and thus are never presenting a completely unbiased view of events. Some are less unbiased than others, and some even flat out lie. Same with written sources.

Biopics and other dramatizations on the other hand should never be used as sources. I've seen them used here where someone might mention a scene as a good way for a layman to get a feel for an event, but there always needs to be an actual source as well. I've also seen them used as the basis of questions about their veracity (and honestly we could probably do with more of those).

By their very nature dramatizations have to invent things, and there isn't always a good way to tell where the line is between presentation of fact and invention. This definitely includes Viceroy's House, which is a biopic.

  • "as the basis of questions about their veracity" - excellent point I think. I would like to see more movies 'corrected' on this site, although I guess that most people on Hist SE already know how historically inaccurate most movies are. Jun 21 '18 at 0:47

A movie, particularly one that depicts some romanticized version of an event, shouldn't be the basis of a question IMO, or at least not until you dig deeper and research the topic further.

Unless you're watching a documentary (the likes of which Ken Burns makes), assume as a matter of course that scenarists have fiddled with the timeline or the event to some degree.


I believe a movie is a legitimate source on which to base a question. Any source/reference is better than none. A movie is better than an assertion.

That said, any source (movie, wikipedia, secondary or even primary source) is subject to analysis & challenge - that is part of what makes history a science. I am skeptical of the claim "There are many historical movies which show exactly the way events happened in the past ...". I would expect the details of the movie to be subject to challenge.

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    An assertion is at least believed to be true by one person; a film is trying to sell a particular story, the truth of which is irrelevant. Jun 30 '18 at 11:06

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