Review of Reviews: I can’t handle the truth

reportcardReview of Reviews

On Saturday night I sobbed my eyes out through Philomena. Afterwards, I ran home to look on the web for its accuracy—rather for its inaccuracy, which would assuage my misery.

The bad news is that the movie was pretty accurate. The good news is that I found an excellent blog on, the site of the national British newspaper, The Guardian.

The blog is called Reel History.

Each review grades a film’s entertainment and historical values.

The author is British historian Alex von Tunzelmann, who analyzes the accuracy of movies that are allegedly based on facts. Her reviews are thorough and her writing is clear, accessible and at times comical. She organizes her reviews by themes and/or plot points, as indicated by section headings. (Examples: her review of Saving Mr. Banks includes headings for “Film-making” (she looks into how films were made in the 60s), “Literary life,” and “People”; while the headings for 12 Years a Slave include “Violence,” “Kidnapping,” and “Salvation.”)

Spoiler Content of the reviews: By their very nature the reviews are laden with spoilers, but you can easily skip them.  In fact, you don’t even need to skim the text. Just take a look at the beginning and end: At the beginning are pithy titles and subtitles. At the end of the reviews is the “Verdict” that summarizes Alex von Tunzelmann’s opinion of the movie and its accuracy.

Here are some sample grades from Reel History, along with their titles and subtitles. Click on the movie names to get to the full reviews:

Diana: a royal mess of soft-focus silliness

Let’s hope that Diana’s real-life relationships were more rewarding than this movie

Entertainment Grade: Fail

History Grade: C

Philomena: nun too sloppy when it comes to the facts

Steve Coogan’s take on the real-life story of a woman whose baby was sold by nuns for adoption is scrupulous and sane, save for a small lapse involving one sister

The fakes and the reals
The fakes and the reals

Entertainment Grade: A

History Grade: B

The Wolf of Wall Street: why its accuracy muzzles its bite

Its portrayal of bad-behaving bankers sticks so slavishly to Jordan Belfort’s memoir that Martin Scorsese’s movie squanders its satiric ambitions

Entertainment Grade: D

History Grade: A-

The Butler serves up a deeply affecting but sometimes farcical biopic

The fictionalized story of presidential butler Eugene Allen is an earnest but novel take on 20th-century African American history

Entertainment Grade: C-

History Grade: D

Captain Phillips proves that America is awesome. Got it? Awesome!

Tom Hanks is great and there’s even a fleeting nod to the Somali perspective, but the real hero of Captain Phillips is the US navy.

Entertainment Grade: B+

History Grade: B-

American Hustle: a glammed-up take on FBI’s fake sheikhs

The crime caper does recreate events in 1970s New Jersey, but with added wigs and a less tragic ending for one character

Entertainment Grade: A-

History Grade:  B+

dickjulieSaving Mr. Banks: trashing Mrs. Travers?

Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson give this making-of Mary Poppins confection a supercalifragilistic flavor, but it sours with its bland biographical flashbacks

Entertainment Grade: B

History Grade: B

12 Years a Slave: Ejiofor’s eyes open ours to the painful truth

Solomon Northup’s story, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, has been turned into one of the most brilliant historical films you’ll ever see

Entertainment Grade:  A

History Grade: A+

(I feel confident in declaring that she really likes this movie.) (And more confident in saying I really like this blog.)


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