Crappy Prologue Texts, Medical Stuff, Medieval England, Medieval Europe, Movies, Movies I Hate, Noah Gordon, Stellan Skarsgard, The Physician, Tom Payne
The Physician (2013, dir. Philip Stölzl) is based on a best-selling novel of the same name by Noah Gordon. It opens in England in 1012, when a young boy named Robert Cole…
Ok, hold it right there. I can’t even get past the main character’s name without having to comment. In 1012, there were no English people named Robert Cole. ‘Robert’ is a French name originally, and this film starts more than half a century before the Norman Conquest of English caused the importation of French names into England. Also, surnames like Cole won’t be in use for about another 300 years.
It’s a serious problem when a historical film, based on a historical novel, can’t even bother to give its protagonist a name that a person could actually have had during the period in question. The main character should have been called something like Aethelstan or Aedward or something like that, a good old-fashioned Anglo-Saxon name like the ones used in England in the period before the Norman Conquest. And the fact that Noah Gordon couldn’t be bothered to do the elementary research it would have taken to come up with an accurate name speaks volumes about the source material for this film. I haven’t read the novel, just a summary of it on Wikipedia, but it seems like the screenwriter was about as free with his adaptation of the novel as the novel is with the period it’s dealing with, and the result is a total shitstorm of inaccuracy that left me feeling very stabby. Within five minutes the film had me making such angry noises that my husband prudently left the room lest I accidentally injure him in a momentary fit of rage.
Ok, let’s see if I can get through today’s post without triggering an aneurism.
Ok, the film opens in 1012 with a young boy who works…
Crap. First we need to cover the prologue text.
“In the Dark Ages the art of healing developed in the Roman era has been widely forgotten in Europe. There are no doctors, no hospitals, only traveling barbers with poor knowledge. At the same time on the other side of the world medical science is prospering.”
So, medieval people live in the Dark Ages, when no one ever bathed or turned on a light. We know they’re ignorant because they’ve forgotten Roman medicine when the ‘other side of the world’, which turns out to be Persia, hasn’t. So, got that? Medieval people are dumb. All they have for doctors are traveling barbers who don’t actually know anything, while other people living someplace else still have medicine.
Ok, the film opens in 1012 with a young boy who works as a miner, exchanging whatever it is he’s digging out of the ground for lumps of bread that he takes home to give to his mother and younger siblings. Because medieval people use children as miners and are too stupid to have money, so they just trade rocks for bread.
On the way home one day, young Robert stops to see a traveling barber-surgeon (Stellan Skarsgard, in a role credited simply as ‘Barber’, so that’s what I’ll call him), who acts like a traveling salesman at an American county fair around 1900.
Grrr! I can’t even get three sentences into this summary without having another issue! Technically there were barber-surgeons in 1000, but they were a brand new thing at the time, and probably mostly based in monasteries, not wandering around in covered wagons acting like showmen. But this film doesn’t give a shit about things like that because it’s not really set in 1012. It’s set in Generic Olde Tyme Medieval England, where nothing changed for 1000 years because it was the Dark Ages. So 11th century people can have 14th century names and dress like 14th century people and live in 13th century architecture because history is just something we teach in high schools so high schools can have an excuse to hire a football coach.
Let me take a break and play with my stress ball for a minute.
Soon thereafter Robert’s unfortunate mother is feeding them dinner when she has a momentary bout of pain. And we all know what that means. It means she’s about to die from “side sickness”, which is what they used to call appendicitis back in Generic Olde Tyme Medieval England before the disease had even been recognized medically. Rob runs to fetch Barber, but by the time they get back home, the local priest has wandered in and given her Last Rites and then declares that nothing can possibly help her except witchcraft and when Rob says maybe Barber can do something, the priest accuses Rob of challenging the authority of the Holy Church because GAAHHH! I hate this film already and we’re not even five minutes into it!
This is when my husband left the room. Maybe you should too.
How many fucking clichés about how bad the Middle Ages were can we fit into one five-minute sequence? Quite a lot, it seems. Where’s my stress ball?
<squish squish squish squish>
Ok, so where was I? Oh yeah, mom’s just died. The priest parcels out Rob’s younger siblings to local strangers, and bribes them to take the kids by offering them all the utensils. Then the priest claims the rest of the property as his fee for his services and leaves because apparently Rob’s mom has no earthly relatives who might intervene and no one cares that that means that the property would legally belong to Rob and his siblings, because they hadn’t invented law yet in Generic Olde Tyme Medieval England.
Well, you can probably guess that, in a movie called The Physician, when Barber is the only remaining character left for Rob to interact with, Rob is going to wind up traveling with Barber.
So we flash forward an unspecified number of years, maybe a decade. So now it’s about 1022. Rob’s an adult, more or less, and played by Tom Payne. He’s become Barber’s apprentice.
URK! GAK! AARGH! There’s no such thing as apprentices in 1022 in England! It’s a concept developed by guilds, which don’t exist yet. But this is Generic Olde Tyme Medieval England, so they can apparently have any concepts they need to.
Shit! I just ruptured my stress ball.
Ok, deep breaths. It’s ok. You can do this.
So Rob and Barber travel around long enough for us to see just how crappy medicine was back then. We get to see a tooth extraction with a pair of pliers. During the extraction, Rob suddenly gets a strange feeling, just like the feeling he had when he touched his mom the night she died, and he realizes the guy who just lost a tooth is going to die soon. Barber laughs him off, and they go off to romp in something that’s either a brothel or a tavern held in an old Roman sewer. It could be either, because neither such institution existed in the 11th century, so take your pick.
Then the unfortunate dental patient turns up dead, and the locals immediately starts screaming that tooth extraction is a form of witchcraft because EVERYONE IN GENERIC OLDE TYME MEDIEVAL ENGLAND IS STUPID! APPARENTLY THE ONLY TIME PEOPLE DIE OR HAVE TEETH EXTRACTED IS WHEN WITCHES ARE INVOLVED. God I hate this movie.
That sound you’re hearing is me smacking my head against the wall because I don’t have a stress ball to squeeze anymore and I’m all out of my meds. Go to your happy place, Andrew. It will be ok.
Of all the tropes about medieval society, this one perhaps annoys me more than any other, because it suggests that medieval people were utterly ignorant of basic facts of life and were therefore inclined to suspect supernatural forces at work whenever anything they disliked happens. Medieval people were less knowledgeable than we are today about things involving science and medicine, but they weren’t complete morons. In fact, they were just as smart as we are; they just had a different knowledge base to work with. They knew what tooth extraction involved, and that it wasn’t evil magic.
But anyway, they attack Barber and Rob and burn the wagon and burn Barber’s hands, which means that Rob has to take over the medical practice while Barber recovers. So we get to watch Rob perform his first amputation when a guy is brought in with a broken toe. And when he does it, the guy literally says “My first amputation!” like having body parts removed is a traditional rite of passage in Generic Olde Tyme Medieval England.
I hate this movie so much.
Well, eventually Barber develops a cataract, and lucky for him and Rob, they run across a family of Jews somewhere that includes a physician who knows how to couch cataracts, which rather astoundingly is an actual medieval practice that the film accidentally knows about. Rob is astonished by how much the physician knows, and the physician tells him that he studied with Ibn Sina, a genuine 11th century Persian scholar. Why this smart Jew has decided to travel half-way across the known world to treat stupid patients in Generic Olde Tyme Medieval England is never explained, nor is how he manages to do medicine without getting accused of witchcraft.
Rob decides that he’s going to travel all the way to Isfahan in Persia because he wants to learn medicine and he can’t do that in England because everyone in Medieval England is stupid except the Jews and because Rob probably hates Generic Olde Tyme Medieval England every bit as much as I do. So he sets off on a journey to Persia. I’ll cover that in my next post because right now, after only 20 minutes of film, I am so full of hate and stabbiness that I’m pretty sure I feel an aneurism coming on.
Want to Know More?
No, trust me you don’t. Seriously, you don’t. Please, don’t make me do this.
Sigh, ok. The Physician is available on Amazon. Noah Gordon’s The Physician (The Cole Trilogy) is available too. Oh, lord! It’s part of a trilogy. I can’t even.
If you’d like to watch something that is a more realistic portrrayal of Medieval medicine, find this: Theodoric of York: Medieval Barber.
Ooh! I’ll have to see if I can find that!
Oh yes, the Steve Martin skits from SNL. I might review one of those some day, because like a lot of Martin’s comedy, it’s smarter than it seems.
Slow Blink said:
Sadly, all I learned from you is how little you actually know about medieval medicine, and how you know even less about the sociological construct that it takes in order to make medieval, Renaissance, and early modern medicine accessible to the general public. Thank you I will never read your stuff again.
Please, do explain the sociological construct required to make medieval medicine accessible to the general public. I’m curious to know what you’re trying to say.
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Slow Blink said:
I will… I absolutely will. Just not right now as I’m pressed for time between work, research, school, and leaving for an international trip in less than 24 hours. I look forward to having a good conversation with you about this when I return the week after next.
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Aelarsen, I think you’re missing the bigger picture. The movie doesn’t claim to be historically accurate and no one is saying it is. If it were, it’d be a history documentary that very few people would watch. Now I think we can agree that most movies are just mindless entertainment, but at least this movie introduces concepts from history that many people are ignorant of. For example, I found it shocking that studying a corpse could be considered offensive. Or that middle east studied medicine back then. You might be surprised by how many people, like me, were excited to look up the actual history of medieval times.
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You’re wrong that no one says it’s historically accurate. I’ve read reviews talking about accurate it is. And the issue of dissection is a case in point. There’s comparatively little evidence that medieval Muslims forbade dissection of corpses, but now you think they do. And, as I emphasize in this post, the film recycles a whole lot of wrong-headed ideas about medieval people being stupid in a variety of ways.
One of the major purposes of this blog is to try to correct the misperceptions of the past caused by films, and it’s precisely because I get the bigger picture here that I write this blog.
I don’t deny that people can get interested in the past by watching a false past in film–in fact if you read my first post on The Lion in Winter, you’ll see that I had just such an experience when I was 12.
Slow Blink said:
Ireland was wonderful and still I looked forward to this conversation. Having not seen the Physician – although now I really want to –
I can only base my opinions off your perceptions. This is a slippery slope, as I am sure you will know.
However you asked about how the societal constructs of making this medicine available to the average person works. I’m going to actually take a step back and point at the new Broadway musical hit, Hamilton. My initial academic research was on Alexander Hamilton, & I thought the musical was lovely. However they misplace the Reynolds affair. In actuality this happened in 1791, well during the Washington administration. However ,in the play it happened during the Adams Administration, much later. But the reality of the situation is that Hamilton wasn’t doing things that really would have made the play move along during that time. So they moved this one thing over, in order to make the play not be boring. Fantastic! It has obviously worked for them, as their play is a Broadway sensation. To me this is something well worth paying for the audience’s approval.
This happens a lot in medicine in movies too. Most people cannot handle the gritty nature of medieval, Renaissance, and early modern medicine. If they really saw the way amputations were done, it would likely make them sick. As someone else mentioned if movies were 100% historically accurate they would be documentaries, which people would not watch as much. Therefore liberties are taken in order to make the average the information accessible to the average modern mind.
I love how The Physician calls the doctor a barber… even though barber surgeons dod not come into existance until 1540. Its a creative liberty, that bases out of some actual history! Holy cow! In addition the pliers used for tooth pulling, although I have not seen the movie so I have not seen the pliers, it’s incredibly accurate based on pictures of tooth extraction instruments from the medieval era. They look like pliers. (Granted many of the pictures I know about are late medieval) But, again it’s something people understand. It’s not some word tool they’ve never seen before.
It’s important to remember that the average person doesn’t know the difference between early and late medieval times. Many think what happens at the Medieval Times attractions were what happened in medieval times.
Another thing you mentioned is the high amount of magic and medicine. This is also accurate, as there was a very high amount of magic, witchcraft, astrology, etc that was expected to be used in medicine. This includes people using mystical ideals in order to explain things that they could not. the Malleus Maleficarum (again published in the late muddle ages talked about this, as did others of the time. Should you wish to have it summed up quite nicely for you, do check out Peregrine Horden’s paper, What’s Wrong with Early Medieval Medicine? , PMC #: 3063953 and available in its entirety on the US National Library of Medicine, National Institute of Health page.
There so much more to say, but I’m looking forward to reading the other comments as well.
Have a great day.
I’m glad you had a good trip to Ireland. Lovely country–a friend of mine just got back from there. (Say, you wouldn’t happen to be Rebekah from Madison pranking me, would you?)
I don’t demand total fidelity to the past. If you read through my posts, you’ll find many situations when I think that a particular deviation is reasonable for various reasons. (See my first post on the Lion in Winter for an example.) And I certainly don’t expect medical stuff to be treated with the gore it would sometimes have involved.
But the Physician clearly has a goal to highlight how much more advanced Muslim medicine was than Western medicine. It’s undeniably true that 11th century Western medicine was far behind Persian medicine on many points. But there’s a difference between dramatizing those differences and MAKING SHIT UP to emphasize how awful the Middle Ages was.
For example the scene where the priest comes in and basically tells Rob that his mother is going to die because nothing can be done and that trying to save her is just disputing the authority of the Church is utter nonsense. It involves 18th century Enlightenment tropes of the Middle Ages as being a period of clerically-mandated ignorance that bears no relationship to fact. Similarly the scene where the guy says “my first amputation!” as if medieval people were routinely expected to lose body parts is just stupid. The film is clearly not trying to be a serious treatment of medieval medicine, just trying to make 11th century England look bad so it will make 11th century Persia look so much better. And the fact that the author couldn’t be bothered to give his hero a name that an 11th century Englishman could actually have had is a sign of how little he cares about historical accuracy.
You’re right that there’s a far amount of what we would call magic in medieval medical practice (although ‘magic’ is an incredibly problematic term that is essentially undefinable), but I don’t actually talk about magic in this post, other than Rob’s magical ability to know when someone is about to die.
Part of my blogging philosophy is that I treat a movie as seriously as it treats its facts. When a movie is clearly trying to respect its subject matter, even if its getting a lot of details wrong, I’ll give it a serious analysis. When I think the film just doesn’t care and willfully engages in egregious stupidity I tend to give it an unserious analysis, usually because the film irritates me too much to not vent my spleen at it. Occasionally an unserious piece elicits a serious analysis (like my look at Salem) because it’s a chance to educate people about a common misperception. But The Physician doesn’t spend much time in 11th century England, and so much of what it shows it wrong that I didn’t feel it deserved a serious discussion of 11th century English medical practices, because so little of genuine 11th century England made it into the film.
So if someone wants to make a movie about an 11th century person doing medical things in 11th century England, I’ll talk bout Bald’s Leechcraft and stuff like that. But this film just doesn’t deserve it.
It’s more serious about Ibn Sina, and so I’ll spend some time talking about him and where the film’s depiction of him goes wrong, at least once I get back to this film (I’ve got one more post about Stonewall first). Hopefully you’ll stick around for that post.
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Well, there is one good thing that came out of this movie. Your review. Very funny, had me literally laughing out loud. Hope it makes all your suffering a little easier to know that you are entertaining us as well as educating us. And please be sure to buy a new stress ball before doing your next review on the rest of this movie.
I’m glad I was able to amuse you! As it turns out, the rest of the film is much less aggravating. Not always more accurate, but less aggravating.
You now understand the MST3K pain of bad cinema. My condolences. Reminding me of The Advocate, as well.
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Cool! I wrote a review about it on my own history blog! https://historyisfascinating.wordpress.com/2015/09/07/the-physician-a-great-historical-movie/
Slow Blink said:
I see what you’re saying. As I said, I haven’t seen the movie, so it’s a little hard for me to understand. I’d like to pick up the conversation again after I see the movie. My general perspective is that TV and movies do not depict history, so I do not expect them to. However for the sake of a really interesting conversation with you, I will absolutely look at this with all of the knowledge that I have. I do have a fair amount of 18th century Enlightenment knowledge, as that is where my focus is. Therefore I am very interested in what you said about eighteenth-century enlightenment ideologies. I think that the two of us could have a lovely conversation on that, and I’m sure that I would benefit from it exponentially.
I love that you brought Leechcraft, because I was going to do the same in a rebuttal. But you seem to have beaten me to it. Even I wouldn’t say that English medicine was better at the time. But, perhaps they thought it was? Like a cultural relativism issue? I pose that to you. I do not know.
Loved this conversation. Hope to have more in the future.
BTW, I’m not Rebekah. I promise .
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The Enlightenment has generally had a very powerful shaping effect on how we view the Middle Ages–ignorant, ‘superstitious’, dominated by an irrational clergy, obsessed with witches, etc, very little of which is actually rooted in fact. And historical films have a powerful tendency to flatter the audience’s supposedly superior intelligence and morality, by depicting medieval culture as ‘behind’ ours. This film damns medieval Europe so it can praise medieval Persia, which is exactly what Enlightenment authors did to praise themselves (see the myth of the medieval witch hunt, for example).
Slow Blink said:
On an academic level this worries me, because I’m concerned that I may be pushing on eighteenth-century ideologies rather than historical fact in some of my lectures. I was told and subsequently tell others that after the fall of Rome the medical practices were absorbed back into the religion based practices of the church. Like in the time of Hippocrates, it became thought that God cause disease and therefore only God could cure it, although the priesthood could act as intermediaries. Following that same line of reasoning, I was under the impression that medical progress of the time slowed because to disagree with medical theories at the time would be the same as disagreeing with the church. And therefore punishable by death due to charges of blasphemy. Is this what you have found? And if it is not, could you please direct me to sources that I could use that would be more historically accurate?
Leaving aside the “fall” of Rome, which is basically Gibbon’s wildly-inaccurate invention, it’s certainly true that early medieval medicine was, to the extent that we know about it, largely the provenance of the clergy, who tended to be the educated segment of the population. However, in the Mediterranean world, where urban contraction was less pronounced, a ‘secular’ medical community does some to have had a least some existence, though I don’t know much about it.
I think you’re misunderstanding Hippocrates though. Hippocrates was interested not in the ultimate causes of disease but in the way that humoral imbalances caused symptoms that needed to be treated, and that’s basically what medieval physicians (speaking specifically about practitioners of physic, rather than emperical healers like midwives or ‘barber-surgeons’) would have focused on. They would have acknowledged God as ultimately being in control, but I don’t think they would have said that God “caused” disease and they certainly wouldn’t have said that since only God could cure it there was nothing to be done. They would have employed the tools they had, such as humoral theory’s strategies for rebalancing the humors, as well as herbal and pharmaceutical remedies, and in some cases quasi-magical practices. Medical astronomy was important in prognosis.
Medieval physicians (again, practitioners of physic) certainly understood that much of their theory traced back to Hippocrates and Galen and not to Biblical authors, so they would not have considered those ideas sacrosanct, merely highly authoritative.
Regarding blasphemy, you’ve got a number of misconceptions. First, despite studying heresy, I’ve literally never seen someone charged with blasphemy. I can’t speak authoritatively to what canon law requires for such a charge, but it’s rare. Heresy was also quite rare overall as a legal charge, except in certain times and places. There are very few surviving accusations on heresy before the 11th century (bordering on zero that I can think of).So I can say with reasonable confidence that the odds of being accused of heresy in 11th century England were vanishingly small. (Similarly, there are only a tiny handful of charges of witchcraft.) Also, contrary to popular imagination, in most parts of Europe, the Church had no legal authority to execute people, and could at best ‘recommend’ execution to a secular authority (the exception is regions where an ecclesiastical official also held secular authority).
Lots of people ‘disagreed with the Church’ with impunity. Most monarchs did so at some point, as did many nobles, and fair numbers of commoners.In order to actually run the risk of getting executed, you would generally have had to 1) commit heresy, which is harder than it sounds 2) get caught by a clergyman who cared about the issue, which not all did, 3) have that clergyman have the power to do something about it, which most didn’t, 4) then relapse and repeat that process again in a way that allowed the clergy to prove you’d done it a second time. Comparatively few first-time heretics were executed, although in certain times and places it did happen.
But that’s for matters of explicit theological error. It would be almost impossible for a medical opinion to rise to the level of theological error. I certainly can’t think of an example of a medical practitioner who managed to get accused of heresy, and I’m hard pressed to imagine a scenario in which a medical opinion could directly butt up against theology that way. I suppose a physician could deny the existence of the soul, but I don’t know of such an case. Much of my research focused on academic condemnation (essentially, university professors accused of theological error), and I do not know of a case at any university where a member of the medical faculty was targeted for condemnation–condemnations were only directed at arts students (undergrads studying philosophy, basically) and theologians. Also contrary to popular imagination, we know that there was at least some study of corpses and some practice of dissection, although it wasn’t common.
Slow Blink said:
I’m sorry for not been no clear. I was speaking of the time of galen, more than the early middle ages. One of my memory focuses on the humoral theory, and I use it when I recreate Renaissance medicines, , so I understand what you’re saying there.
Thank you for explaining how hard it would have been for a medic to be brought up on blasphemy for studying and practicing medicine. Fascinating.
Galen is second century AD, which means he was writing and working before the conversation of the Roman state to Christianity, so he was also understood by medieval authors to be a pagan, as Hippocrates was. And, of course, he wouldn’t have been accused of blaphemy agains the Christian god during his own period.
I did a little bit of digging into medieval treatment of blasphemy for you. It is defined essentially as insulting God or sacred things (saints, the Eucharist, relics, etc.). So it involves attributing false qualities to God or denying His true qualities (God is cruel, God is not just), or uttering a malediction at God (Away with God!) or expressing contempt of God (I don’t give a fig for God! The Eucharist is worthless). But some clear disrespect for God was necessary to qualify as blasphemy. In many cases the dividing line between blasphemy and heresy is fuzzy, since the one often implies the other. But, as you can see from that list, it would be next to impossible for physician discussing medicine to commit blasphemy unless he wanders far off topic. Perhaps denying that God is the origin of human life might qualify.
It was considered a difficult subject, because in many cases a blasphemer might not realize what he had said was blasphemy, especially if he said it while swearing. So first offenses were normally handled with a warning, and later offenses with fines. A clergyman repeatedly convicted of blasphemy might be defrocked, and in theory a layman might be excommunicated for a serious offense. But that’s the most extreme penalty for it in canon law, and excommunication was intended to eventually be revoked when the offender had repented, so it was basically a temporary punishment.
Secular governments frequently passed their own laws against blasphemy, and the result is that most blasphemy cases were probably heard in civil courts.In my very quick dig into the issue, I couldn’t find much about this except that it started to be incorporated into French and English law codes in the later 16th century. So perhaps a medieval town government might have executed people for blasphemy, but they would probably have relied on canon law for guidance about what qualified as blasphemy.
Slow Blink said:
In addition, I want to apologize for the hostile nature of my original reply. I was stressed out and extremely burnt out, but didn’t want to forget to reply. Not a good combination. I’m glad we were still able to have a good discussion. I am following you now. I look forward to furture conversations. 🙂
Apology accepted, and no offense taken. I generally assume that people sound somewhat harsher online then they intend to–no intonation or body language to convey intent, for example. So I try not to get upset about that sort of thing.
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I just watched this movie and I can see why you did not like it. Of course, mixing history into any film especially with a context on religion is up for plenty of comments. Thank you for several explanations on parts of the film that did not make any sense. Reminds me of how the western world, in a lot of films, manages to add a Christian protagonists to save the rest of the world, more so the Muslim world, from its misery.
I’m not sure the protagonist is Christian so much as Western. Obviously he is Christian, but in the film there’s almost no attention paid to that fact once he leaves England.
Nadine Ducca said:
Hi! I’m reading the novel right now and even though I had already heard complaints about historical inaccuracies (the main character’s name being the most blatant one), I still really wanted to read it.
I just wanted to point out (sort of in the book’s defense though I’m not really trying to defend it), that the beginning of the book is VERY different to the beginning of the film. In the book, Rob’s mother dies shortly after giving birth to her gazillionth child and after that the kids live with only their father, who is in the carpenter’s guild. The father eventually dies from an illness he succumbs to while working in very bad conditions.
Once orphaned, the guild master is the one who takes care of the estate and the children–not some priest. In that respect, I have to say that the guild master does his best to place each child in an adequate home, Rob being the last because nobody wants a boy his age “who eats like a man but can’t work like a man.”
Finally, the guild master signs Rob off to be an apprentice barber, so this scenario might seem more plausible than the one in the movie, don’t you think? Let’s forget for now that guilds didn’t even exist during that time period. 😉
That’s definitely a little better than the movie. But there’s no such thing as guilds or apprentices in the early 11th century, so the author is still being pretty sloppy about the facts, as you note. But thanks for letting me know how the book starts!
Although the film is packed with inaccuracies and downright corny moments (almost every barber scene), it was fun watch for me, however I’m extremely talented at suspending disbelief long enough to enjoy the types of films (ye old tyme *fill in the blank era/location*) where everyone has a bad English accent.
Your scathing review of this movie was absolutely brilliant and literally had me laughing out loud. Love it.
I have a friend who’s a physicist who cannot watch sci-fi stuff because she can’t suspend her disbelief enough to not criticize all the scientific errors. I’m somewhere between these two poles. I can’t really suspend my critical faculties but I force myself to watch anyway.
Nora Zicovich Wilson said:
Oh, not The Physician! It´s one of my favourite books of all times!!!!
I discovered your blog today and literally ad to cover my face with whatever I found (my cat, mostly) to avoid waking up my husband and intruder son with laughters.
You crushed some of my favourite films, or kinda, because I have my mind set on Braveheart and I kinda knew already, since I´ve been investigating medieval history for a while now, that it was pure bullshit with a hot actor (not Mel Gibson, that Irish dude that woke up some disturbing feelings when I was a sweet 11 years old, who´s name I don´t know and who aged seriously bad, but not as bad as hot Avigdor from Yentl and I´m sorry to be rambling).
Longest parentesis ever. Back on track.
Read the book. I really hope it doesn´t give you cancer – it was my historycall bible and now you paganized me-, but I promise you that the book is SO MUCH BETTER than the film, that is a pile of bullshit, over a pile of dogshit and macerated in cider vinager. I now don´t know if it´s terrible historically speaking or not, but narratively it´s wonderful, and the movie sucks, it really does. And it changes the best character into NOTHING. And Barber´s name IS Barber but it´s such a sweet thing in the book.
Side note: I´m a writer. I´m writing a novel that starts in medieval France and ends in post WWII Argentina (just because I´m argentinian and I fucking want to). I´m seriously terrified to be on your blog someday. On the other hand, the more I learn about the inacuracys writers introduce on historical fictions, the more I realize that if I´m true to facts, people just won´t believe me, and think I´m an ignorant (I mean, don´t I know that in Generic Olde Tyme Medieval Scotland everybody played bagpipes at weddings, and that it had been already forbidden after ye olde medieval jacobite rebelion? It´s right there on Braveheart, dumbass!!). So there´s a fact: Reality, historical accuracy, a lot of times just enters in conflict with verisimilitude and the poor writers as myself have to choose between putting the facts wrong or have our readers thinking we did.
I think that historical fiction almost inevitably involves some inaccuracies. I guess if I were writing that sort of material, I would try to minimize the outright deviations from fact as much as I could, focus on trying to get the mindset of the period correct (marriage wasn’t assumed to be about love until the late 18th or 19th centuries, for example), and then I’d include a postscript where I talked about the liberties I’d taken. That way the reader would be able to understand what changes I had made to the fact.
Nora Zicovich Wilson said:
Well, yeah. That´s cool. For specifics facts. Like making Machiavelli a disciple of Da Vinci (interesting book, yet forgettable)
But, I mean: you go and make a medieval fiction where people aren´t filthy, are aware that the Earth is in fact round, where they aren´t burning witches (still I´ve got crossed info about this) and chastity belts weren´t a thing, where people took care of their teeth and women could be involved in politics and were not -tottaly – submitted to their hubbys, where homosexuality was somehow accepted and peasents marry around 18+ years old, people who knew that deseases could be a body thing and not everything was Devil-made, and prima nocte wasn´t a granted right, etc… They just won´t believe you.
Because these are things we all learned about the middle ages. So they´ll think you are missinformed, not them, and as fiction is no essay, you can´t start to explain than these believings are wrong and here are the sources.
That´s why I say that historical accuracy, a lot of times just enters in conflict with verisimilitude. Middle ages “knowledge” is so cimented in miths that the truth sounds fake. So that´s why fiction writer sometimes has to settle for some wrong facts. No reason to vanish Stirling Bridge off Stirling Bridge´s battle, but you get me.
Anyway, we try.
People who think “The Dark Ages” meant a time of metaphorical darkness, where people were ignorant, and marinated in shit, instead of what it actually meant (that our knowledge of the time is fuzzy, because there aren’t many surviving historical documents—could also have called it “The Fuzzy Ages”, now that i think about it) make me stabby, too
Aethelstan Aedward Aelarsen said:
This is nothing more than a rant from a self important wanker. The novel, and film, make no claims about “based on truth” or “historically accurate”. Any such claims are inserted by reviewers and/or critics and probably publishers and/or promoters.
Do you also rage incoherently about the adventures of Hobbits and Elves? How about the various different re-tellings of Hitlers death?
As for the trade/barter at the mine, it was almost certainly common practice for mine owners to pay their workers in materials, food etc, because it was profitable and a closed market. A lump of food is immediately usable – a shiny piece of metal isn’t.
It was a well known practice even into the 19th century and probably still occurs in similar closed communities. Christ, it even occurred during the World Wars, including Korea and Vietnam – “Army Scrip” being an example of a similar practice.
If you had opened your eyes you would have observed coinage being exchanged in the towns that the “Barber” visited. The Dark Ages are so named because there is little information about everyday life from that period in England, including living conditions, lifestyle, medical capabilities, etc.
Don’t try to hide behind bullshit about the review being tongue-in-cheek, or to get a rise out of the great unwashed. It was a nasty, uninformed, preconceived torrent of verbal manure.
There are more inaccuracies in your “review” of this story than there are in the story itself.
Actually, it’s a rant by a guy with a doctorate in medieval history and 20+ years of experience teaching and researching it. What’s your qualifications?
The fact that the concept of barter existed doesn’t mean that was always used, and the fact that barter can be found in later centuries and other cultures doesn’t mean it was used in this time and place. It’s clear the film has no idea what actual economic arrangements existed–the scene where the local priest just parcels out the family property when the mother dies is proof of this–that is absolutely NOT how such a situation would have been handled. The English portion of the story consistently demonstrates a total lack of interest in actual historical facts–the protagonist’s name Rob Cole involves a name that wasn’t used in England at the time because it was French and a surname roughly 3 centuries before such things were used. It projects the concept of apprenticeships back about 150 years. So it’s pretty clear to me that you don’t know what you’re talking about.
I don’t need to “hide behind bullshit about the review being tongue-in-cheek”. While it is tongue-in-cheek, my review is thoroughly rooted in the fact that I’m a professional IN THIS FIELD. I’m not hiding behind anything here because I’m am expert on the subject matter. Remember, your ignorance is not equivalent to my knowledge.
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