Warning: Myth masquerading as History

When I was talking to Fr Mitch, he mentioned this upcoming film “Die Päpstin”. It’s from the same people (Constantin Films) who gave us “the Hitler Rant”. Seems that they have given up doing historical films in favour of fairy tales. I don’t know how our David Wenham got involved. I didn’t even know he knew German. Wait for it in a dubbed version in a cinema near you!

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11 Responses to Warning: Myth masquerading as History

  1. Peregrinus says:

    This is a treatment of the “Pope Joan” legend. I don’t think we can criticise it for being fictional; most films are fictional. I’ve no idea whether the film makes any claims to historical accuracy, but since it’s an adaptation of an American novel inspired by the same legend, and since the novel makes no pretence to historical accuracy, I doubt that the film does.

    It opened last year, and is currently screening in continental European markets. I don’t know if there are any plans to dub an English version. Critical reaction to the film has not been great, so unless the promoters can succeed in generating an aura of scandal about it, and thereby create a demand for it, we may not get to see it.

    • Schütz says:

      I know what it is about, Perry. I know the Pope Joan legend. I didn’t know that it was already showing.

      However, I must apologise. I put in the wrong trailr. I’ve fixed it up now and put in the trailer with the English subtitles. This one reads:

      “Her identity has been a mystery.
      Her existence an enigma.
      Her life has become a legend.
      The incredible journey of a woman
      which began more than a thousand years ago.
      A TRUE STORY.”

      Are you still of the same opinion that the film “makes no pretence to historical accuracy”?

      I am sure an exit poll at a cinema after this film would find a large percentage of the audience thinking they had just seen a true story, or one that at least was based on fact…

      • Peregrinus says:

        Well, that puts a different perspective on it – unless, of course, what they are claiming is that it is true to say that this is a mystery, an enigma, a legend and incredible!

        Paul, the film reportedly differs from the novel in numerous respects. The more the novel claims to be true, therefore, the more it must be conceded that the film is not. But in any event it is not clear from what you have found that the novel does claim historicity. You can put a great deal of research into the writing of historical fiction. The page you link to makes it clear that the book is partly historical and partly fictional, with no indication of the balance between those two elements.

        I do notice a concerted attempt to generate an aura of scandal around this film. Various newsaper reports say things like “film sparks Vatican row” and “Vatican not too keen on Pope Joan”, but all of these reports seem to be based on the single fact that a review of the film in [i]l’Avennire[/i], an Italian daily paper regarded as close to the Italian Bishops Conference, said that it was a film of “extremely limited vision”. My guess, as I indicated before, is that those who have a commercial interest in this film are most likely to be behind this attempt (cui bono?) and those who kick up a stink about this film will play into their hands.

        The fact that there is an English-ubtitled version of this film suggests that there won’t be an English-dubbed version, which will greatly limit its audience in most English-speaking markets, especially in the US where any subtitled film is automatically considered “art-house”. It would seem that the “kick up a fuss” campaign has not achieved the success that might have been hoped for. It could still, though, if the likes of Bill Donahue throw their weight behind it. I wouldn’t put it past them.

        • Tony says:

          It would seem that the “kick up a fuss” campaign has not achieved the success that might have been hoped for.

          I dunno Pere, it’s worked in this little corner of cyberspace!


          • Schütz says:

            Oh, I’m not “kicking up a fuss” for any theological reasons. In fact, I rather think I would like to see it. My only complaint is that they have claimed it is a “true story”. If they had left it at “her life is a legend”, that would have been fine! But I know that cinema (and TV) are very powerful and useful tools for teaching history, and I also know just how ignorant of history the average man in the street really is, so my fuss is precisely that such a well produced and obviously well researched film should be passing itself off as “eine wahre Geschichte”. And by the way, Paul, my ability to read German is quite good (note my surname!).

    • Paul G says:

      If my rudimentary German is right, the writing on the trailer says “from the bestseller by Donna Woolfolk Cross, a true story”, so I suspect they will claim it is true. Donna’s website says she spent 7 years researching the novel, and she offers to speak to bookclubs and school groups by phone if you ask her to:

      The trailer looked like it was already dubbed like the old spaghetti westerns, so I doubt that our David had to learn any German.

      When David Wenham made the film Molokai about Fr Damien, he said it was the first film he made that his Mother wanted to see. I wonder if she wants to see this?

  2. Paul G says:

    I checked on the IMDb website, and currently this movie gets a rating of 6.5/10.
    There are comments here:


    All but 1 of these comments say it is a pretty good movie, and they simply have no interest in whether it is true or not. Is there any hope for us!!!!

    The last comment points out that the story is rubbish and has already been debunked, but as long as there is a good battle scene and a bit of love interest, who cares? Not many people, apparently.

    • Peregrinus says:

      And why should they? It’s entertainment. At least what you found on the IMDB shows no evidence of anyone taking it seriously as a historical account.

      • Paul G says:

        yes, no doubt you are right. I’m sure most of the people who saw Avatar thought is was great, then proceeded to support the mining companies against greenie zealots in every practical decision they make. All these films follow the template:
        -introduce characters
        -humorous scene with the entertaining character
        -hero and heroine misunderstand each other, followed by love scene
        -battle where 1 character dies and hero almost dies
        -hero defeats bad guy in the last 10 minutes of the film.

        As for any historical accuracy or intellectual content, who cares?

        • Peregrinus says:

          You forgot the car chase. And the scene in which one character produces a photograph of his daughter/sweetheart/dear old mum from his wallet, so that we know he is doomed to die somewhere between reels five and seven.

          The challenge is not to suppress these movies. The challenge is to teach people to read them.

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