Lying for art doesn't make it right, just hurtful - and dangerous.

Ben Affleck in Argo

Ben Affleck in Argo

First published in News
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Daily Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Editor-in-chief

It's art of course, which is why we are supposed to accept a little meddling with historical accuracy.

And if there are a few casualties along the way, a few brave people whose reputations are trashed, whole nations insulted, then, well we just have to remember, it's art, darlings, art.

As we learnt recently, even Shakespeare was at it. Some 500 years ago he trashed the reputation of Richard 111. The Bard's portrayal of the last English king to die in battle was as an archetypical villain right down to the hunched- back and withered arm. Having dug up his body and even recreated his face we now know a fair amount of Bill's characterisation was more character assassination than historical fact. No surprise really. Sucking up to the new regime, the Tudors, kept you alive in those days.

Fast forward to this week's Oscar winner for best picture and we find a nice slice of national character assassination with Ben Affleck's Argo. Telling the story of the escape from Tehran of six US diplomats, smuggled out by CIA agents with the help of the Canadian government, it is gripping stuff, portrayed as an historical drama of our times.

Part of the drama in the undoubtedly well-crafted film comes from the fact the diplomats found themselves abandoned by almost everyone, including, the film explains, the British and New Zealand embassy staff who we are told refused to help.

Which is simply untrue. In fact, the real story of the escape saw British diplomats risking their lives and that of their families to hide the diplomats in the homes of UK officials, giving them dinner, and then driving them to safety the next day. The New Zealanders did much the same. This did not prevent Mr Affleck cutting their actions from his movie, and, worse, also defaming everyone involved by accusing them of deliberately abandoning the Americans.

His excuse when challenged recently over this tampering with history? It made for a better film, he said. Fair enough. It is art after all, although Shakespeare lied to survive, quite why Ben Affleck had to I can only surmise. And there were consequences then as there is now. Shakespeare’s lies about Richard 111 helped bolster the Tudor regime who were not the nicest of people. Argo's depiction of the Brits as feckless, ungrateful, shameful allies will help politicians there to turn a blind eye should, for instance, Argentina take another pop at the Falklands or Sien Fein lobby Washington to kick the British out of Northern Ireland.

I just hope that in 500-years time someone digs up Mr Affleck's body and reconstructing his face they create it with a sorry expression on his fibbing mug and put it on display – as art, darlings, as art.

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