For decades Hollywood has treated its audiences like morons, straitjacketing complex historical issues into goodies versus baddies. A classic example is the recent release Valkyrie, in which the German generals' assassination plot against Hitler is presented as having been launched in order to promote human rights and the decent treatment of minorities. The fact that Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, the undeniably brave would-be assassin described Poles as "an unbelievable rabble" of "Jews and mongrels" is conveniently forgotten.
The Young Victoria, released in Britain next month, could not be more different. In it we experience the joy of witnessing the highly political Bedchamber Crisis of 1839 being acted out between the Whig Lord Melbourne and the Tory Sir Robert Peel, something I never thought I would ever see on the silver screen. Like A Man For All Seasons and Oliver Cromwell, two excellent historical movies also based closely on fact, Victoria works because the viewer is not patronised or told what to think.
A movie with a scene about The Bedchamber Crisis? I'm about to faint. Could a movie about the repeal of the Corn Laws be far off? Snap out of it. Snap. Out. Of. It.
It is probably too much to hope that Hollywood has fundamentally altered its view of the English – we are still the minority it's totally safe to be racist towards – but Victoria allows us a glimpse of how good Hollywood history movies could be if they didn't exude such prejudice against us and our past.
I'm not sure if racist is quite the word. The older usage of race roughly corresponds to ethnicity today. In the modern sense the British are not a race, nor are they really an ethnicity. Though Canadian census forms do consider British to be an ethnicity. British is a nationality (unless Mr Salmond has his way). It's a quibble, I know. Roberts' essential point is correct. There are things you get away with saying and implying about Britain and the British that would land you before a court in many countries, if said about anyone else.