3 Ways to Use Movies for Research

Little Women Movie poster 1949

If their hair looks more like when the movie was made than when it was set 1880’s Girl recommends extreme caution about using it as research

When turning to Hollywood it is vital to keep in mind the sometimes free and liberal use of artistic license but even so here are 3 ways to make the most of what a film has to offer a novice researcher.

1st–Visual Inspiration

I think all of us look to the movies to take us back in time so that for a couple of wonderful hours we can immerse ourselves in an other time and place. If however you are using a movie as research you want to check its credentials. Generally the older the movie the less attention they paid to historical accuracy.

A well researched movie with plenty of attention to window dressing can supply useful information about clothing and hair styles, what modes of transport actually looked like, the architecture, gardening or interior decorating of the time.

2nd–Making of Featurettes

This is the most useful resource. BBC movies on DVD have especially good featurettes on how the sets and costumes were researched, and how the time period was brought to life. There is lots of information to glean so settle in with your pen and paper and prepare to take notes.


This is the poor cousin of featurettes. Some movies desperate for extra features to attract buyers but who for reasons of money, time or taste did not make a featurette so they settle for a Gallery. These are usually for clothes but can include buildings and gardens as well.  Pay attention to the sources they just might lead you to new lines of research.

Movies are also really good to get you in the mood, to inspire you to sit at the computer or take up your pen and finish that work of historical fiction.  

Or maybe it has made you curious wanting to know more, raising more questions than it answered and that’s good too.

Happy Researching!



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