'Hyde Park,' 'Lincoln' and more films give history a leading role

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In "Hyde Park on Hudson," the retelling of the visit of the king and queen of England to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in upstate New York in 1939, there's a particularly remarkable scene: Roosevelt's mother — who owned the house where everyone stayed — had purchased a brand-new toilet seat for the royals. But after they left she returned it to the store where she bought it. The shop owner was delighted, hanging the seat in his front window. That's in the movie — and it happened in real life.

"People will think that was made up," says screenwriter Richard Nelson. "But that's hard to make up, and it's all true."

Writing historically based films — whether in invented worlds or periods of actual history — can be tricky: Truth is often stranger than fiction, yet writers must fictionalize on some level to make the truth both understood by audiences and to stay true to the period. In such films as "Hyde Park," "Argo," "Hitchcock," "Moonrise Kingdom," "Lincoln" and "Not Fade Away," each screenwriter wrestled with different demons to create verisimilitude along with the action, adventure and, well, history....

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