Oh, Captain Von Trapp. Look at you with your whistle and your stern authoritarian ways, your children who just need love and music and a singing nun! And later you will also need a secret crafty plan to escape from the Nazis. Oh the drama!
Over the Christmas period, with ‘Do-Re-Mi’ and ‘Sixteen Going On Seventeen’ and ‘Something Good’ echoing in my head as The Sound of Music turned up on various channels, I went a-looking at the historical accuracy, or rather inaccuracy, of the film. I’d always had a vague sense that it had probably been amped up a little bit from the tale of the Von Trapp Family Singers, but I hadn’t quite realised:
- Maria didn’t really love the Captain!
- They went into singing for cash!
- You can’t get to Switzerland that way!
Next thing you’ll be telling me Christopher Plummer has sometimes said rather grouchy things about his role in the fi – oh, wait.
The thing is, even very cool stories need things tightened up and twisted and improved for the purposes of story. It works better if the Captain is super-strict rather than just a normal father, if he’s rich and distant instead of struggling financially; it works better if Maria connects with all the children rather than just one; it works better if they’re just married at the time of the Anschluss; it works better if they perform a rousing super-Austrian song in front of an audience and then sneakily escape over the mountains rather than hop on a train in broad daylight.
When you’re creating a story, even if it’s based on real-life stuff, you need to think about what works better instead of what really happened. If the story of a singing ‘n’ dancing family, with an almost-nun as the maternal figure, emigrating to America to avoid the Nazi regime, needs some tweaking, it is probably safe to say most real-life events might benefit from that ‘artistic license’ thing.