One of the crucial scenes in The King's Speech is also one of its funniest. The future King George VI, played by Colin Firth, makes a last-ditch visit to the quirky Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). He is desperate for anything that might cure his stammer and enable him to speak to his people. Logue invites him to swear, and read from Shakespeare while listening to music at full blast. Most of all, Logue refuses to be deferential to royalty. He tells the then Prince Albert Frederick Arthur George that he will call him Bertie.
Such a form of address is not only amusing, it plays a large part in humanising Firth's character. Unfortunately, as Logue's granddaughter told the BBC last month, he never spoke to him in such a pally fashion. And, thanks in no small part to the film's spectacular success, history hawks have been circling around The King's Speech, up for 12 Academy awards next month.
Last week, Christopher Hitchens called it a "gross falsification of history" in Slate magazine, saving most of his ire for the way Churchill is portrayed as a friend of "Bertie", counselling him to take over during the abdication crisis which is at the centre of the film. In fact, Churchill was a close ally of his brother Edward VIII, whom Hitchens refers to as a "pro-Nazi playboy".
Do such inaccuracies matter? After all, nobody is seriously suggesting The King's Speech is a documentary, and the reason it works so well is the great drama. The reaction of cinema audiences around the world has been to burst into spontaneous rounds of applause when the credits roll: proof enough that any artistic licence on the part of the scriptwriters has built a strong, believable bond between the film's two main characters. In the end, it's a story about overcoming personal difficulty rather than a royalist period drama.
Still, it remains a story based on historical events in which the screenwriter changed what actually happened to suit his narrative - and many of the big films in this awards season have been similarly unafraid to play fast and loose with strict veracity. The Social Network is a hugely enjoyable exploration of the birth of the billion-dollar social networking site Facebook. And, as with The King's Speech, fashioning a compelling story was more important for the screenwriter Aaron Sorkin than sticking rigidly to the facts.
"I don't want my fidelity to be to the truth, I want it to be to storytelling," he told New York magazine - and the film's producer Scott Rudin admitted at the Golden Globes awards ceremony last month that Mark Zuckerberg's story was more of a "metaphor through which to tell a story about communication and the way we relate to each other".
So there is plenty of fiction in The Social Network. The framing device for the whole enterprise - that Zuckerberg built Facebook because he was upset by his girlfriend's leaving him (the movie's first scene) - has been refuted by Zuckerberg himself. But we can cope with that, because the rest is broadly accurate within the confines of what we might expect of a good drama. And it had to feel real, too. After all, watching a made-up story about a fictitious social networking site wouldn't have made any sense when the spectacular story of Facebook is already out there.
But we're so used to such minor embellishments in Hollywood these days, it's become almost a natural reaction to scurry to the internet after watching films like these to check how much was actually fiction. And the lasting impression such movies make often depends on how deep the invention goes. In Frost/Nixon, the Oscar-nominated tale of President Richard Nixon's televised interviews with David Frost, it was somewhat disappointing to learn that a film with the tagline "400 million people were waiting for the truth" actually bent that truth quite significantly. Frost and Nixon never had the late-night phone call which is at that film's very heart, and the British interviewer never really teased out the president's very public admissions - Nixon's biographer has written that the decision to make his mea culpa had already been made before the programme even began.
But Frost/Nixon does feel like a slight anachronism these days. The instant availability of every possible fact on the internet has undeniably made the kinds of barely believable dramas we were party to 15 years ago less prevalent. While, in 2011, Danny Boyle's 127 Hours is perhaps the most accurate "true" film ever nominated for Best Picture, the Oscar winner in 1995 was Braveheart, which must be the most hilarious example of not letting the facts get in the way of a good story: earthy man of the people William Wallace fights for Scottish freedom from the English in a kilt, finding love with Queen Isabella of France along the way. It appeared not to matter that Wallace wasn't actually a poor villager but a rich knight, nor that Isabella was two years old at the time the film was set. And the kilt? Not even invented for another 300 years.
Five years later, Gladiator would follow in Braveheart's footsteps, winning the Best Picture Oscar despite a rather economical relationship with the truth. Joaquin Phoenix's Commodus treats his sister Lucilla appallingly and murders his father Marcus Aurelius before the elderly emperor can hand the throne to Russell Crowe's trustworthy general, Maximus. Maximus's subsequent career as a gladiator slave and his conflict with Commodus makes for fine drama, but rather overshadows the real story: that Marcus Aurelius, rather prosaically, died of a virus. Not quite so dramatic, is it? By that rationale, directors of the 1990s would have had no qualms in completely inventing a monarchical stammer.
Of course, it's not just film that's economical with the truth. Literature has just as many examples, including James Frey's notorious misery memoir, A Million Little Pieces, which was revealed as fiction to millions of people on Oprah Winfrey's show. It was first offered to publishing houses as a novel, and Frey continued to stand by the book as being the "essential truth of my life". There was a much publicised offer by Random House to refund any readers who felt duped. But it was barely taken up - indeed, most of the book's five million sales came after the controversy.
Does this suggest truth isn't important? Not necessarily. But it's telling that historical fiction has been the dominant literary form in recent years. Books such as Hilary Mantel's Booker-winning Wolf Hall (about Thomas Cromwell) and Barbara Kingsolver's Orange Prize-snaffling The Lacuna (featuring Frida Kahlo and Leon Trotsky) have been so successful because they've found an emotional truth in the famous people they feature; a truth that perhaps a straight biography would have struggled to discover.
And in the end, it's the emotional truth of The King's Speech that allows us to empathise with a king and makes the film such a success, rather than the veracity of the political situation in late 1930s England. It's why it deserves to clean up this awards season. Even if it was only his family who knew him as Bertie.