I have not seen Lincoln yet–it feels too much like work– but I may reconsider after reading something yesterday. An excellent paper about James Wilson by Nicholas Pedersen (published in 2010) points out that one reason his modern reputation is poor is that he was depicted (inaccurately) as a loser in the musical 1776. I must admit that it’s been a long time since I’ve seen that movie, so it’s not something that I remembered. Still, it’s worth thinking about.
I’m kind of wondering who else might fall into this category of “popular culture has treated them badly.” Richard III might be a good example, though I don’t know enough about the War of the Roses to say. When it comes to Americans, William Jennings Bryan comes to mind. Most people who watch Inherit the Wind know that it is a thinly veiled portrayal of Bryan and the Scopes Trial, though they don’t typically know that its not an accurate version. Any other nominees?