Can a movie present itself as historical, grossly distort the facts, and still be considered good art?
Yes. Actually, I would take a position diametrically opposed to Becks’s; basically, if historical accuracy would make for worse art, then the artist pretty much has a responsibility to ignore it. Of course, given that I haven’t seen the play and have an extreme Ron Howard aversion Becks may well be right about the effects of historical inaccuracy in the specific case of Frost/Nixon; I certainly can’t say. But, for example, I remember being extremely annoyed that so much discussion about Jim Sheridan’s largely forgotten but superb In The Name of the Father focused on alleged historical inaccuracies rather than on the (very high) quality of the film. If strict literal accuracy would have made for worse drama, a good artist’s choice is obvious, and I would say that fiction’s value as a work of art is almost entirely independent from its historical accuracy whether we’re talking about Shakespeare or contemporaneous filmmakers.