The History: Russ and Ridley’s swords-and-sandals epic concerns itself with the rule of Emperor Commodus in Ancient Rome. And some gubbins about a murdered wife…
The Errors: Whilst Joaquin Phoenix’s Commodus is a treacherous, incestuous, cowardly shit, the real Emperor ruled Rome quite reasonably for the best part of a decade.
And he didn’t knock off his old man either. Marcus Aurelius actually died of chickenpox! Not quite so exciting is it…
Marie Antoinette (2006)
The History: Cake-snaffling antics abound in Sofia Coppola’s glossy biopic of Marie Antoinette, with Kirsten Dunst flouncing around in a collection of chic outfits whilst enduring ongoing bedroom disappointments at the hands of hopeless hubby Jason Schwartzman.
The Errors: Whilst Coppola asserts that Marie Antoinette’s failure to conceive was down to Louis XVI’s fear of sex, historians have claimed that the real cause was almost certainly medical, with the King reportedly suffering from a delicate downstairs condition known as phimosis. Poor blighter.
The History: The first in a long line of questionable history lessons from Mel Gibson, this time charting the first war of Scottish independence. Think of him as an ageing supply teacher, reeking of booze and terrifying his students with incoherent ranting about a global Jewish conspiracy.
The Errors: Where to start? Well, how about with William Wallace, who contrary to Mel’s assertions was actually born into a noble family, with the official title of Sir William Wallace on account of his knighthood.
Then there’s the name of the film itself, which was traditionally used to refer to Robert the Bruce rather than William Wallace. And speaking of Robert the Bruce, historians claim that the film’s assertion that Robert fought on the side of the English is completely fictitious, and that he never directly betrayed Wallace at all.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that Wallace’s supposed seduction of Edward The Second’s wife is fairly problematic, given that she would have been three years old at the time. Hmm.
Lawrence Of Arabia (1962)
The History: A sweeping biopic of T.E. Lawrence, a British Army officer posted to Arabia as a liaison officer during WW1. Emotional hand-wringing abounds as Lawrence finds himself torn between his employers and his new-found desert-dwelling comrades.
The Errors: In the film, Lawrence’s servant Farraj is badly injured when a detonator he is carrying accidentally goes off. Ever the gent, Lawrence nobly puts him out of his misery with a merciful bullet in the head.
However in reality, Lawrence was faced to make no such sacrifice, with the luckless Farraj meeting his maker after being picked off by a Turkish gunman.
Pearl Harbor (2001)
The History: History gets the Michael Bay treatment, with America’s Darkest Day getting a glossy blockbuster makeover, complete with fatuous love triangle and a job-lot of explosions.
The Errors: There’s some fictional nonsense about Admiral Kimmel being on the golf course when it all kicked off (never happened, naturally), but perhaps more glaring an omission is the fact that the Japanese actually gave America several hours warning before launching their attack.
It was a communications blunder on the Americans’ side that meant the message only reached the US Secretary of State an hour after the bombs had started dropping. Not worth mentioning Michael? “Too busy…stuff to blow up.”
10,000 BC (2008)
The History: CGI-fetishist Roland Emmerich takes a careful and considered look at life on Earth 10,000 years before Christ. And by “Earth”, we mean a Flintstones-style fantasy land plucked directly from the imagination of a toddler.
The Errors: The Egyptians may have been canny operators, but even they couldn’t train mammoths to build pyramids for them, not least because there weren’t any mammoths in the middle of the desert!
Oh and while we’re at it, the pyramids they were supposedly building didn’t come along for at least another seven thousand five hundred years anyway…
The History: A biopic of the Eighteenth Century rock and roll star (or classical composer to you and me) which spends much of its duration pondering the theory that Italian composer Salieri had plotted his rival’s eventual death.
The Errors: Salieri’s supposedly murderous jealousy is fanciful at best, with Mozart’s widow trusting him enough to entrust him with tutoring her son. It is now widely accepted that the whole theory was a smear story cooked up amid the rivalry between Italian and German schools of music.
The Patriot (2000)
The History: Mad Mel puts the boot into the English for a second time, starring as a family man who becomes embroiled in the violent American Revolutionary War. Meanwhile, serial history-tweaker Roland Emmerich occupies the director’s chair…we should be in for a treat here!
The Errors: Naturally there isn’t a whiff of slavery to be found amongst the humble, God-fearing Americans, whilst the dastardly English are painted as murderous, power-crazed bastards. Prejudice aside, the facts are also fairly sketchy.
Whilst the film’s climactic Battle of Guildford Court House might have been a crowd-pleaser back in the US of A, in reality the Americans ended up on the losing side that day. Nothing a quick re-write can’t change though…
The Young Victoria (2009)
The History: Emily Blunt plays the resolutely unamused monarch in this dramatisation of the events preceding and following her coronation in 1837.
The Errors: Prince Albert was indeed a loyal consort to the Queen, but in reality he was never forced to take a bullet for her, even though several attempts were made on her life.
Screenwriter Julian Fellowes claimed his rewrite was necessary to show his, “bravery and selflessness”, although this liberty reportedly put the current Queen’s nose out of joint.
According to the News Of The World, the royal was unimpressed by the dramatic license taken, and also considered the uniforms worn by British officers to be, “too Germanic”. Bit rich coming from her…
Cold Mountain (2003)
The History: The late Anthony Minghella directs this sweeping romantic epic, following the frought journey home of a wounded deserter from the American Civil War.
The Errors: Whilst Jude Law’s character only ditches the Confederate Army after suffering a grievous injury in a calamitous battle, the real W.P. Inman was collared twice for “cowardly desertion of his post”. It’s not so easy to root for the slippery git now, is it?
The History: Hold onto your hats folks, Mel’s got his hands on the camera again. This time, the ancient Mayan civilisation gets its turn in the spotlight, with Gibson neatly boiling down the intricacies of a complex culture into just over two hours of crash-bang-wallop action.
The Errors: Mayan life is portrayed in an incredibly brutal fashion, with various unfortunates plucked from their beds in order to satisfy customs of human sacrifice.
In reality, there is no evidence of any such sacrifice being made to the Sun God Kulkullan (as happens in the film), with most people-snatching only happening in the event of war as opposed to ritual slayings.
The History: The Mouse House puts a family-friendly spin on the famous story of the Native American woman Pocahontas and the English settler John Smith.
The Errors: Being a cuddly Disney production, it would be churlish to expect gritty realism, but given that the film deals with real historical figures, it seems fair to point out that the romance between Pocahontas and Smith is utter fiction.
Whilst Pocahontas may well have intervened to save Smith’s life, she would only have been about 10 years old when she did so. Any funny business going on between the pair would have been frankly wrong. And very un-Disney…
The History: Oliver Stone’s thriller homes in on the theory that the FBI and CIA conspired to have Kennedy bumped off and runs with it, as Kev Costner’s district attorney goes in search of a conspiracy.
The Errors: A conspiracy theory is what we’re dealing here, although in Stone’s hands it’s more or less presented as fact. Not only is this subjective opinion masquerading as the truth, but some of the details are flagrantly false.
For example, Stone has one of Costner’s suspects, one David Ferrie, confessing to participating in the assassination plot. However in real life Ferrie strongly refuted such claims, even offering to take a lie-detector test to prove his innocence. Not quite giving us the full picture, are you Ollie?
The History: Spielberg turns his hand to the history of his great nation, with this retelling of the 1839 legal trial that followed an uprising on the slave ship Amistad.
The Errors: Amistad is not exactly plagued by factual errors, but it is misleading in the sense that it drastically overplays the significance the case had on slavery in America.
In fact, whilst the Atlantic slave trade was outlawed by international law in 1840, the domestic institution of slavery remained alive and well in the United States for many years to come.
The Last Samurai (2001)
The History: Tom Cruise plays a grizzled American soldier enlisted by Japanese samurai warriors with a view to Westernizing their country’s armed forces in the 19th Century. So begins a voyage of self-discovery for all concerned.
The Errors: Whilst it was true that the Japanese sought outside help in modernising their army, they largely found it amongst the French and Dutch rather than the Americans. Turning to a boozey, fortysomething Civil war vet would have been more of a last resort.
Memoirs Of A Geisha (2005)
The History: Set in pre-war Japan, the film charts a young woman’s journey from slavery to the traditional role of a Geisha, with plenty of crowd-pleasing raciness along the way…
The Errors: Sayuri’s sexual side is shamelessly overplayed throughout, particularly in the Geisha coming of age ritual known as the “mizuage”.
In reality, this process amounted to little more than a new outfit, a symbolic rite of passage rather than the sexual awakening depicted in the film. Those Hollywood types never miss a trick, do they?
Amazing Grace (2006)
The History: Set around the turn of the 19th Century, the film follows the political career of William Wilberforce as he campaigns for the eventual abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire in 1807.
The Errors: There is an argument that Wilberforce is perhaps unfairly presented as something akin to a saint, but in terms of factual errors, it’s difficult to look past the sight of Charles James Fox delivering an impassioned speech some six months after his real-life counterpart had died.
The film is probably most guilty of simplifying the events leading up to the parliamentary bill, with plenty of other historical figures having worked alongside Wilberforce in the anti-slavery movement.
Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)
The History: Queen Elizabeth the First is recast as an arse-kicking Amazonian type in this bombastic account of the latter part of her reign, the marauding Spanish Armada helpfully brining some Hollywood-friendly action to proceedings.
The Errors: Sir Walter Raleigh’s role in repelling the invaders is rather overstated, but the appearance of Ivan the Terrible as a potential suitor for our fair Queen is frankly ludicrous. The film is set in 1585, at which point poor old Ivan was long dead!
Shakespeare In Love (1998)
The History: The multi-Oscar-winning rom-com plays fast and loose with the facts, whilst managing to gloss over its historical discrepancies by keeping tongue firmly in cheek throughout.
The Errors: Seeing as there is very little we know for sure about Shakespeare’s personal life, the issue is not with the veracity of his romance with Gwyneth Paltrow’s winsome young blonde, but rather that Gwynnie is worried about being dragged off to the tobacco plantations by mean old Colin Firth. Why? Well, the tobacco plantations that didn’t spring up for a good 20 years or so after 1595 when the film is set, that’s why. Oops!
The Passion Of The Christ (2004)
The History: Mel gives us all a timely reminder that Easter isn’t just about stuffing your face with chocolate. It’s also the perfect time to spend two hours watching a man get beaten to within an inch of his life.
The Errors: Mel’s crimson-coated vision controversially casts Pontius Pilate as a well-meaning, put-upon public servant who finds himself at the mercy of an angry (and crucially, Jewish) mob.
However, historians have frequently depicted Pilate as a ruthless, dictatorial bully, who summarily crucified citizens in their hundreds. Misunderstood, apparently. A bit like Mel…
They Died With Their Boots On (1941)
The History: George Custer is the star of this successful Western charting the great war hero’s exploits in the American Civil War and the Battle Of Little Big Horn. Alarm bells should start ringing when we tell you that Custer is played by Erroll Flynn…
The Errors: The film employs a staggeringly casual relationship wtih the truth throughout, starting by explaining away Custer’s military promotion to an administrative error, rather than the deliberate move that immediately preceded Gettysburg.
Then there’s the scene in which Custer takes to a fortifying drink, completely disregarding the fact that he’d sworn off booze years earlier.
Finally there’s the portrayal of Custer as a selfless martyr to the Native American cause, in direct odds with the commonly held view among historians that Custer entered Little Big Horn on an ego trip rather than a mission of philanthropy. There’s a shaky grasp of history on display here, to say the least!
The Untouchables (1987)
The History: Brian De Palma’s Oscar-winning crime saga follows the efforts of government agent Eliot Ness in his attempts to bring down mob kingpin Al Capone in Prohibition-era Chicago.
The Errors: Eliot Ness was indeed the head of a task force charged with bringing down Capone, but whilst he and his boys were busy trying to nail him on prohibition charges, it was treasury man Franklin J Wilson who actually put him away.
Wilson was the man in charge of investigating Capone’s numerous tax violations, but Ness had the press in the palm of his hand and took the lion’s share of the credit. Naturally, the film is based on Ness’s memoirs rather than Wilson’s…
The History: This starry ensemble number charts the final few hours leading up to the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy at the Ambassador Hotel on June 5th 1968. It’s a veritable who’s who of Hollywood stars, but that doesn’t mean it gets the facts right…
The Errors: The entire story strand starring Lindsay Lohan and Elijah Wood is predicated upon the notion that if the two get married, Wood won’t be called up for national service in Vietnam.
However, US legislation had sewed up that particular loophole three years previously in 1965, rendering the whole endeavour pointless. Check your facts kids. Fools rush in!
The Far Horizons (1955)
The History: Mining similar historical themes as Pocahontas , this native-meets-settler yarn is set some 200 years later, and charts the expedition of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark into the rugged Louisiana Territory. Predictably, they soon find themselves embroiled in the lives of the natives. A little too embroiled in Clark’s case…
The Errors: The movie has Lewis and Clark run into a Native American woman named Sacagawea, who falls in love with Clark as she helps them along their way.
Trouble’s a-brewing however when the jealous Toussaint Charbonneau gets wind of developments, and sets about throwing a spanner in the works.
However, in real life, Charbonneau and Sacagawea were happily married, with Sacagawea only meeting the two explorers when they hired her husband as an interpreter. We’ve been misled!
Where Eagles Dare (1968)
The History: Clint Eastwood and Richard Burton star in this WW2-set spy film, as a pair of Allied agents staging a daring raid on a Nazi castle where an American General is being held captive.
The Errors: There are a couple of technical issues along the way that don’t quite ring true (the presence of helicopters in mass use for example), but the most glaring oversight is the fact that the General is ambushed and captured on his way to Crete.
The film is set in 1943, meaning that Crete had been occupied by the Germans for the past two years. Not the best place to pitch up if you’re an Allied officer then…
The History: Set in 1942, U-571 tells of a daring American raid on a German U-Boat in order to capture her enigma cipher machine. Altogether now…USA! USA!
The Errors: Excuse us for dredging up the facts old bean, but the first Enigma machine was actually captured by English personnel from the HMS Bulldog back in May 1941, before the Americans had actually decided to join in the conflict.
Screenwriter David Ayer eventually held his hands up, claiming events were altered “in order to drive the movie for an American audience.” What a cheek. We demand Guy Richie remake Apollo 13 immediately, with Dexter Fletcher planting a nice big Union Jack on the surface of the moon.
The Birth Of A Nation (1915)
The History: Set in the immediate aftermath of the American Civil War, this White Supremacist fantasy casts the Ku Klux Clan as patriotic heroes who stopped the post-war South from tearing itself apart amid pressures from abolitionists, freedmen and carpetbagging politicians.
The Errors: The whole film is a propaganda piece based on the now discredited Dunning School of history, a historical standpoint cooked up to justify the early 20th Century position that black Americans did not warrant equal rights as citizens.
The contribution of African Americans to the Reconstruction era has long since been established, rendering this one-eyed museum piece ridiculous in its assertions.
Battle Of The Bulge (1965)
The History: Despite sounding like a “special interest” production, the Battle of the Bulge was actually a key WW2 conflict in which the Allies scored a resounding victory over the Germans in Belgium’s Ardennes Forest. The perfect vehicle then for some traditional Hollywood flag-beating…
The Errors: All sorts of details are wrong, from the terrain down to the equipment involved! Belgium’s tricky, hilly landscape seems to be completely missing, whilst the tanks are clearly from the Korean-War era.
Meanwhile, the battle’s complex denouement has been watered down to the Germans simply running out of fuel. So shoddy was the historical research, that Eisenhower made a point of disturbing his retirement to denounce it in a press conference!
The History: Adapted from Frank Miller’s gore-spattered graphic novel, Zack Snyder’s gore-spattered film concerns itself with the 480BC clash between King Leonidas’s 300 Spartans and Xerxes’ vast Persian hordes. Guess who comes out on top?
The Errors: It’s probably fair to assume that Xerxes didn’t really have any half-goat half-man hybrids amongst his travelling party, but comic-book trappings aside, the portrayal of Spartan culture is also distinctly one-eyed.
We get plenty of guff about their prowess in battle, but surprisingly little about the popularity of slavery and pedastry, a rather sickly tradition involving sex with minors. Leonidas even has the front to call the Athenians “boy-lovers.” Pot? Kettle?
The Alamo (1960)
The History: John Wayne directs, produces and stars in this retelling of the 1836 Battle of The Alamo, in which the good ol’ boys of Texas drove out those pesky Mexican invaders. Yee-ha!
The Errors: Again, the errors aren’t so much of a problem as the lack of context, with the complexities of the Texas Revolution brushed aside in favour of a surfeit of rootin’ tootin’ action.
Wayne’s historical advisers were so dismayed by the finished article they requested their names be removed from the credits, whilst Alamo historian Timothy Todish said, “there is not a single scene in The Alamo which corresponds to a historically verifiable incident.” Ouch.
Robin Hood (2010)
The History: Russell and Ridley ride roughshod over another period of history, this time turning their attentions to the Anglo-French conflicts of the 12th Century.
The Errors: Whilst Robin himself is too mythical a figure to make any sound claims about, there are some shocking misrepresentations on show in the film’s historical context.
Scott has the French King Philip Augustus attempting to invade England, when in reality his goal was actually to retake French soil from the English.
Indeed, after Richard the Lionheart’s death, it was King John who sent English invaders into France rather than vice-versa. The French didn’t pitch up in England until 1216!
Glory Road (2006)
The History: The stirring true story of basketball coach Don Haskins, the first man to field an all-black lineup in the 1966 NCAA Men’s Division 1 Championship. Think Ron Atkinson, without the sheepskin.
The Errors: East Texas State University comes in for some serious vilification, with their fans portrayed as racist hillbillies, abusing Haskins’ players and pelting them with drinks and popcorn.
Having established the event to be fabricated, the University demanded an apology from makers Disney, who would only concede that the film was “not meant to be a documentary”. Hmmm.
The Charge Of The Light Brigade (1936)
The History: Set during the Crimean War, this is the extremely loose retelling of the famous Charge of the Light Brigade culminating in the Battle of Balaklava. It’s Erroll Flynn again, so expect a healthy quotient of bullshit…
The Errors: “The 27th Lancers” didn’t exist for a start, and the motivation behind the charge is completely bungled as well. In the film, the manoeuvre is a direct plan to invade the Russian camp, whereas in reality it was the result of a command mix-up between Lord Cardigan and Lord Raglan.
Finally, the film has the Battle of Balaklava directly resulting in the fall of Sebastopol, a total fabrication.
The History: “You were only supposed to blow the bloody…”, wait, wrong film. This is the one where Michael Caine and chums fend of hordes of spear-chucking Zulus in a recreation of the 1879 Battle of Rorke’s Drift.
The Errors: The famous outfits, now iconic due to the film’s popularity, were wildly inaccurate, with British infantrymen actually wearing tan-coloured helmets rather than the sparkling white headgear shown on screen.
Also, the battle took place in late afternoon going on evening, rather than the early-morning start shown in the film. Finally, poor old Private Henry Hook was a teetotaller, rather than the shambling boozehound portrayed by James Booth. Talk about besmirching a man’s character…
Chariots Of Fire (1981)
The History: The Oscar-winning story of Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams, a pair of athletes who competed at the 1924 Olympics.
The Errors: The movie has devout Christian Liddell only finding out his 100-metre heat is to be held on a Sunday (a day he refuses to race on) when he is travelling to Paris for the games.
Dramatic stuff, although in reality, Liddell knew the date of his heat months in advance, allowing him to change tack and prepare for the 400-metre competition instead.
Mississippi Burning (1988)
The History: Alan Parker’s hard-hitting crime drama tells the tale of three political activists who were lynched in Mississippi in 1964, with Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe playing a pair of fictional Feds charged with investigating the case.
The Errors: The film has been heavily criticized for portraying the FBI as an honourable vanguard of civil-rights protectors, whilst many historians have suggested they were a reluctant presence throughout proceedings.
In addition to this, the depiction of African Americans as passive victims has also come under fire for skewing the presentation of the murders, in which the black victim James Chaney actually took the lead in trying to escape the trio’s assailants.
Black Hawk Down (2001)
The History: Ridley Scott adapts Mark Bowden’s book of the same name charting the Battle of Mogadishu, a US raid in Somalia to capture Warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid.
The Errors: The main gripe to be levelled at Scott’s film is that it suggests that the Americans were working alone in Somalia, when in fact the battle was a joint undertaking with Malysian and Pakistani troops.
Indeed, Brigadier-General Abdul Latif-Ahmed, a Malaysian commander who fought in Mogadishu, complained that the film gave the Americans all the credit whilst the Malaysian forces were, “mere bus-drivers to ferry them out.”
The History: Don Bluth plays around with Russian history to tell the tale of young Anastasia Romanov, the Tsar’s youngest daughter who is done out of her royal birthright when those pesky serfs rise up in the Russian Revolution in 1917.
The Errors: It’s an openly fictionalised spin on Russian history, but quite a breathtaking one in the sense that the Romanovs are presented as a cheerful, goodhearted bunch rather than the pampered autocrats who starved a country to its knees. “Anastasia uses history only as a starting point,” claim Fox. That’s that cleared up then…
The History: Colin Farrell gets the peroxide out in this ponderous biopic of Alexander the Great, covering everything from his conflicted relationship with his mum to the conquest of the Persian Empire in 331 BC.
The Errors: The film’s big finish takes some serious liberties with the Battle of Hydaspes, which was actually fought at night on a barren plain in the pouring rain, rather than on a sunny afternoon in the forest. It is also not the case that Alexander was gravely wounded by an arrow in the conflict.
That wasn’t to happen until a completely different battle held later that year.
Escape From New York (1981)
The History: John Carpenter’s low-key American documentary focuses on a New York that has become a giant prison by the year 1997. Wait, what?
The Errors: Stupid old Carpenter really screwed up with this one. New York hadn’t become a giant prison by 1997! It hasn’t even become one now! Geez, what a crank…wait, maybe we should give it a second look. Ohhhhhhhhhhh…