Eight blockbuster films that got history wrong

Mary Queen of Scots is set to be one of the biggest box office releases of 2019.

This period drama has had everyone talking for months - although not always for the right reasons.

The historical inaccuracies in Mary Queen of Scots have dominated the headlines since its US premiere, but it’s far from the first film to have been 'creative' with history. Here are some of the culprits we just couldn’t ignore.

Mary Queen of Scots

The trailer released for Mary Queen of Scots in 2018 promised a gripping biopic of the two royal cousins, Mary and Elizabeth, and alluded to tensions between England and Scotland bubbling away during their reigns. It also showed an emotional meeting, during which Mary pleads with Elizabeth to stop the fighting and unite as sisters to survive in a man's world.

But… the cousins never actually met face to face. Some historians say that if the queens had met, Elizabeth might have felt differently about sanctioning Mary’s tragic ending. So, that’s pretty significant then.

Another inaccuracy might surprise you. You may think that the Queen of Scotland would definitely have had a Scottish accent, right? Wrong. Mary grew up in France and therefore would almost certainly have had a French accent, unlike Mary in the film who sounds very Scottish indeed.

Saoirse Ronan (Queen Mary) and Margot Robbie (Queen Elizabeth I) at the premiere of Mary Queen of Scots.
Saoirse Ronan (Queen Mary) and Margot Robbie (Queen Elizabeth I) at the premiere of Mary Queen of Scots.

The Favourite

Olivia Colman with her Golden Globe for Best Actress
Olivia Colman with her Golden Globe for Best Actress.

The Favourite has won multiple awards already and is tipped to do very well at the Oscars, too. It’s actually been praised for its accurate portrayal of Queen Anne having (what would then have been) illicit relationships with women in her service, albeit the film over-exaggerated them.

But one crucial part never happened - Emma Stone’s character Abigail Hill didn’t attempt to murder her cousin Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, played by Rachel Weisz. It’s certainly possible that they had a strong dislike for one another, but in reality Abigail never put poison in her Sarah's tea. Why let truth get in the way of a good plot twist though, eh?

Titanic

Rose and Jack attempting to escape Titanic
Titanic is one of three films to have won the most Oscars of all time: 11.

This multi Oscar-winning epic isn’t free from errors, either.

In the film, Rose DeWitt Bukater’s mother looks up at the vessel and says: "So, this is the ship they say is unsinkable." But it’s unlikely she would have said this.

Historians have long disputed the claim that everyone thought The RMS Titanic was impossible to sink. It’s apparently been overstated by movie-makers to make it seem even more prophecy-like when it did eventually end up on the ocean floor.

The Sound of Music

Maria in Sound of Music
Approximately 6.5 million tourists visit the actual hill from the opening scene in Salzburg, Austria every year.

How do you solve a problem like this film? It’s based on a real-life family (the von Trapps), a real-life Maria (played by Julie Andrews) and a real-life story, but the film doesn’t stay entirely true to reality.

The main issue is the family’s escape. In the film, the von Trapp family wants to escape Austria after Captain von Trapp is conscripted into the Nazi navy, but refuses. If the von Trapp family had indeed run away in the direction of the Alps, and travelled through them, they would have ended up in Nazi Germany - the last place they wanted to be. The famous family of singers actually escaped over some train tracks into Italy. In reality, they did it in the nick of time, too - the Austrian borders were closed the very next day.

Bohemian Rhapsody

Freddie Mercury at Live Aid
Roughly 170,000 people went to the Live Aid concerts in London and Philadelphia, and an estimated 1.5 billion people watched it worldwide.

Bohemian Rhapsody was one of the most hotly anticipated films of 2018, and has been very successful at both the UK and American box office. However, rather than stick closely to the facts of Freddie Mercury’s life, it arguably took some ‘very, very frightening’ liberties.

Fat Bottomed Girls is one example. In the film, the song is performed on Queen’s first tour of America in 1974, but in reality it wasn’t released until October 1978, with Bicycle Race accompanying it.

Also, in the film the band break up just before Live Aid in 1985 - but this never really happened. They did however take a break in 1983, purely because they were all exhausted after touring for 10 years. Who can blame them?

The Imitation Game

Benedict Cumberbatch filming The Imitation Game
In the film, the code-breaking machine is called Christopher, whereas in reality it was called the Bombe.

The main cause of upset in The Imitation Game was that it implied that Alan Turing had reluctantly colluded with a Soviet spy to protect the traitor’s identity, in return for the said spy not telling the world that Turing was gay, at a time when homosexuality was illegal.

In reality, there was a spy called John Cairncross (the character in the film is also called this) working at Bletchley Park during World War Two. However, he was in a completely different section from Turing, whereas in the film they’re shown as working together in the same hut. Due to security being so tight at Bletchley, they almost certainly would never have met.

Lots of people were outraged by this aspect of the film, as Turing’s code-breaking machine helped win World War Two, and painting him as a potential traitor was felt to be disrespectful to his legacy.

Gladiator

Russell Crowe in Gladiator
A Gladiator sequel is now apparently in the pipeline - 18 years after the original was released.

Interestingly, the team behind Gladiator specifically hired a few history consultants to ensure accuracy in the film, but they still managed to get some quite important elements wrong.

Two significant deaths in the film deviated quite far from the truth. Firstly, the Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, is shown being murdered by his son, Commodus. In fact, he died of natural causes.

Speaking of Commodus, he’s portrayed as being killed in the gladiator arena by Maximus, but he was actually murdered in the bath by a professional wrestler called Narcissus. Arguably, that’s a much more dramatic demise.

Braveheart

Braveheart
Mel Gibson sported a very brave mullet when playing William Wallace.

No article about historical inaccuracies in movies would be complete if it didn’t mention Braveheart. To start with, William Wallace, who led the Scottish rebellion against Edward I, was never awarded the title of ‘Braveheart’. It was actually given to Robert the Bruce, who in real life became the King of Scots. Also, in reality Robert didn’t betray William. We could just leave it there.

There’s more though: William’s kilt wouldn’t have existed when he was alive. Braveheart is set in the 13th century, and kilts weren’t invented until the 16th century. Oops. Clansmen would have actually worn yellow tunics called ‘leine croich’ in battle, dyed with either saffron if they were wealthy, or urine if they weren’t.

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