Historical mistakes in books and movies

(112 Posts)
Penelope1980 Tue 25-Sep-12 22:27:52

Hello! I thought this would be a good place to ask you what your top pet peeves are in historical books and movies as, as history lover, it is something which interests me. Do you mind when things aren't right? Or does it make you seethe? What specifically do you hate the most? Are you ever forgiving of mistakes, modern language, modern haircuts etc? Or, are you usually so busy enjoying the book or movie to notice?

I find I don't mind a good historical bodice-ripper as can usually get carried away in the story, or most movies set in the past, but am really intolerant of the following:

- when a true historical character is painted a villain when there is no proof that they were. Case that springs to mind is Murdoch in the movie Titanic, who is painted a bad guy with no real proof that he was.

- When in books set hundred of years ago all the 'good' characters have modern values (especially regarding gender, race and class) and the 'bad' characters have the values of the time. I find this presentism irritating, and a bit condescending.

Interested in your thoughts ...

TunipTheUnconquerable Tue 10-Jun-14 07:30:09

Just wanted to reanimate the thread and add: whenever there's a falconry scene they always use Harris hawks because they're cheap, easy to train and look impressive for the camera. The White Queen had one, as did the 2004 King Arthur film.
Problem is, they're American. There are wild colonies in England now, but that happened literally in the last few decades.

orangeandemons Wed 05-Jun-13 19:12:58

Costume faux pas drive me mad, especially recent ones. I couldn't watch Ashes to Ashes, as her 80's clothes were so

TunipTheVegedude Wed 05-Jun-13 19:06:03

Been reading some Suzannah Dunn novels about Tudors. She likes using modern language to make speech sound more natural. This is fine. I certainly see her point about it being better than all the affected formality historical novelists often like. But she keeps using modern ideas and metaphors. Airlock, I was dubious about. Double take was a bit distracting since it so obviously comes from cinema. But really, Anne Boleyn did not serve Henry VIII a cream tea. She just didn't.

Saltire Wed 05-Jun-13 18:45:48

80sbabe - Ds2 came home from school (primary) and told DH and I "Bloody Mary was also known as Mary Queen of Scots".
erm no she wasn't.

I also get very annoyed at Braveheart, and all the "we won the war with no help from anyone else" american films.

just be accurate!

TunipTheVegedude Thu 30-May-13 21:22:27

I watched the episode of The Tudors that was on after Anne Boleyn the other night and they were riding around in Victorian carriages wearing very odd clothes.
Still fun though.

Where is the Israel van in The Sound of Music ?

limitedperiodonly Sat 25-May-13 13:04:59

Historical accuracy is not the point of The Tudors laqueen grin

Public Enemies had Pretty Boy Floyd and Baby Face Nelson dying in completely the wrong order and wrong places, but as it had Johnny Depp in it, who was technically too old to play John Dillinger, I was willing to overlook that.

LaQueen Sat 25-May-13 10:38:35

I have the box-set of The Tudors sitting on my shelf.

But, I simply can't bring myself to watch it, since someone mentioned that in it, they have Henry's sister Mary marrying the King of Portugal hmm

WTAF angry

TunipTheVegedude Thu 02-May-13 09:21:54

I've found a fabulous one. 'Rivals in the Tudor Court' by Darcy Bonnette. It has lace dresses, mahogany tables, and.....

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Wed 13-Mar-13 01:36:35


ZebraOwl Wed 13-Mar-13 00:18:09

Sadly the people responsible for it seem to have vanished, but History Spork has excellent - and incredibly funny - deconstructions of History By Hollywood that I think people on this thread would prolly enjoy grin

unitarian Thu 28-Feb-13 11:13:51

Two authors who have done extensive research - Dorothy Dunnett and Neal Stephenson.
As SummerRain says upthread, Stephenson uses dramatic licence. But you do learn a hell of a lot!

TheDoctrineOfSciAndNatureClub Tue 26-Feb-13 19:47:23

YY re U571 - had forgotten that "US capture" part till now. Grr.

deleted203 Mon 25-Feb-13 14:25:18

The thing about Errol Flynn was that, as a naturalised American citizen in 1942, he became eligible for the draft when the USA entered the war and was completely rejected. He had a heart murmur and he had already suffered at least one heart attack. He had recurrent malaria, chronic back pain (for which he self-medicated with morphine and later, with heroin), lingering chronic tuberculosis, and numerous venereal diseases. (Lovely!) Flynn, famous for his athletic roles and promoted as a paragon of physical beauty, was classified 4-F – unqualified for military service because of not meeting the minimum physical fitness standards.

I suspect Hollywood studios did not want to publicise just how physically defective he actually was and a lot of people regarded him as a draft dodger, which increased dislike of his 'war' movies!

Greydog Mon 25-Feb-13 12:03:16

Like one of the other posters on here I am a re enactor, and have spent many hours telling people what they see on the screen is not what happened. Husband spent an hour explaining to one group of people that Braveheart was not a documentary. When the Da Vinci code came out - because I speak about religion in medieval times - I spoke to dozens of punters who believed that the whole thing was true. In the end I resorted to explaining it was Harry Potter for grown ups! U571 is a really dreadful one, ignoring the sacrifice of the British who captured the machine. It puts me in mind of the Errol Flynn films that were so dislike by the British, and there's a famous cartoon of Flynn after (I think) a film called Objective Burma, with the ghost of a tommy saying to Flynn "Excuse me, Mr. Flynn, you're sitting on some graves" That film was withdrawn from British cinemas.

ZebraOwl Thu 07-Feb-13 03:01:08

Oooh, just been reminded: all the films where the Americans win WWII all on their own.

U-571 is one that instantly leaps to mind, claiming it was US submariners who first captured an Enigma machine. It's bad enough when it's a general "la la la we won the war with our awesome" but warping a specific story like this is just... Leaving aside the Bad History & the perpetuation of the We Won The War For Them myth in the US, it is a pretty shabby way to treat the [memory of] the British personnel who were involved in the first capture of an Enigma machine before America even came into the war!

Then of course there's The Great Escape - no Americans were in the camp then much less involved in the escape. As for the motorbike ridiculousness!

LineRunner Wed 06-Feb-13 01:10:22


What can I say. It was only after twenty viewings that I finally dragged my eyes away from Russell Crowe enough to see it was not entirely historically accurate. Still like it, though.

The awnings over the provincial arena were well done.

RM76 Wed 06-Feb-13 00:57:52

'Pet Peeve' is the right phrase, mine is:

Gladiator (yes, I don't know why I watched it either)
A German Shepherd, Really????

deleted203 Wed 06-Feb-13 00:51:08

Braveheart. Makes me cringe that there are so many, many historical inaccuracies. Wallace was killed in 1305. Edward I died in 1307. Edward II married Isabella in 1308. Hmmm...yet she had met, shagged and got up the duff by Wallace in time to tell Edward I about it on his death bed?

I absolutely hate any film based on history that then makes up its own story, to be honest. If you are basing it on real people then at least make it bloody accurate.

What really drives me mad about these films is that so many people will happily believe all this, not knowing any better.

ZebraOwl Wed 06-Feb-13 00:37:46

Argh, yes, the kissing, the kissing! It seems as though film/programme-makers think we won't understand the relationship unless we get to see a tonsil-tennis match taking place.

Bad History makes me have All The Rage in all contexts though. I watched a C5 "History" programme once & got in such a froth my friend got freaked out by my ranting. Ahem. I get just as cross when I hear Bad History in real life: as a Young Leader I almost bit a hole in my tongue not correcting the Brownie Guider who made a throwaway comment about Churchill spending his evenings at Number 10 watching TV. During WWII. I could have wept. Living in London I overhear vastly more than my share of Bad History, too, as there is so much History Stuff & so many people admiring it that the idiots who like to show off their "knowledge" are there in strength. On a related note, what is wrong with adults who blatantly make up answers rather than admitting they don't know?!

Have got all History Cross now, thinking about Bad History. A History Fit, maybe? Grump/

sarahtigh Sat 05-Jan-13 18:36:35

well not so much movies but in any ancient history programme when they find a skeleton of child they immediately seem to think child sacrifice rather than it probably died in infancy from infection or one of the numerous causes of infant mortality and then in last two minutes after all their research yes the child did just die young

even in history if you hear hooves think horses not zebras

kickassangel Thu 27-Dec-12 20:43:09

C sections have been around for a long time but the mothers didn't usually survive. I am very glad to have access to modern medicine (would be dead now without it)

kickassangel Thu 27-Dec-12 20:41:13

The other Boleyn girl is one of those where Mary is given modern ideals with no reason to do that than to gain our sympathies for the character, e.g. She always wanted to be with her son and let him run/kick freely, she saw Henry as an oversized child etc. she may have done,or she may have been a jealous shrew who only cared about trying to keep her position and only headed to the countryside when it was obvious it was that or lose her head.

Astralabe Thu 27-Dec-12 20:18:50

Not sure if anyone has mentioned it but nitpickers is a good website if you like this kind of thing - with my History class we used it to spot the inaccuracies in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves (there were many!)

DioneTheDiabolist Thu 27-Dec-12 15:47:42

Caesarian sections have been done for millennia. They are not a modern invention.

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