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Historical mistakes in books and movies

(133 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 ...

LineRunner Tue 25-Sep-12 22:32:15

I find many depictions of Jesus pretty daft, all wafting blue-eyed pretty boys with Daz washed kaftans.

Graham Chapman's Brian was more authentic.

bureni Tue 25-Sep-12 22:36:59

In the original Titanic film "A night to Remember" the opening scene shows the Titanic being launched and christened in Belfast, no ships were ever christened by Harland an Wolff shipyard.

BestIsWest Sun 30-Sep-12 00:43:31

Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet has peasants grinding up horse chestnuts for flour during the 13th Century. According to Earthly Joys by Philippa Gregory
horse chestnuts were introduced to Britain by John Tradescant during the rule of Charles I.

Now one of them must be wrong. I read them one after the other and haven't read a historical novel since because I can't trust them.

SummerRain Sun 30-Sep-12 00:49:38

Professor Google says Ken Follet is wrong on that one BestIsWest (I still love that book though!)

Sweet Chestnuts however were introduced by the Romans.... did he specify which type of chestnut? I can't remember

imperialstateknickers Sun 30-Sep-12 00:52:47

I'd go with Philippa Gregory rather than Ken Follett. Sweet Chestnuts were introduced by the Romans, Horse Chestnuts were introduced (for their flowers/foliage) by Tradescant.

Ken's good but he does bog up sometimes, and also has characters with modern political sensibilities but wearing wimples far too often.

imperialstateknickers Sun 30-Sep-12 00:58:55

Going back to the original post... it depends on how good the book/film/tv series is. 'Rome' was historically tosh, although there were odd bits of extreme accuracy - beyond the needs of the story. But it was so hugely entertaining we watched it with joy. 'The Tudors' out of the same stable wound me up too much though.
I was reading something the other day, when a massive, fundamental anachronism made me lurch. Will remember what it was (probably in the middle of the night) and post it. It really damaged the experience for me - a shame, as I'd been thoroughly enjoying it.

BestIsWest Sun 30-Sep-12 00:58:56

I'm pretty sure it was Horse chestnuts but I could be wrong! It was a few years ago. Can you recommend me any historical novels I can trust?

TodaysAGoodDay Sun 30-Sep-12 01:36:11

I used to be a florist, and get very p**sed off when historical dramas use flowers that weren't even around during the film period. Grr.

Penelope1980 Sun 30-Sep-12 05:25:33

It's hard to know what you can trust as one small mistake just leaves me wondering what else I have missed. Although, as imperial says, if what I'm watching is good enough, I can forgive it.

line your post reminds me of a racist fundamentalist I knew once who used to get really worked up at the suggestion Jesus may have been dark, or at least olive skinned.

My best friend is an expert on historical dresses, and after listening to years of talk lectures about the subject notice now the over-use of crinolines in historical fiction considering they weren't worn for all that long

notcitrus Sun 30-Sep-12 05:29:23

My mother is a historian of the Victorian/Edwardian period. Her pet peeve is the lack of authentic table manners on TV/in films, and now I notice that too.

SummerRain Sun 30-Sep-12 10:43:25

BIW .. Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle is good if you like science/maths. His interpretation of historical figures uses a lot of dramatic licence but in terms of giving you a feel for the culture and knowledge of the time I really enjoyed them.

TunipTheVegemal Sun 30-Sep-12 11:14:59

Costume mistakes bug me because I used to be a re-enactor and they are always exceedingly picky about clothes. One pet peeve is lace in medieval historical novels (the word 'lace' was used but it meant silk cord rather than white frothy stuff). I have noticed the crinoline thing too.

The way on films and tv, the good male characters are clean shaven while the baddies have authentic facial hair for the period.

nickeldaisical Mon 01-Oct-12 12:47:59

oh, yes, facial hair makes me laugh - considering there are several periods of history where a man wasn't a gentleman without his moustache, there are very few TV shows/films where they have them/
<struggling to think of examples because it's monday morning and i have no brain>

nickeldaisical Mon 01-Oct-12 12:51:26

there we go, from the late 19th century up to 1916, men in the army had to have a moustache.
before the Crimea, it was a novelty to have a beard.

nickeldaisical Mon 01-Oct-12 12:54:44

"In the Middle Ages, a beard displayed a knight's virility and honour. The Castilian knight El Cid is described in The Lay of the Cid as "the one with the flowery beard". Holding somebody else's beard was a serious offence that had to be righted in a duel.

While most noblemen and knights were bearded, the Catholic clergy were generally required to be clean-shaven. This was understood as a symbol of their celibacy."
i just found this on wikipedia (and yes, i'm sorry for quoting wiki, but it made me grin)

Alibabaandthe40nappies Mon 01-Oct-12 12:56:05

The whole film of Robin Hood with Russell Crowe in it.

Landing craft? In the 11th century?

SummerRain Mon 01-Oct-12 15:22:21

Not to mention them riding fron Nottingham to the south east coast in time to stop the landing party hmm in reality a whole section of the country would have even invaded before they even got the message about the ships!

Dp got very annoyed at ne during that movie. I ranted. A lot blush

nickeldaisical Mon 01-Oct-12 16:00:35

that happened in Kevin Costner's Robin Hood too, though - they landed on the south coast and made it to Nottingham, on foot, within 2 days. No way.

nickeldaisical Mon 01-Oct-12 16:02:43

180 miles at 5mph, would take 36 hours non-stop.
(ie no one could walk that far, that fast)

CMOTDibbler Mon 01-Oct-12 16:13:36

There are lots of things tbh. I'm forgiving of entertainment being inaccurate, but by things like living history places I'm incandescant. Especially on the subject of animals that are totally out of period - which is awful, but I can't help myself

JumpingJetFlash Mon 01-Oct-12 16:34:56

Not only that but in Kevin Costner's Robin Hood he lands in Dover and the is clambering about in Hadrians Wall before making it to Nottingham - he may have overshot by a hundred + miles!

Alibabaandthe40nappies Mon 01-Oct-12 16:51:24

Yes they go via Hadrian's Wall - that part drives me mad!

I find it annoying when they make a film set in a certain period, and the musical backdrop is a piece that hasn't been written yet - really sets my teeth on edge. And it is just lazy, it really isn't hard to prevent that happening.

SaggyOldClothCatPuss Tue 02-Oct-12 10:16:28

Morgan Freeman performing a cesarean in Robin Hood POT. hmm
Also, when Kevin Costner shoots the arrow, and the camera goes with it, the arrow doesn't spin.

nickeldaisical Tue 02-Oct-12 10:32:19

Jumping - yes, he did! i'd forgotten that bit <too traumatic>

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