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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 ...

LRDtheFeministDragon Mon 08-Oct-12 10:33:40

I would be really unhappy with a film/book that had nothing for me to nit-pick about, though, wouldn't you?! grin

What I find most annoying is the patronizing kind of mistakes - writers who think all medieval people are idiots/don't bother to learn about religion pre. 1960 and consequently have no fucking clue.

And people who go with Ladybird-book stereotypes 'back in the day, no-one could read' crap.

I was watching A Man For All Seasons and it struck me as remarkably unlikely that Thomas More's wife actually couldn't read. If anyone knows one way or the other, I'd like to know.

I'm also not wild about the Jean Auel style of writing, where you excuse the fact that no-one in the society (AFAWK) had a clue about such-and-such, but you create Amazing Wise Character X, who brings with him/her profound knowledge from the future.

Penelope1980 Mon 08-Oct-12 20:02:50

no-one in the society (AFAWK) had a clue about such-and-such, but you create Amazing Wise Character X, who brings with him/her profound knowledge from the future

Agreed - I hate that more than anything. It's so patronising. Especially when it's ideas that didn't exist yet.

nickeldaisical Tue 09-Oct-12 12:53:06

yes, I saw something last week that said that in the mediaeval period, more women could read and write than men, even working class, and they all passed their skills on to the children.
and that a lot of them used their skills to interpret the bible, so were very knowledgeable wrt religion.

LRDtheFeministDragon Tue 09-Oct-12 12:57:57

Ooh, can I pester you for the reference for that?

throckenholt Tue 09-Oct-12 13:04:20

Not a movie, but Andrew Marr's history thing on TV - we gritted our teeth and sat through the first one but found it really irritating. Over dramatised (what was that rubbish about crossing that stone bridge thing in the out of Africa bit ?!).

I thought the whole program was riddled with inaccuracies and misunderstandings. Grrr.

nickeldaisical Tue 09-Oct-12 13:13:53

i don't know - it might have been Bettany Hughes, but i can't remember!

LRDtheFeministDragon Tue 09-Oct-12 18:20:05

Ah, no worries, will have a browse at BH. Thank you!

LaQueen Tue 09-Oct-12 20:50:04

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

TunipTheVegemal Tue 09-Oct-12 20:53:48

Throckenholt, the bit that annoyed me in the Andrew Marr thing was Ancient Woman giving birth on her back.

SaggyOldClothCatPuss Tue 09-Oct-12 21:46:56

I watched RHPOT the other day. Morgan Freeman says that her baby hasn turned, and can't be born without help. (Transverse lie?) He asks for a needle and thread.
He also says he has only seen it done on horses. It's got go be either a cesarean, or he stuck his hand in and turned the baby manually.

throckenholt Wed 10-Oct-12 07:24:06


there were so many bits like that (I winced at that too) - things for which there was no evidence, and totally over dramatised. Won't be watching any more. Sad though - I expected much better than that.

LaQueen Wed 10-Oct-12 13:45:49

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

KeithLeMonde Wed 10-Oct-12 13:52:09

Did women in "the old days" shave/pluck the hair from their armpits and have nicely trimmed bikini lines? Or is that Hollywood?

I know there was a fashion around the time of Elizabeth I for shaving the hairline to enhance a high forehead - never seen that replicated in a costume drama.

TunipTheVegemal Wed 10-Oct-12 14:00:48

There is no reason to believe they did.

SummerRain Wed 10-Oct-12 14:08:16

Ancient roman women did I think... I would imagine only the upper class though.

And some Asian cultures did

But for the vast majority of history, no... Women were hairy.

TunipTheVegemal Wed 10-Oct-12 14:09:35

Yes, that's true, Roman men as well as women did a lot of plucking.

SummerRain Wed 10-Oct-12 14:14:50

A quick google adds ancient Greece and Egypt to that list.

nickeldaisical Wed 10-Oct-12 17:19:40

i think in the west, it was (in recent history anyway) only done from the 1920s when flappers wore dresses that were short and showed their armpits.

no need before then, but i bet there were places where it happened - a fetish of the king, like Footbinding in china.

sieglinde Thu 11-Oct-12 15:01:27

I have a particular loathing for historical novels in which witches are burnt or tortured in England. NEITHER happened. Also novels in which real witch names are used and said witch is a Mary Sue of a midwife herbalist, 30 years old and a raving beauty, when Bad Priests come to catch. her. It Never Happened ANYWHERE.

Also hate thick description of bad smells in past....

And food in the past - almost always wrong....

TunipTheVegemal Thu 11-Oct-12 15:06:27

Agree re witches.
I also hate it when the rest of the novel is believable but the witch has actual supernatural powers.

What do you mean by 'thick description of bad smells'?

LRDtheFeministDragon Thu 11-Oct-12 15:22:05

Yes, I'm with you on the witches. Though, technically witchcraft is a sin against the first commandment IIRC, and the punishment for heresy (which is another form of sin against the first commandment) was burning. So I suppose it's not impossible to imagine a witch being burned.

The pendle witches have the most fantastic names. I can see why they'd want to use those names. Not so much the 'herbal' crap.

I've got to admit, I was disappointed by the Cynthia Harnett book where she makes a year written in Arabic numerals integral to the plot then explains in her postscript that it's impossible as no-one would have used Arabic numerals.

It seems kinda cheeky to excuse your mistake like that.

Btw, I just remembered a goodie. Charles Causley (whom I do love) wrote a poem about Katharine of Aragon in which he claims she died aged 24. He misunderstood her tombstone, which says she was queen for 24 years. Whoops.

SirBoobAlot Thu 11-Oct-12 22:41:06

The entire "Mummy" films. They made me growl a little bit. DP occasionally suggests we watch them just to wind me up.


picnicbasketcase Thu 11-Oct-12 22:44:47

It probably doesn't count and its a shit film anyway, but it pisses me off when they say Cary Grant was from Surrey in The Holiday. I always assumed it was a caesarean in RHPOT, never thought of it being an episiotomy.

LynetteScavo Thu 11-Oct-12 22:52:34

exactly, JumpingJetFlash. Dover to Hadrians wall in just a few hours on foot. Amazing.

In the Sound of Music there is a van with "Israel" on it. Israel wasn't a state at the start of WW2 hmm

SaggyOldClothCatPuss Thu 11-Oct-12 22:57:44

Witches, who could be women, men(warlocks) or children were hanged in this country. I live in witch country, Mistley/Manningtree. Matthew Hopkins lived just down the road. Im witch terms, Manningtree is very famous, which is amusing, considering that most of the witches that Matthew Hopkins arrested, around here, were actually aquitted!

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