The 10 most historically inaccurate movies
Quentin Tarantino makes no apology for trading fact for fun in the finale of his Nazi thriller Inglourious Basterds. Caroline White presents ten more films whose makers felt they could improve on history.
1 U-571, 2000
Rather cynically, American screenwriter David Ayer depicted American rather than British naval officers capturing the first Enigma machine, “in order to drive the movie for an American audience.” The first Enigma machine was in fact seized by officers from HMS Bulldog in 1941 and by the time the USA joined the war later that year, Britain had cracked the code. The post-release furore led Tony Blair, Prime Minister at the time, to agree that it was “an affront to the memories” of those involved and Bill Clinton, then US President, to write a letter emphasising the film’s fictional nature. In 2006, Ayer told the BBC he had come to regret the alteration: “Both my grandparents were officers in World War II, and I would be personally offended if somebody distorted their achievements.”
2 Braveheart, 1995
Not only was the Scottish hero William Wallace gruesomely executed in 1305, having been captured by the English at Falkirk, but seven centuries later his memory was exhumed, smeared with blue face paint and mutilated by Mel Gibson. Wallace was not the poor villager the film depicts, but a landowner and minor knight. The litany of fibs extends from Wallace’s love interest (Queen Isabella would have been about two-years-old at the time) to his kilt – a garment not developed for another three centuries. The historian Sharon L. Krossa likens it to “a film about Colonial America showing the colonial men wearing 20th century business suits.”
3 10,000 BC, 2008
This tale of a mammoth hunter travelling across the prehistoric globe to rescue his bride, features some surprising revelations. Were sabre-tooth tigers bull-sized? Could man train Woolly Mammoths to help build pyramids? Did we invent sailing boats so early? Unfortunately the answer to all these questions is no. In fact, the filmmakers incorporated so many animals then extinct, or yet to evolve, and so many future technologies and geographical impossibilities that Archaeology magazine was compelled to review - and pan it: “Unsurprisingly, this tribe is starving, but it is hard to have sympathy for them because any culture that tries to hunt mammoths with a net gets what it deserves.”
4 The Patriot, 2000
Gibson (rugby) tackles history again with his turn as an honest farmer drawn into the American Revolutionary War, which historian David Hackett Fischer claimed in the New York Times “is to history as Godzilla was to biology.” Crimes erroneously attributed to British soldiers include immolating villagers inside their church, an atrocity actually committed a century and a half later by Nazis in the French village of Oradour-sur-Glane. Meanwhile the director Spike Lee complained that the film “dodged around, skirted about or completely ignored slavery.” There is also strong evidence that Francis Marion, the basis for Gibson’s character, was a slave-owning serial rapist who murdered Cherokee Indians for fun.
5 Pearl Harbour, 2001
The protagonists of Pearl Harbour, George Welch and Kenneth M. Taylor, are based on two real-life US Army Air Corps Second Lieutenants, but the film weaves such a wildly inaccurate account of their love lives and sky-swooping exploits, that the cinematic incarnations have been rendered fictional. Before his death in 2006 Taylor told his son he thought the movie was “over-sensationalized and distorted.” The film’s villains fair no better than its heroes - the Japanese are reduced to a war-hungry stereotype that even in 1967 embarrassed TV bosses enough to mask it in latex and it call Klingon before broadcast...
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