Movies and historical innacuracies that drive you mad

The Patriot - Mel Gibson

Time magazine have come up with a list of 10 films with the worst historical inacurracies.

The Patriot - Mel Gibson

The Patriot with Mel Gibson

Top of their list is the Patriot starring Mel Gibson (who has two entries with The Patriot and Braveheart).

As the charge sheet on The patriot said:

Principal among the movie’s gross inaccuracies is the portrayal of British soldiers as evil, bloodthirsty sadists. In one scene, redcoats are seen rounding up a village of screaming women, children and old men, locking them in a church and setting the building ablaze. No such thing ever happened in the Revolutionary War. What’s worse? An almost identical crime — one of World War II’s most notorious atrocities — was carried out by Nazi soldiers in France in 1944. Meaning not only did the film paint a portrait of the British as cruel killers, it compared them to history’s worst: the Nazis.

Now, of course, movies are very rarely ever historically accurate but it is a bit rich when they are not only very inaccurate but that this then spoils the film and they blame an entire nation for something that they didn’t even do!

Robin Hood and the Landing Craft

Robin Hood and the Landing Craft

I have to admit that I went to see Robin Hood with Russell Crowe in it (no. 3 in the Time list). It was one of the worst films that it has been my misfortune to see. But the historical inaccuracies were the icing on the cake. I can never forget the French “Landing crafts”!!! It was like seeing a re-make of the Normandy landings in reverse in the 13th century – bizarre!

Gladiator Commodus Russel Crowe Joachim Phoenix

Commodus and Gladiator

Russell Crowe is also one of those who has “form”. The earlier one that I remember mangling Roman history was, of course, Gladiator. The idea that the Republic was being introduced after the death of the Emperor Commodus was ridiculous. In fact Commodus was followed by 4 emperor’s in quick succession fighting for dominance. Commodus was in fact murdered in his bed etc etc.

Then there are the more “subtle” misrepresentations. Why are most of the Hollywood baddies or fall guys played by the British?  A small example – the person who sets off the problems in Black Hawk Down (a muck-up entirely of the US’s making) is none other than our very own friendly elf Orlando Bloom.

Of course British films aren’t without their flaws as well. The King’s Speech (which is well worth seeing if you haven’t seen it) is certainly not without them. George VI comes across as an anti-Nazi pro-Churchill sort of guy when in fact he was very much on the side of Chamberlain and appeasement.

So what is your favourite film historical misrepresentation and why?


6 comments on “Movies and historical innacuracies that drive you mad

  1. Harvey Edser
    January 28, 2011 at 2:44 pm #

    I don’t mind too much if drama mucks about with history, so long as the result is a good film/play. After all, probably the worst offender on this front is one Mr William Shakespeare – his ‘historical’ plays are dreadful politically-motivated rewrites of history, but they’re still great plays.

    I disagree about Crowe’s ‘Robin Hood’ – I don’t like Crowe, and I thought his accent was atrocious, but I still enjoyed the film on its own terms. (I’m not sure how could you have a historically-accurate Robin Hood anyway, any more than you could have an accurate King Arthur.)

    I’m sure Schindler’s List, Hotel Rwanda, Gandhi, Cry Freedom, Amazing Grace etc all have their glaring historical inaccuracies, but again that doesn’t stop them from being inspiring and moving stories.

    As you could guess, I have a much bigger problem with films based on books that bear little or no relation to their source material! But again, if the end product is a good film, I don’t really have cause to complain.

    • Robyn E. Williams
      September 21, 2011 at 8:41 pm #

      Have mercy, we history teachers have enough to overcome without Hollywood mucking everything up for us.

      • Will Cookson
        September 22, 2011 at 3:25 pm #


        Couldn’t agree more. I love history and the continuous mangling of it by Hollywood really does annoy me – and must make your job almost impossible sometimes. What is even worse is that Hollywood usually make it less interesting than the original!!

  2. Will Cookson
    January 30, 2011 at 9:01 am #

    Can’t believe that you liked the Robin Hood film. I thought it absolutely awful. Of course, you can’t have a historically accurate Robin Hood BUT at least try to get some of the 13th century details right!
    I think that your point about the Shakespeare plays is right. They were political propaganda to fit in with the political necessities of the age. Where I differ is that although they are great works of art (maybe because of that) they can be dangerous. Henry V is often seen as the archetypal re-telling of the plucky Brits fighting against all odds against the perfidious French.
    Movies give many people nowadays their view of history. Their remaking of that history can be dangerous. Of course, if we had more historical literacy around it would matter less. The reality is that many people do take their views from films. I think that is sometimes very dangerous.

  3. GC
    March 30, 2014 at 12:25 pm #

    Actually those “landing craft” are somewhat historically accurate, google “uissiers” –
    they were horse carrying ships that could carry 12-15 horses with their knights and equipment

  4. Ken "kenje" Schmidt
    August 12, 2014 at 3:47 pm #

    I agree that many movies distort historical facts in order to fit certain perceptions. I am personally interested in history and often it’s not very hard to spot inaccuracies, intentional ones especially.
    One of the movies I probably hate most for that is “Pearl Harbor” and I am not even an American (of which many were equally indignant I hear). With it’s pesky nationalistic attitude trying to distort history in order to create an image of an morally superior America while also using it to blatantly exploit emotions of those with lesser knowledge of history.
    I also take personal issue with Hotel Rwanda which in itself is definately not a bad movie. It is fairly accurate with some of it’s facts. However I find it to be unsettling how Christianity is only portrayed in a good light as we only see Tutsis with crosses and praying to their God. The Genocide was in many instances religiously motivated and justified with being a Mission from God. The government had a religious agenda and the Christian Democratic International had a lot of influence there.
    Yet the movie never really imples that a lot the murderers were being religious (or religious in their intent for that matter).
    Sadly there are a lot of movies that secretly try to depict history in their favor, often being almost offensive, demonizing or downplaying certain aspects.
    One funny Analogy I like to tell is how when I was still young I saw “We were Soldiers” and through the way the movie was shot I actually though America had won the Vietnam War. I didn’t like it then, for annoying patriotisms and symbolism yet was to naive to think that they would distort history that much. Honestly though it has been a very long time since I’ve seen it. What counts however is the impression I remember having of it as a kid. Maybe I will give it a rewatch some time.

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