There has long been a debate raging between film scholars over whether or not a historical film has a duty to be accurate in its depiction of people and events. Considering that society has become such a visual creature, and many prefer to learn through film rather than books, this is quite the important question.
Whichever side of the coin you land on, we can probably all agree that there’s a big difference between altering a few details slightly for the sake of the story and getting things horribly wrong. Here are some movies where the filmmakers just didn’t appear to do any research at all:
This film tops the list with a slew of historical inaccuracies, including the actual importance of William Wallace in the time period. Scholars and proud Scots also take offense at the idea of their king Robert the Bruce being portrayed as a coward and a traitor. There are no accounts in history of him ever showing either of those traits.
Sure, the film was cinematically good and as a viewer, you certainly get swept along with the action. It also happened to be quite good for the tourism industry in Scotland thanks to the popularity of the film. However, this really did seem to be a case of not letting the truth get in the way of a good story.
The Second World War has been fodder for filmmakers since it broke out. There are some incredible stories of human endurance and bravery on the front lines, in the barracks and back home. There have also been some incredible stories that have been embellished somewhat during their retelling in the format of film.
In U-571, an American submarine crew goes head to head with a German submarine crew and manages to capture an Enigma machine (the encryption machine that the Axis forces used to send their messages to each other). The overall gist of the film was that these events were a massive turning point in the war and the American submarine crew saved the whole world. This never happened. In fact, the British had already secured an Enigma machine and cracked it before the US even entered the war and the events in this film were meant to have taken place.
Gangs of New York
There’s a lot to love about a Martin Scorsese movie – great cinematography, compelling stories, strong actors and interesting characters. However, historical accuracy is definitely not on that list. In Gangs of New York, the two rival gangs – The Dead Rabbits and the Natives – did exist in New York in that time period. The clothing and the overall look of the film is also pretty accurate. That’s where it ends though.
The main character – William Bill the Butcher Cutting – is an amalgamation of two people who lived in that time. Additionally, neither gang would’ve been fighting over that particular turf because it was controlled by the Irish at the time.