Last year The Times did this list about blunders in historical movies :
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 fare 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.
6 Apocalypto, 2006
If you thought it strange that Apocalypto’s Mayans ransack a village of their own people for sacrificial victims and slaves, your suspicion was justified. Maya expert Zachary Hruby told the National Geographic that there is no evidence of this behaviour, “Captives appear to have been taken during war.” In fact, the brutality of Mayan life is exaggerated throughout the film. The kidnapped villagers are supposedly hunters living deep in the jungle, when they would probably have been farmers living on manicured land, and they are murdered in mass sacrifices, an Aztec practice. The ubiquitous Gibson produced and directed the film.
7 Amadeus, 1984
Some years after Mozart’s death in 1791, a rumour circulated in Vienna that Antonio Salieri, court composer to Emperor Joseph II, had plotted the Austrian’s death – an assertion upon which Amadeus is based. But if Salieri was murderously jealous of Mozart he gave little clue to it. His contemporary Anselm Hüttenbrenner claimed that Salieri spoke of the prodigy “with exceptional respect,” and Mozart’s widow Constanze trusted the Italian enough to ask him to tutor her son. It is possible that Salieri was wary of usurpation by the young genius, but the rumoured vitriol was probably propaganda fabricated as part of the rivalry between Italian and German schools of music.
8 Gladiator, 2000
Joaquin Phoenix’s Commodus is a coward who lusts after his sister Lucilla and murders his father, Marcus Araelius. In reality Commodus’s accession ended Pax Romana, two centuries of peace and minimal expansion by the empire and he has been described as a capricious show-off. But his father probably died of smallpox and far from falling in love with Lucilla, Commodus had her murdered after her involvement in an assassination attempt upon him. Ultimately, he was strangled in the bathtub by the wrestler Narcissus after twelve years of rule, not as the film asserts, while a new emperor, in a gladiatorial arena at the hands of Maximus – a fictional general based on Narcissus.
9 Young Victoria, 2009
Prince Albert really did prove his devotion to the pregnant Queen Victoria by bundling her into the well of a carriage during an assassination attempt, but he did not absorb the bullet this film dealt him. The gunman either missed or the pistol jammed, but the royal couple escaped unscathed. Screenwriter Julian Fellowes insisted that accuracy was paramount in his script, but that the alteration was necessary to show Albert’s deed to be “the act of bravery and selflessness that it was.” According to the News of the World, the present Queen was not amused by his decision.
10 Marie Antoinette 2006
In her stylised biopic of Marie Antoinette, Sofia Coppola sidelined the simmering politics of the French Revolution to focus exclusively on costumes and cakes. But while Marie lost her head for taking a similar stance, she might have lost it sooner had she propagated the film’s assertion that it took the queen a decade to conceive because Louis XVI was afraid of sex. The delay was almost certainly medical and in 2002 the historian Simone Bertière ascertained from royal correspondence that it was probably Louis’ “bracquemart assez considérable” mismatched with Marie’s “l’étroitesse du chemin” that blighted their love life. Perhaps too indelicate for Kirsten Dunst to explain between mouthfuls of macaroon.