6 times films re-wrote history

  1. The Other Boleyn girl
    1. Based on the historical novel by Philippa Gregory, this film highlights the intrigues, scandals and dangers of the Tudor court. Although we all know from our history lessons that Henry VIII had six wives, ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’  focuses on the transition between his first marriage and his second - from his 24-year arranged marriage to Spanish princess Catherine of Aragon to a brief three-year union with lady-in-waiting Anne Boleyn, via an affair with Anne’s sister Mary. Historians acknowledge that it offers a fairly realistic portrayal of life in the King’s court - where flirtations and affairs were commonplace and courtiers scrambled for power and money. But when it comes to the individual characters, the history buffs start wailing. Some inaccuracies are small - like Mary being portrayed as the younger sister when actually she was older than Anne. But others take much bigger liberties with history, such as the total reinvention of Anne’s character. She’s depicted as scheming, cold, power-hungry and violent, her desperation to be Queen so strong that she was basically responsible for the King’s break from the Catholic church. Yet scholars say there is no real evidence to suggest that she was any of these things. We know that every story needs a villain - but was it really Anne?
  2. 300
    1. “THIS IS SPARTA!!” But is it really? Turning the ancient battle of Thermopylae into a comic book series was always going to bring a potential for inaccuracies, but historians say this film has some whoppers. There’s the armour for a start - the Spartans would never have gone into battle without breastplates, it would have been suicide. And there’s the numbers issue - just 300 Spartans attempting to fend off an endless of wave of Persians? Err no. They were outnumbered for sure, but their army was closer to 7,000 men. Plus the whole way the Spartans are portrayed as a heroic warrior cult brimming with honour is hugely romanticised - Sparta was more of a slave society where killing children with birth defects was well-documented. Hardly heroic. But it seems that in this case the changing of history was actually designed to push people towards the truth. Author and Executive Producer Frank Miller said, "The inaccuracies are intentional. I was looking more for an evocation than a history lesson. The best result is that if the movie excites someone, they'll go explore the real histories themselves. Because the histories are endlessly fascinating."
  3. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
    1. 16th President of the United States, saviour and moderniser of the economy, liberator of slaves… and vampire killer? This film begins with the finding of Abraham Lincoln’s private journal, which has lain undiscovered for 140 years. Inside are all the gory details of his ongoing fight with the thousands of vampires that secretly roam the US, who are apparently responsible for making slavery a thing as well as just generally attacking people. It culminates in a huge war between everyday Americans and a horde of vampires - but, thanks to Lincoln’s bravery, the vampires are defeated. Although there’s actually lots of interesting - and accurate - stuff about American history in the film, and although much of what it shows about the lead character’s personality and political decisions are true, his vampire-killing abilities are entirely fictional. In real life, the only thing Lincoln slew was the audience at Gettysburg with his famous address.
  4. Richard III
    1. Shakespeare's historical play has been brought to the big screen twice, once in 1955 and once in 1995. Both times the films have done the same thing as the original play - give King Richard III a hard-to-shake reputation as one of the most cruel and cunning men to wear the crown. The storyline details his ruthless villainy, seducing a woman whose husband he’s just killed, ordering his brother’s murder because he thinks he’s a threat to his crown and also having his two nephews executed. We don’t know a huge amount about the real personal feelings and character of Richard III, but historians are sure that he wasn’t the disfigured hunchback of Shakespeare’s imagination (though he did suffer from slight curvature of the spine) and that he wasn’t responsible for the murder of his brother. And it’s unknown what part, if any, he played in the death of his nephews, the two Princes, in the tower. We can’t really blame the bard though - Shakespeare’s work could only be as accurate as his sources allowed him to be, and no one was going to paint a positive picture of Richard of York in those times. Given that a Tudor Queen, Elizabeth I, was now on the throne, the chroniclers of history had little choice but to portray the downfall of the Plantagenet House of York and the victory of the House of Tudor as good conquering evil. The play (and the films) are really just an example of history bending to the will of the victors.
  5. Pocahontas
    1. This Disney classic shows English explorers setting out to conquer ‘the new world’ (North America) led by hero John Smith. When they arrive on American shores they try to claim the land as their own, but they run into problems with a Native American tribe. It looks like the leader is going to execute John Smith until plucky Pocahontas - a tribal woman Smith had started a relationship with - comes to his rescue. Love saves the day, hooray. But although it’s described as being ‘based on a true story’, this film has strayed pretty far from the truth. Pocahontas was actually only around 10 or 11 at the time Smith arrived and there’s no evidence of any kind of romantic relationship between them. There’s also no suggestion that her tribe tried to kill him or that she saved his life. And, contrary to the happy ending of the Disney version, real-life Pocahontas actually got captured and brought over to England! After Smith left, another team of explorers came over and she was taken prisoner, then at some point, she converted to Christianity, changed her name to Rebecca and married an Englishman called John Rolfe. So… Disney’s definitely taken a few liberties with history here. Not to mention that in real life, there were probably less musical numbers.
  6. The Man in the High Castle
    1. This Amazon series, based on a book by Philip K Dick, is slightly different to the others in this list as it’s deliberately been created as a departure from history. It’s designed to show us what our world might be like be now if history had gone a little differently… In this alternative reality, American President Franklin D Roosevelt was assassinated in 1933, meaning that the US never recovered from the Depression and couldn’t fight alongside the Allies against Germany in WWII. The Nazis continued gaining strength and also managed to develop the atomic bomb (in real life it was the US) and they used it to wipe out the US government and its military leadership. The result? The Germans, Fascist Italy and the Japanese are now ruling the world. Tensions are high and violence is a regular feature of life, particularly for Jewish people who are still being hunted out and killed by the Nazis. There’s huge cultural oppression, including a ban on reading the Bible and even blues music (because it has origins in black culture). And the murder of practically everyone in Africa is mentioned in passing like it’s no big deal. It’s a pretty scary vision of the world. But could things really have gone down like this if Hitler hadn’t been defeated? We’ll never know for sure, but it’s true that one single event can have a huge impact on the course of history.