The Great Film Debate Mk 3 – Historical Inaccuracies


This is always a controversial point, and a huge thing of contempt for myself, so let us delve into some of the most blatantly inaccurate films ever made…

First off –

The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas (2008)

It’s a goldmine! An enjoyable film, yes, and very readable book, but to get properly ‘in’ to it, it would have been a lot more believable has it followed what really happened. According to at least one of my contemporaries, the idea behind the film was to show the innocence of the youth of the nation, and how ridiculous this made Nazi Germany and the policies of the Third Reich. But surely you can do that in other ways than re-writing history and offending a lot of people along the way? The main character, Bruno (pictured), although being 8, would have known what a Jew was. And Shmuel, the friend he makes in Auschwitz, would, I am very much afraid to say, have been culled on first arrival. He was 8! Nearly all children and those under 15 years of age went straight to be exterminated. Fact of life. (Also, in the film, the actor playing Shmuel did not look like he belonged in a concentration camp, and was a weak actor – bad casting maybe?) Aside from these first two foibles, the film also made a huge mistake in that Bruno would not have been so close to such a place. If, indeed, the camp was Auschwitz (it is never really stated, just assumed), security would have been higher, no? The language John Boyne (author of the book) uses is infuriating sometimes – surely the ‘nicknames’ of ‘Out-With’ (instead, one presumes, of Auschwitz), and ‘the Fury’ (The Führer) only work if the characters are speaking English. But they wouldn’t have been, as they would have been speaking German! That, surely, is one of the most obvious downfalls.  I found the most believable parts of this film was when it was suggested that Bruno’s mother has an affair with Lieutenant Kurt Kotler, and the arguments the situation causes. Not the politics, never the history. I do not see the point in using such a huge event in history and then changing it to tell the story. I believe the Holocaust does not need to be changed to emphasise the horror and atrocities and contradictions behind it. Enough.

Gladiator (2000)

This film I enjoy greatly, but I am led to believe it might have something to do with the fact that I know less about the Roman Empire, and therefore am just happy to enjoy the story. However, twisted history does not do well for good teaching. A great deal of history is, confusingly to me, based on opinion, but there are still facts there. Yes really.

So! What’s wrong with Gladiator? Well, mainly, most of it’s quite wrong. But again, an enjoyable watch. Mild amounts more of respect than that for Striped PJs, although obviously you can’t even really begin to compare except on a very rudimentary and crude level. Historical advisors were even hired for this film, one taking a step back from the project, and one withdrawing his name from the credits altogether, after such huge changes were made. In short, and very briefly:

– Marcus Aurelius died of plague, and was not murdered by Commodus.

– Commodus had his sister, Lucilla, murdered.

– Commodus is reportedly killed in the bath (strangled), by a wrestler. Not Maximus, and not at the Colosseum.

– A Roman usurper called Maximus did exist, but 230 years post-Commodus.

And this is just a selection of the huge inaccuracies that basically means Mr R Scott completely wasted his time trying to make the film accurate. Others include idiosyncracies of the characters (Commodus’ thumb up/thumb down routine is myth), costuming, which is never accurate, and the fact that Rome is founded as a monarchy. Possible my personal favourite… However, it still makes for a good story (or so I think). Perhaps because I first saw it so long ago means the historical inaccuracies do not mean a huge amount to me.

Amadeus (1984)

Another example of exacerbating a story to make apparently more engaging and watchable material. Some directors seem to be terrified that history alone will not make for a good story. The two major flaws with this very enjoyable film is that a/ Mozart was most definitely not American (it still baffles me he is allowed, or even as an actor, uses, his regular accent) and b/ there may have been mild rivalry between Mozart and Salieri, but there is no evidence to state that the latter was the catalyst of the demise of the former. They were even on good enough terms to write pieces together. At one point in the film, Mozart is commissioned to write an opera by the king, and it is stated it should be written in Italian. But Amadeus protests and insists on German – and if his language is German, why are the characters not speaking German? Or Italian? Indeed it is an American made film, but there is no reason, other than the ‘common tongue’ currently appears to be English, for it not to be in the language they would have been speaking. This also goes for Striped PJs and Gladiator, incidentally. Actually any film that is set in a county that doesn’t speak the language they are using in the film. Although there are some blindingly obvious ones in this, it is a very enjoyable watch. Especially once you get past Mozart’s accent and laugh. Perhaps the director wished to make it as melodramatic as one of Mozart’s operas.

Pocahontas (1995)

This one is my personal favourite as the Disney version plays on the separation of Pocahontas and John Smith as the saddest part. It would seem that Pocahontas was actually about ten when John Smith (who, I assume, would not have been a 6 foot buff blue-wearing ponce with blonde flowing locks) rocked over on the boat, settled, and then needed to be saved by her. As history goes, there is only his story to support what happened, and not a huge amount suggested they were ever in love or to get married. Said native American does, however, marry John Rolfe, travels to England with him (in a bid to show two communities can get on), and then dies just before the return to England. It would appear her immune system was not hardened enough against the many, many diseases that our shores had to offer her. She was around 21/22, although seemed to have some form of influence so it was not a total loss I suppose. But really Disney, what were you thinking? I am mortified to learn that Christian Bale lent his name to the Disney version. What were YOU thinking, Bale?


The questions being:

– Is it morally correct to be historically inaccurate when telling a historical tale?

– Which is more important, the tale and the meaning, or the accuracy?

– Is it ok to bend the truth for a better story, even if it shows lack of respect for some things, maybe even the dead?

– Do you not then just fall under the category of The Sun Trash?

Why use actual events but fictional stories? It makes no sense to me. I am adamant that stories do not need to be twisted to emphasise a point. Life can be as devastating or as exciting as it is, like it is. Artistic license not needed!

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