Everyone loves a good historical drama. While a different one takes the Oscars by storm every year, that doesn't mean Hollywood is actually doing their historical subjects any favors. If you think you're an expert on European history because you watch a lot of costume dramas, you're in for a big surprise.
Inaccurate film portrayals of historical figures are pretty rampant. These differences include erasing (or exaggerating) a subject's disability, accusing a politician of murder, and even making two people that never met have sex. Word to the wise: don't cram in a love triangle that doesn't fit your period piece. And as it turns out, love triangles and historical people Hollywood got wrong go together like peanut butter and jelly.
It's time to learn more about how little history has gone into some of the most successful and award-winning historical dramas of all time.
- Photo: Columbia Pictures
Film: Marie Antoinette (2006)
What Hollywood Did: Portrayed Marie-Antoinette as a spoiled and oblivious child.
Why It's Wrong: First off, this Sofia Coppola film starring Kirsten Dunst is as beautiful as it is ridiculous, and manages to get a lot right historically - despite throwing around Chuck Taylors and Adam Ant songs. It totally misrepresents Marie-Antionette, though.
While she's become a symbol of ye olde France's decadent aristocracy, the real Marie-Antoinette was totally aware of the world of cutthroat politics she lived in, possessing her own political interests. She wasn't just a shopaholic with a sweet tooth.
Film: Gladiator (2000)
What Hollywood Did: Portrayed Commodus as a father-killing super-creep.
Why It's Wrong: While Commodus was a terrible emperor who succumbed to insanity by the end of his reign, he never killed his dad. In fact, he served as joint emperor with his father, Marcus Aurelius, for three years as a teen leading up to Aurelius's death. While people have been criticizing the reign of Commodus for thousands of years, and Joaquin Phoenix's performance is nightmare-worthy, Commodus never actually Macbeth-ed his father.
Film: Braveheart (1995)
What Hollywood Did: Jerry Springer-ed it up.
Why It's Wrong: Not only did William Wallace and Isabella of France never meet in real life, but the film reduced a pretty historically cunning and intelligent royal lady to a romantic object. During the historical events Mel Gibson's Braveheart was inspired by, Isabella was around 3 years old and living happily in France. Furthermore, Wallace was executed before Isabella ever married, so she definitely never cheated on her husband and had a baby with the Scottish hero.
- Photo: Buena Vista Pictures
Film: Pocahontas (1995)
What Hollywood Did: Portrayed Pocahontus as a fully grown woman in love with John Smith.
Why It's Wrong: John Smith was almost 30 when he met Pocahontas, who was only 10, meaning that if there was any wind-painting epic romance going down, it would not exactly be Disney film material. In reality, teenage Pocahontas was kidnapped by the English and forced to marry John Rolfe, who kept her as a curiosity in his house in Middlesex until she died of tuberculosis in her early 30s.
- Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures
Film: 300 (2007)
What Hollywood Did: Portrayed King Leonidas and the Spartans as "good guys."
Why It's Wrong: First off, the Spartans teamed up with thousands of troops from Athens to fight the Persians, so director and writer Zack Snyder's portrayal of the Battle of Thermopylae as strictly Spartans vs. Persians is wrong. Also, portraying the Persians as barbarians and the Spartans as good guys is not only pretty racist, but equally wrong.
You know the part where Leonidas earns his coming-of-age stripes by killing a wolf alone in the woods? The real Spartan rite of passage involved boys sneaking out of their house and murdering a slave without getting caught. In fact, Spartans could legally kill slaves for just about any reason, including if they were deemed too intelligent. How's that for barbarism?
Film: Shakespeare in Love (1998)
What Hollywood Did: Claimed Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet was inspired by an actual whirlwind romance.
Why It's Wrong: Despite having one of the biggest Oscar-bait payoffs in Tinseltown (it won seven Academy Awards), the main plot point of John Madden's film is wrong. It claims that Romeo and Juliet was inspired by Shakespeare's whirlwind romance with a cross-dressing actress who never actually existed. In reality, Romeo and Juliet was adapted from other sources, like most of Shakespeare's work.