It’s important remember to take any movie marked by the well-known phrase ‘based on a true story’ with a pinch of salt. No matter how accurate it may be the story will always be told through the eyes and mind of an onlooker, and often that persons own opinions or beliefs may creep in and change certain aspects of the story. Sometimes however so many liberties are taken, so many details changed, so many facts abandoned that the story is so far from the truth it may well be a different tale altogether. Surprise, surprise, this happens quite often in Hollywood, and today we’re going to look at some of the finest examples.
First up we have the Academy Award winner for Best Picture, Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, released in 2000. It’s important to remember that this is more of a historical fiction in that it follows the fictional character, Maximus Decimus Meridius, a General in the Roman army. Emperor Marcus Aurelius does not trust his son Commodus to rule so instead wishes to intrust the role to Maximus. Commodus isn’t happy with this and kills his father and orders the Maximus be killed also. Naturally that doesn’t happen and instead he enslaved and forced to become a Gladiator. Obviously with this film being a historical fiction we can’t expect absolute accuracy however there are plenty of issues to be taken with the characters that really did exist. Commodus is perhaps the best example, whilst he may have been a cruel man, he most certainly didn’t kill his father, who died from an outbreak of chicken pox. Also, though it is true that he did fight in the arena he wasn’t killed there, in fact he was killed in the bath by his wrestling partner and possible lover Narcissus. Other incorrect aspects of history include the use of siege weapons during a forest skirmish and an incorrect use of language which flits between (and sometimes mashes together) the Latin and Italian languages.
Another Oscar winning movie to fall victim the falsehoods is Mel Gibson’s Braveheart released in 1995. This film is widely renowned for its absolute disregard to history, abandoning any accuracy in order to tell an epic tale of adventure. It’s based on the story of Scotland’s national hero William Wallace, a man who fights the tyranny of King Edward I of England in order to achieve freedom for the nation. Not only must he fight the English but he must unite the clans of a bickering and broken Scotland along the way, a tall order for any man. He fight’s for freedom with every breath and despite its inaccuracy it really is an excellent yarn, including arguably the most inspiring speech in cinematic history. Almost everything that could possibly be wrong is, from the kilts worn which wouldn’t have existed for another 300 odd years to the lack of a bridge in ‘The Battle of Stirling Bridge’. Wallace himself is presented as a lowly farmer who is essentially a highlander stereotype when in fact, he was a member of the highland gentry. To top it all off the film suggests that Edward III was in actuality the son of William Wallace. You couldn’t write it! Except someone did, and that unbelievable script is Braveheart.