8 History Movies that Hollywood Secretly Tampered With
8 History Movies that Hollywood Secretly Tampered With

8 History Movies that Hollywood Secretly Tampered With

Larry Holzwarth - November 14, 2017

8 History Movies that Hollywood Secretly Tampered With
Henry VIII with his children, Edward (in black beret) Mary, and Elizabeth. BBC

Queen Elizabeth I. Elizabeth, 1998

Queen Elizabeth I has been portrayed in film many times, with varying degrees of historical accuracy. Perhaps the most famous portrayal was by Bette Davis, who played the Queen twice; in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex in 1939 and in The Virgin Queen in 1955. Both presented heavily fictionalized stories of Elizabeth, a tradition which continued in 1998s Elizabeth.

The film alters historical events and presents others out of context to further its story, which tells of the Queen’s overcoming many plots and intrigues designed to control England’s destiny by an advantageous marriage to a powerful ally. Elizabeth, in the end, overcomes all of them and expresses herself as married to England, determined to remain its Virgin Queen, beholden to no one.

The film wrongly attributes the false pregnancy of Elizabeth’s half-sister Mary to a cancerous tumor. In reality, Mary had a second false pregnancy in late 1557; the cause of neither is unknown beyond speculation, but there was no tumor reported, cancerous or otherwise. Mary of Guise is shown as having been assassinated by Francis Walsingham, she, in fact, died in 1560 of dropsy, although some scholars suggest she may have ingested a poison which led to a swelling of limbs known as edema.

The Earl of Leicester, Robert Dudley, did not plot against Elizabeth and he remained a close friend and confidant of the Queen until his death in 1588. The Queen’s use of white facial paint only began after recovering from smallpox, which left her with a pitted face and a receding hairline in 1563.

Finally, Elizabeth I never announced her determination to remain unmarried as England’s Virgin Queen. The political ramifications of a marriage with one continental power or another were too valuable to be so publicly discarded. Negotiations and intrigues pitting one royal house against another continued until Elizabeth was well beyond the age of marrying and bearing children. Potential suitors which English diplomats – and the Queen – played against each other included the Kings of Spain and Sweden, Philip II and Eric XIV, the Archduke of Austria, and the Duke of Holstein. The heir to the throne of France and eventual King of France and Poland, Henry III, remained on Elizabeth’s string for many years as well.

8 History Movies that Hollywood Secretly Tampered With
Relief of Commodus displaying attributes of the god Apollo. Hermitage Museum St. Petersburg

Commodus. Gladiator, 2000

In the film Gladiator, the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius announces his intention that upon his death the Imperial powers will be vested in Maximus Meridus until the formation of a new Roman Republic is complete. This inspires his son and presumptive heir Commodus to murder his father and assume the throne of the Empire.

In reality, Marcus Aurelius died in the city which became Vienna, Austria on March 17, 180. His son Commodus had ruled jointly with his father for more than three years prior to the latter’s death. The film inaccurately depicts the ensuing reign of Commodus as much shorter than the twelve years he remained in power.

His sister Lucilla organized a plot to have Commodus murdered two years into his reign, which failed when the two hired assassins were disarmed by Commodus’s bodyguard. After they were executed Lucilla was exiled to the island of Capri, where she was killed shortly after arrival. The incestuous relationship forced upon her by Commodus in the film is imaginary.

Commodus did consider himself to be a source of power equivalent to the gods and had himself represented in statuary throughout the empire as a figure akin to Hercules. He participated in show appearances in the arena, staged events in which he shot captive animals with arrows or killed chained beasts with a lance.

He also fought planned battles against gladiators, winning them without fail. But he did not die in the arena. A conspiracy against the Emperor led to his being poisoned on December 31, 192; when he vomited the poison before it had time to take effect the wrestler Narcissus was sent to strangle the Emperor as he soaked in a bath. The Senate took note of his death by declaring him to be a public enemy.

8 History Movies that Hollywood Secretly Tampered With
Publicity materials for the fake film Argo, with articles about the production in Variety. Central Intelligence Agency

Tony Mendez. Argo, 2012

Tony Mendez was a CIA operative who managed what became known as the Canadian Caper, exfiltrating six Americans from Tehran in 1980. Portrayed in the film by Ben Affleck, who also served as a co-producer the film character, and other persons depicted in the movie, are involved in scenarios which were created for the film, rather than happened in the real event. Other parts of the film ignore or gloss over the real contributions of some, or present them as having taken place as a result of characters created for the film.

The film presents the American CIA as the saviors of the hidden Americans, detracting from the role of the Canadians in sheltering them in place. It shows the Americans first seeking refuge in the embassies of both the UK and New Zealand, only to be turned away by these allies. In truth, both embassies assisted the Americans, the British provided the first shelter and transferred them to the Canadians when it appeared as if the UK embassy was likely to be attacked.

The film contains a scene where a housekeeper at the Canadian ambassador’s home refuses to allow entrance by Iranian Revolutionary Guards. In reality, a similar event occurred at the home of British diplomat Martin Williams who was sheltering the Americans at the time. It was that event which prompted the move to the Canadians.

There was no lengthy delay awaiting the decision of the President, no cancellation of the mission causing Mendez to decide to move forward on his own, and no confrontation with security at the airport, nearly blowing the entire mission. In reality, the American contingent, disguised as a film crew, arrived at the airport at 5.30 in the morning to find relatively few guards and security personnel in place.

According to one of the Americans, Mark Lijek, “The truth is the immigration officers barely looked at us and we were processed out in the regular way.” Following their departure from the gate, there was no pursuit of the speeding airliner as it attempted takeoff, soon to be en route to Switzerland.

8 History Movies that Hollywood Secretly Tampered With
An engraving of William Wallace for the late 17th century. Wikimedia

William Wallace. Braveheart, 1995

Directed by Mel Gibson, who also played the starring role, Braveheart purports to tell the story of William Wallace, a leader in the first Scottish War of Independence from England in the late 13th and early 14th centuries. In the film, Wallace’s acts of vengeance against the conquering English make him a living legend as a warrior and leader. Although he dies before the Scottish expel the English from their land, his memory is invoked to inspire the troops of Robert the Bruce to crush the British army at Bannockburn in 1314, achieving Scottish independence.

Beginning with Wallace and his troops wearing plaid kilts nearly three centuries before their time, the film is fraught with historical inaccuracies. The wearing of war paint prepared from woad is on the other hand ten centuries after its time, and the implication made in the film that Scotland had been occupied by the British since the time Wallace was a child is a fabrication. The English invasion took place the year prior to Wallace’s campaign, following the death of Scottish King Alexander III in 1286.

The real Wallace won an important victory over the British at the Battle of Stirling in 1297, he later was forced to flee to France where he spent several years in exile. When he returned to Scotland in 1304 he spent several months evading capture before being taken prisoner in Glasgow in 1305.

The film also shows Wallace seducing Isabella of France, and her becoming pregnant with his child. At the time referenced in the film, Isabella of France was three years of age, living in France. The child she later carried and who became Edward III was born seven years after Wallace was executed, making the implication of his being William’s son impossible.

The historical Wallace also made it a practice to hang Scottish men who refused to serve in his army, ignored by the film as out of context with his presented character. Historian Elizabeth Ewan, writing of Braveheart in American Historical Review in October 1995, said of the film that it “…almost totally sacrifices historical accuracy…”

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