The Braveheart Effect

During the course of my epic voyage through British history on film I think that I may have noticed something. I’ve come up with the following hypothesis based on what I’ve seen:

History films released before Braveheart are generally more accurate than those released afterwards

Let’s be honest here, Braveheart was one of the most wildly inaccurate films ever to be released and that can’t be denied, no matter what you may think of it as a film. But all the history films I have seen of recent years, particularly those of real events, seem to be suffering the from same inaccuracy problems as Braveheart- IE they present a heavily fictionalised and completely unrealistic account of what actually happened.

I can just name a few just to show you what I mean: Gladiator, Pearl Harbour, Kingdom of Heaven, 300, Alexander… All based on real events and yet not one of them come even remotely close to the truth. Gladiator compresses the entire reign of Emperor Commodus into the space of a few months, Pearl Harbour (which you would expect to be accurate given it wasn’t that long ago) was just an excuse for blowing some ships up and the less said about 300 the better. We can even see this in those films that have already been watched during my challenge- Centurion, Ironclad, etc. The fact of the matter is that all of these films are based on actual historical events and all of them are inaccurate.  Its as though the people writing the film didn’t even bother to read up on the subject matter first. And the let’s not even go anywhere near A Knight’s Tale (Though i’m guessing that one was mostly intentional!)

As a side note, they even managed to spectacularly fudge up Beowulf, which in all honesty isn’t that hard to read given that it’s only about one hundred pages long.

Now if we look at films from before Braveheart: The likes of Zulu, Lawrence of Arabia, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid… All great films, yes ok, they have their inaccuracies I’ll grant you, but even put together, their inaccuracies are nothing compared to what you can find in a single film of the modern era.

Now it’s not neccessarily the case that the older films are better than the newer ones, Gladiator is still a decent film, despite people in the background wandering around in modern clothing, and some of the older films, as my challenge has shown, are complete bilge water (EG: Becket).

To cut everything short, I have come up with three questions based on my original hypothesis:

  1. How has the level of inaccuracy in history films increased over time?
  2. Is there a point where History films became inaccurate or did it increase on a gradual scale?
  3. How much of a role has Braveheart played in this process.?

Hopefully, this British history challenge will be able to help us at least part of the way to an answer and all of the rubbish I’ve just written will at least make a bit more sense.

UPDATE: The results of the test are now up and you can find them here


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