Rob Halliday

New this month Other mistake: Like most Sherlock Holmes films 'The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes' is set in Victorian England: Queen Victoria even makes an appearance. Holmes and Watson go to Loch Ness in Scotland, where they see the Loch Ness monster. (Spoiler alert) it turns out that the Loch Ness Monster is not a living creature, but an experimental submarine. Like most people who would have seen the film on its release in 1970, they are familiar with the Loch Ness monster (even if they do not necessarily believe in it). But the first documented sightings of the Loch Ness Monster were only made in 1933. Nobody ever thought there might have been a monster in Loch Ness before 1933.

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Rob Halliday
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New this month Suggested correction: Sightings and lore of the Loch Ness Monster date back over 1,500 years. In fact, the indigenous people of the region carved images of the monster into stone as far back as 500 AD. The 1933 hoax was certainly not the first time the monster was sighted; however, the hoax was inspired by the centuries-old Loch Ness legend, of which Holmes, Watson and everyone else would be well aware in the Victorian era.

Charles Austin Miller

New this month Suggested correction: This is somewhat incorrect. The 1933 photograph that was published in newspapers may have brought the idea of a Loch Ness Monster to a wider audience, reports of a creature in Loch Ness (or Loch River) were around long before then. And just because the term "Loch Ness Monster" may have first been printed in 1933 doesn't mean the term didn't exist before then. In a fictional story surrounding fictional events, there's no mistake in bringing up a creature already rumored to have existed.

Bishop73

Well observed sir! I thought somebody might well say that. Maybe I should have gone into more detail. May I make it clear that I have absolutely no problem with a sighting of the Loch Ness Monster in a Sherlock Holmes film, since Sherlock Holmes was a fictional character, and 'The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes' was an imaginary story. (Plus the film contained some intentionally comic elements, it was a bit 'tongue in cheek', so lets not take it too seriously!) But lets look at the history of sightings of the monster. The first sighting to attract widespread attention was on 22 July 1933, when the Spicers saw a creature near (but not in) the Loch. On 12 November Hugh Gray took the photograph you allude to. In 1934 Rupert Gould published the first book about it. You say that earlier sightings may not have been widely reported. You are quite correct! One D. Mackenzie said he saw a monster in the Loch in 1872, but did not tell anybody at the time. A sixth century life of St. Columba records an encounter with a 'water beast' in the River Ness. My point was that, in the film, Holmes, Watson, and most other people, are familiar with the story of the Loch Ness Monster. (Spoiler alert again) : The 'monster' is an experimental submarine, which Sherlock's brother, Mycroft, is helping the war office to develop. To stop people realising they were experimenting with new military technology, they would develop the submarine in Loch Ness, so anybody seeing it would think it was the Monster (to add to the deception they give it an artificial neck and head). My point is that, while most people who saw the film in 1970, and most people using this website, would be quite familiar with the story of the Loch Ness Monster. So, whether or not they believe in its existence, they would get the joke (after all, the film was not meant to be taken completely seriously). In the Victorian era the Loch Ness Monster would, at best, have been a local rumour, not something that was known worldwide so it is doubtful that even people as undoubtedly intelligent as Holmes and Watson would have known about it. If they saw a monster in Loch Ness they would not say 'Oh, that's the Loch Ness Monster'. They would ask 'Whatever is that great big thing going through the water?'.

Rob Halliday

9th Jul 2018

Amadeus (1984)

New this month Trivia: 'Amadeus' had (and still has) the highest budget for wigs for the cast of any film in cinema history.

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Rob Halliday

9th Jul 2018

Braveheart (1995)

New this month Factual error: For much of ‘Braveheart' Robert the Bruce is torn between the choice of following his conscience by helping William Wallace or submitting to the English as a puppet ruler of Scotland. Thus he serves with the English army at the Battle of Falkirk, but helps Wallace to safety after the Scots are defeated. At the end of the film he is about to finally submit, when he has a change of heart, calls his followers to fight, and defeats the English. This is nonsense. Robert the Bruce was among the first Scottish noblemen to resist English control of Scotland. Edward I's Scottish wars lasted for more than ten years, and, at times, when it seemed that Edward had crushed all opposition, Robert the Bruce (like most Scots) made a half-hearted submission, but he soon took up arms again. There is no record that he was at the Battle of Falkirk (on either side). In 1306, seven months after Wallace's execution, he had himself crowned King of Scotland, provocatively rejecting English authority. For the rest of his life he waged uncompromising war against the English, culminating in his great victory at Bannockburn.

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Rob Halliday
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New this month Suggested correction: This movie is historical fiction, real life events dramatized for a better film. That it's not completely historically accurate is not a mistake.

Greg Dwyer

8th Jul 2018

Braveheart (1995)

New this month Factual error: Some more errors about Princess Isabella: at the height of William Wallaces' rebellion Edward I sends her as an ambassador to negotiate with Wallace (and spy on the Scots) instead she falls in love with Wallace. Princess Isabella was born in 1292: Wallace's rebellion was at its height during 1297-8, so she could have been no more than 6 at the time. (Somebody else has already observed that she was only 13 at the time of Wallace's execution.) Isabella's first language would (obviously) have been French, a 13th century Scotsman would speak either a heavily accented Scottish version of English, or Scots Gaelic, but Isabella has no communication difficulties in Scotland. The Wallace-Isabella affair is also absurd, since it is implausible that, at the height of a war, an unaccompanied young woman, let alone a princess engaged to the heir to the throne of England, would be sent into the heart of a war zone as an envoy and a spy.

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Rob Halliday
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New this month Suggested correction: Her age has already been marked as an error. As someone well traveled, Wallace knew several languages and as an educated princess, Isabella would have likely known several (and this could all simply be a translation convention). And the king admits that he knew of the danger, and hoped that if Wallace or his men killed her, her father the King of France would help him defeat the Scottish rebellion.

Greg Dwyer

I concede most of your points, and, as you observe, if Isabella and Wallace can converse, this is 'translation convention'. Another error in the film that has already been marked: while the historical Wallace was a minor nobleman, Braveheart shows him as a common man, with no aristocratic or upper class traits, so the Isabella-Wallace romance forms a stock element of many romantic stories, a princess or prince defying social convention to fall in love with a lower class man or woman, entertaining as a story, but implausible in reality. And I think we agree that Isabella was only 6 at the time of Wallace's rebellion, so, in reality, she would have been far too young to have been involved in events.

Rob Halliday

First, both historical inaccuracies and things that you consider unlikely are not mistakes. Second, history is riddled with accounts of nobles having affairs with commoners and slaves.

Greg Dwyer

7th Jul 2018

The War Lord (1965)

New this month Factual error: The main plot of 'The War Lord' is based on a total fallacy. Chrysagon, a nobleman in eleventh century Normandy, falls in love with Bronwyn. She is betrothed to Marc, a villager on Chrysagon's estate. When Bronwyn and Marc marry Chrysagon claims 'Droit Du Seigneur', a law that a lord is allowed to sleep with a lesser man's wife on their wedding night. It is often asserted, even by some medieval historians, that 'Droit Du Seigneur' was legally enforced in the middle ages, but no reference to the practice has ever been found in any surviving medieval law code, legal text book, or historical source. It is first mentioned in the sixteenth century, and then as a discontinued practice from a barbarous past (like human sacrifice or cannibalism) but the earliest accounts of the custom do not provide any verifiable sources, suggesting that it originated in over-active minds of writers of popular romances.

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Rob Halliday

6th Jul 2018

Little Big Man (1970)

New this month Question: In all honesty I have little (if any) anthropological knowledge of what life was like for Native Americans in the USA in the nineteenth century. But it seemed to me that, for much of the time, the Native Americans in the movie did not resemble the members of a 'hunter gatherer' society whose way of life was under threat from the onset of the modern industrial world. Instead the Native Americans seemed to live, act and behave much more like the members of a 1960's hippie commune. How accurate is that?

Rob Halliday

3rd Jul 2018

The Long Ships (1964)

New this month Factual error: Rolfe is leading the Vikings on a quest to find a giant golden bell, 'The Mother Of All Voices'. After many exploits the Vikings find a building with a large dome on it: Rolfe excitedly enters it, but all he finds is one small metal bell, hanging from a rope. In his anger he grabs the small bell and smashes it against the wall. This causes a horrible reverberation, and he realises that the dome on top of the building is 'The Mother Of All Voices' and it has been disguised by being covered with mortar to make it look like a building. The Vikings then remove the mortar to find the bell beneath. But a bell will only reverberate if it is allowed to hang free: the noise is made by the vibrations as the bell moves. If a bell is locked in position and it is then struck it might make a single clang, but it would not reverberate constantly.

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Rob Halliday

3rd Jul 2018

The Long Ships (1964)

New this month Question: The Vikings led by Rolfe and the Moors led by Aly Mansuh are both seeking a gigantic bell, 'The Mother Of All Voices', twenty feet high, made of solid gold. Eventually the Vikings find it, and transport it on their ships back to Aly Mansuh's capital. How can they do this? One of the world's most famous bells is 'Big Ben' in the Houses of Parliament: a mere seven and a half feet high, this weighs thirteen tons! Not only is 'The Mother Of All Voices' considerably larger than 'Big Ben', it is also made of gold. Now, gold is heavier than lead, so how much will a gold bell over twenty feet high weigh? How can the Vikings transport this over the sea on their 'long ships'? And what do either the Vikings or the Moors plan to do when they have the bell? If they keep it to admire for its beauty and craftsmanship, then it will just be a financial liability to whoever owns it. Or if they melt it down for the gold they will destroy all the craftsmanship and artistic endeavour that went into making the bell.

Rob Halliday

New this month Answer: Perhaps, when I submitted my question, I may have been pondering the internal logic of a film that makes a good adventure story, but is historically rather doubtful to say the least (I can say this as I have a degree in medieval history, and have worked as an archaeologist on Viking settlements). In all probability, if historical Vikings were seeking treasure or plunder, and found a bell made of gold, they would melt it down for its precious metal content, with no regard for its artistic significance.

Rob Halliday

New this month Answer: It's unlikely Viking ships could transport such a heavy object, but movies, which frequently ignore historical and scientific reality, often use plot devices like this to tell the story. As far as the Vikings and Moors admiring the gold bell's craftsmanship, that may be the case, but they might also be like the Spanish conquerors who plundered Mexico and South America with little regard for the culture, and shipped finely-crafted gold objects back to Spain where they were melted and remade into coins, jewelry, and other art objects.

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3rd Jul 2018

Amadeus (1984)

New this month Factual error: 'Amadeus' is primarily a flashback. The elderly, embittered Antonio Salieri recalls how, as a young man, he dedicated his life to music by taking a vow of chastity. He became a successful and respected musician. Then his life was disrupted after the child prodigy, Mozart performed for the crowned heads of Europe, demonstrating incredible ability, and then composed music that was much better than his. Jealous of Mozart's brilliance, he worked to discredit Mozart and hasten Mozart's early death at 36. Much of these elements of the plot are highly fanciful. Salieri never lived a life of chastity: aged 25 he married Therese Hefferstorter, by whom he had eight children. The portrayal of Salieri as a mature, adult musician eclipsed by the young upstart Mozart is wholly inaccurate. Salieri was only six years older than Mozart: he was born in 1750; Mozart was born in 1756. Like Mozart, Salieri was a child prodigy, performing before the Emperor Joseph II when aged 16. Salieri and Mozart were attached to the Habsburg court in Vienna, here, far from being bitter rivals, they often collaborated. "Amadeus' is accurate in showing how Salieri outlived Mozart: while Mozart died in 1791, Salieri lived until 1825. But he did not harbour animosity to Mozart, instead he was something of a surrogate father to Mozart's youngest son, Franz Xavier Mozart, ensuring that Franz received a good musical (and general) education. Far from being alone and forgotten in his last years, Salieri became a highly regarded music teacher, whose pupils included Franz Liszt, Franz Schubert and Ludwig Van Beethoven.

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Rob Halliday

New this month Trivia: Something that I found rather amusing. In the 1968 'Planet Of The Apes' film, its immediate sequels, and the spin-off television series, apes have acquired a high level of intelligence, but lack technology. They can construct simple houses and buildings, write books, cultivate the land for food, organise governmental systems, but they cannot make machines, or run factories. Yet the apes possess vast quantities of guns, and have an unlimited supply of ammunition, which they apply to keep humans under control. Like or loathe firearms, it requires a great level of technical skill and resource to make a gun. Soon many people began to ask: how can the apes have so many guns, when they have no factories in which to make them? It was not long before somebody found a simple answer to what seemed like an unanswerable conundrum. All the weapons were left over from World War III, and discovered by the apes after they evolved.

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Rob Halliday

3rd Jul 2018

Cromwell (1970)

New this month Factual error: After the execution of Charles I / Alec Guiness, Oliver Cromwell / Richard Harris returns to his home. Sitting by the fire, he is consoled by his wife: he can now put the cares and worries of war and politics behind him, and enjoy a quiet life as a country gentleman. This cosy domesticity is rudely interrupted when some of his old colleagues arrive to tell him tell him that he is now needed to run the country. He protests that, as a country gentleman he would be unfit for such a role, but he reluctantly assumes power. In fact, by the time of Charles I's execution Oliver Cromwell was one of the most powerful political figures and military commanders in Britain, and actively continued commanding armies in Ireland, Scotland and England, and involving himself in government. Although rejecting a suggestion that he should be crowned king (after much deliberation), he was quite willing to take the title of 'Lord Protector' and govern England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales until his death in 1658.

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Rob Halliday

New this month Factual error: In the religious service there are some incredible mistakes that are really obvious to a historian whose speciality is medieval church architecture. The scene is filmed in St Bartholemew The Great Church in London, which was founded in 1123 and built during Henry I's reign: thus it would have been standing by the reign of Richard The Lionheart, when the film is set. However, several seventeenth century memorials can be seen on the walls of the church, and even a modern wooden hymn board. Some of the upper windows of the church were added in the fifteenth century: we see these on several occasions. The glass in the windows is obviously modern, and while the interior walls of medieval churches were elaborately painted, the walls and stonework are plain and bare. (Admittedly it might have been rather expensive to install coloured medieval stained glass and paint the interior walls, so perhaps we can let that go.) There is a later scene in St. Bartholemew the Great in which a modern altar, candlesticks and metalwork can be seen.

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Rob Halliday

New this month Factual error: Peter O'Toole is a great actor, and delivers a commanding performance as 'Lawrence Of Arabia'. Much of the presence that he exudes when portraying T.E. Lawrence derives from his height (Peter O'Toole is 6 foot 2 inches tall). But Lawrence of Arabia was only 5 foot 5 inches tall (at a time when the average height for men was 5 foot 9 inches). For much of his life T.E. Lawrence forced himself to great tests of endurance to increase his strength and stamina, it is possible that this was to compensate for feelings of inferiority over his short stature.

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Rob Halliday

27th Jun 2018

Spartacus (1960)

New this month Trivia: A crucial point occurs quite early on in the fight between Draba and Spartacus, being staged for the entertainment of Crassus. Spartacus is defeated, and lies at Draba's mercy. Crassus smugly points to Draba with a downturned thumb. In the film the gesture is meant to signal 'kill him'. Classical historians are generally agreed that the Romans used the gesture called, in Latin 'pollice verso' (which translates as 'turned thumb') as a signal to gladiators, but nobody is sure which gestures applied. Some argue that a downturned thumb meant 'drive your sword into him' (kill him), which is the case here: had Crassus felt merciful he would have displayed an upturned up thumb, meaning 'raise your weapon' (spare him). However, many experts argue that an upturned thumb meant 'raise your weapon to kill him', while a downturned thumb meant 'drop your weapon and spare him'. It has also been suggested that both schools of thought were wrong: instead Romans who wanted a gladiator to dispatch a defeated foe pointed sideways, meaning 'run your sword into him', but if they wanted to spare a fallen gladiator they displayed a fist with the thumb tucked inside, meaning 'sheath your sword' (or put your sword back into the scabbard). Unfortunately since the greatest classical historians and archaeologists have been debating this for over a century, and never resolved the point, any film director wishing to stage a classical epic film will probably have to use his or her discretion and chose whichever version they think best.

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Rob Halliday

27th Jun 2018

Leap! (2016)

New this month Factual error: Felicie, her rival Camille, and the other young dancers in the ballet school are all hoping to dance the part of Clara in a prestigious production of 'The Nutcracker'. The film shows the Eiffel Tower being built: this took place between 1887 and 1889. Tchaikovsky did not compose The Nutcracker until 1892. Also, early performances of The Nutcracker were unsuccessful. It was only from the 1930's that The Nutcracker became a popular work.

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Rob Halliday

27th Jun 2018

Leap! (2016)

New this month Factual error: The film shows the Eiffel Tower under construction. Several scenes of the film are set in Gustave Eiffel's workshop, where The Statue of Liberty is being assembled (the unfinished statue is the setting for a confrontation between Felicie and Regine). But the Statue of Liberty was transported to New York in 1885 where it was dedicated in 1886. Construction of the Eiffel Tower only started in 1887.

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Rob Halliday

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