Kenneth Taylor, an American pilot who is portrayed in Michael Bay's Pearl Harbor, allegedly called the movie "a piece of trash; over-sensationalized and completely distorted."
To turn a historical event into entertainment is hard enough, but then filmmakers must also consider how to relay the event’s significance accurately and responsibly.
Filmmakers, then, have to ask themselves whether they ought to portray the weight of real-life events or simply try to tell a good story. They have to decide which details can be left out and which must be shown when shaping history into narrative.
It’s not an easy task, so we will assess how these 11 movies based on true stories did in portraying an accurate piece of history.
Movies Based On True Stories: How Mel Gibson Portrayed William Wallace
When Braveheart was first shown in theaters in the spring of 1995, audiences across the United States were stunned by the realistic depictions of real-life Scottish knight William Wallace enmeshed in medieval battle.
It’s a captivating film, but it’s rife with historical discrepancies. It appeared as though Mel Gibson, the director and star of the film, cared more about crafting a character-driven drama than an educational one.
Gibson’s Braveheart tells the story of Scottish rebellions against the English across the late 13th and early 14th centuries. Rebellions like these did indeed happen. However, according to Daily History, that’s about where the truth starts and ends in Braveheart.
For instance, the movie gives Wallace an attractive backstory that includes traveling around Europe and learning the ways of the world in his younger years. But little is truly known about the Scotsman’s early life.
The image of a “poor man of the people” that Gibson gave to the Scotsman is empathy-inducing. However, the generally agreed-upon assumption about Wallace’s real background was that he hailed from a noble family and lacked much of the humanity that was depicted in the film.
At least the Oscar-winning director later recognized how historically inaccurate his film was.
“Wallace wasn’t as nice as the character we saw up there, we romanticized him a bit,” Gibson admitted. “Actually, he was a monster. He always smelled of smoke, he was always burning people’s villages down. He was like what the Vikings call a ‘berserker.'”
“We kind of shifted the balance a bit because someone has got to be the good guy against the bad guy; that’s the way that stories are told,” Gibson explained.
Although the film uses the murder of Wallace’s wife by English soldiers as an impetus for his violence, in reality, there are no records besides a poem to prove that the Scotsman had ever been married. Plus, the Scots were already rebelling against England when Wallace joined the fray.
Further, Wallace’s relationship with Isabella of France, Edward II’s wife, was greatly altered. In truth, she was around nine years old at the time the Scotsman was killed and there was no way they could have had a relationship.
The movie returns to partial truth for Wallace’s finale. It rightly shows his capture and how during his trial he insisted that he had not committed treason because he had never pledged his loyalty to the English crown.
However, the movie fails to mention the many other charges lobbied against him, like raiding and pillaging civilians, which were most likely true.
Ultimately, the film is mired in half-truths and outright falsehoods. But it’s also one of the most cohesively constructed adventure films ever made, with a deeply engaging cast of characters and engrossing arcs. It earned five Academy Awards — including Best Picture.