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A Brief History of Historically Incorrect Oscar Winners

With its surprise wins at the Producer’s Guild awards and the Director’s Guild awards, The King’s Speech has inched ahead of previous favorite The Social Network to become the new frontrunner for Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards. But there’s one chink in Speech’s strong armor: Christopher Hitchens. The renowned author and raconteur’s strongly-worded rebuke of the film’s historical accuracy (“it perpetrates a gross falisification of history”) has been a pretty hot read in Hollywood circles since it first appeared on Slate a couple of weeks back. Now, since The King’s Speech is no longer the underdog, Hitchens’s takedown could be a problem for the filmmakers.

Or maybe not. The Academy’s motives for their choices are sometimes inexplicable, but Oscar voters have never worried too much about flaws in their history. Here’s just a few of the questionably-accurate movies that have won major awards over the past few decades.

Gladiator

Most of the complaints concerning Ridley Scott’s 2000 Best Picture winner center on the character of Commodus, played by Joaquin Phoenix in an especially sniveling mood. Though the primary character, Maximus (Russell Crowe), was fictional, Commodus was not — though he was not, most agree, the father-murdering, sister-lusting coward of Scott’s story. In fact, his father probably died of smallpox or plague, and Commodus had his sister Lucillia killed after learning of her involvement in an assassination plot. Oh, and that whole big battle in the arena, where dirty-dealing Commodus dies at Maximus’s hand? Yeah, he was actually strangled in his bath, by a wrestler, 12 years into his reign. Though we’ll grant, that wouldn’t have been quite the same kind of slam-bag ending.

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