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Mistakes in Titanic (1997)

Updated on August 30, 2017

James Cameron's epic film Titanic is by far one of the best films I've ever seen. Yet (like most historical films) it is filled with factual errors. Cameron researched the film properly; it is clear therefore these errors were made intentionally rather than by error. I'm not going to write about the digital watch that can be seen on a drowning passengers wrist, or the fact only three out of the four funnels worked; instead I will focus on the major rewriting of history.

1. First Officer William Murdoch was a hero

First Officer William Murdoch is credited with saving over three quarters of the survivors. Captain Smith never gave an abandon ship order and there had never been a lifeboat drill. Murdoch took the initiative to herd scores of passengers to lifeboats, threw deckchairs to passengers that had fallen into the water and gave his own lifejacket to a passenger. There is a statue of him in his hometown and he is hailed as a hero.

However in the film he is portrayed as a coward and a murderer. He accepts a bribe from Kate Winslet's fiancée (although he later throws it back in his face), shoots Jack's friend and then commits suicide. The vice-president of 20th Century Fox Scott Neeson flew to Scotland to apologise in person to Murdoch's nephew Scott, as well as donate £5000 to the William Murdoch Memorial Prize. Scott Murdoch was unimpressed arguing: "In three or four years people will have forgotten about this ceremony but the film and video will still portray my uncle as a murderer when he was a hero and helped save many passengers"

2. Third class passengers were quarantined

It was quarantine laws rather than snobbery that kept the third class passengers away from the first class passengers. Quarantine laws required passengers in steerage to remain segregated throughout the journey and were kept behind locked gates. Third class passengers were associated with disease and pestilence and therefore had be kept away from the first and second class passengers.

Yet in the film a relationship is forged between Rose DeWitt Bukater - a first class passenger and Jack Dawson a steerage passenger. Indeed Jack dines in first class after saving Rose's life. In reality the two would never even have met.

3. Bruce Ismay was not responsible for the ship sinking

Bruce Ismay is shown urging Captain Smith to sail fast. There is no evidence of him doing this. There would have been no reason for him to do this either as his company, the White Star Line, promoted luxury rather than speed. Captain Smith also did not need any encouragement to sail fast; only the year before he had wrecked the Titanic's sister ship, the RMS Olympic, due to sailing too fast.

4. The Titanic had not been promoted as 'unsinkable'

White Star Line never suggested the Titanic was unsinkable. This legend has been retrospectively created. It was not ground breaking for a ship to have compartments; the Olympic had them too. Yet at the start of the film, Rose's mother looks at the ship and declares that the ship is said to be unsinkable.

Have your say

Could Jack and Rose have both fitted onto the door?

A book which gives a full and accurate account of the tragedy

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