Historical Accuracy

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Did the motion picture Titanic present the facts and historical record correctly?

-- Thomas M. Terashima (tom@nucleus.com), December 20, 1997


I'll have to check for smoke from the fourth stack, the next time I see Titanic. In some shots, it is hard to tell, since the direction of motion of the ship would tend to trail smoke from the three "practical" stacks over the fourth (as the designers intended).

As a historical note, the fourth stack was used as a ventilator stack for the kitchens, as well as storage for deck chairs and such.

-- Thomas M. Terashima (tom@nucleus.com), January 13, 1998.

well it seemed as when they would show a piece of the set n then a picture of the ship itself, it matched really well, but with the story of Rose n jack dawson n her fiance i personally dont know. but i cant say how much i loved the movie enough!

-- kelly kopenhafer (claude1476@aol.com), December 22, 1997.

The information on the Titanic and its voyage was historically accurate, particularly in light of recent findings by RMS Titanic, Inc.

The story about Jack and Rose was fiction (wonderful fiction). James Cameron did a marvelous job interweaving fact and fiction - for instance, the last place that Andrews, the shipbuilder, was seen was in the smoking room.

This is what the 'purists' are having a problem with. I don't give a flying fig (and we all know what a flying fig is). This is a movie on a classic scale, and ranks with one of the greats of all time.

You might also want to check your video store and see if they have "A Night to Remember" (the original Titanic movie which focuses a lot on the role of the rescue vessels in the death toll being higher than it should have been, particularly the California and Carpathia).

-- Rick (n/a), December 23, 1997.


I've made the Titanic a small hobby for quite a number of years. While I wouldn't presume to rank myself in the company of a Walter Lord, I think I know the Titanic story pretty well, and I felt Cameron did an extremely good job of keeping close to the historical record.

I felt he did a good job of interweaving his fictional characters with the historical figures of the story. The only flaw I found here was with the actor portraying first class passenger Colonel Archibald Gracie with a British accent (Gracie was an American). But in this film, Gracie is a minor character, and most viewers will never notice.

The ship's interior sets were outstanding! The grand staircase, first class dining saloon, smoking room, and gymnasium sets all looked like they'd been lifted directly out of the black and white photos in the history books. The exterior set of the ship was only 100 feet shorter than the actual ship, and as near as I could tell, matched the original in all details.

As far as the story, anyone who has read more than one account of the Titanic knows that there are many conflicting accounts of what happened in 1912, so it's not possible to know exactly what happened, or when. One thing that jumped out at me was having the ship's orchestra playing "Nearer My God to Thee" as their last number. Most serious students of the Titanic have discounted this story, for a number of sound (pardon the pun) reasons. But since all the musicians were lost, we'll never know for sure. In any case, it is a part of the Titanic legend, and I thought the way Cameron used the hymn, with the montage of passengers praying, embracing, preparing for the final plunge, was very effective.

The scene of First Officer Murdoch shooting the passenger, then commiting suicide, is also much in dispute. There are several stories of an officer doing this, but it's never been confirmed, and no bodies with bullet wounds were recovered. Again, though, it's part of the legend.

There are many facets of the story that were either not filmed, or were cut out of the final print. The roles of the Californian and the Carpathia, the story of the wireless operators pigenholeing incoming ice warnings, and actually cutting off the final ice warning ("Shut up, I'm busy!") all are missing from the film. But the film runs over three hours without these stories, so that probably explains their absence.

Cameron has admitted one historical innacuracy, in the scene showing the sailors in the lifeboat rowing through the field of bodies to look for survivors. This actually happened, but there were no flashlights in the lifeboat, as depicted in the film. Cameron said he used the flashlights simply to help light the set (the Titanic sank on a moonless night, and it's hard to shoot a movie in near-total darkness).

I have heard of one other historical inaccuracy. The lake where Jack claimed to have gone ice fishing as a boy is an artificial lake, and wasn't constructed until 1915, three years after the sinking. But since Jack was a fictional character anyway...

If you'd like to read up on the story, here are three books to check out:

"A Night to Remember" and "The Night Lives On", both by Walter Lord, and "Titanic: An Illustrated History" by Don Lynch and Ken Marschall (Note: Lynch and Marschall were technical consultants on the film).


-- Kip Henry (kip-henry@ouhsc.edu), January 01, 1998.

It seemed pretty accurate from the accounts I have read, but the one discrepany I have noticed is that in many shots smoke appears to be coming from all four smokestacks-I was under the impression that the fourth one was fake and had been added by the White Line ship builders to make the ship appear even bigger!

-- Laura Cormier (lrc@usit.net), January 13, 1998.

I have read Titanic: An Illustrated History and in that book Banjamin Guggenhein appears to be younger that what they portrayed him as in the movie. He was about mid 20's-30's when he was on there with his mistress. Smoke does appear to be coming from out of the fourth smokestack. The smoke would have been blown accross it, not all the way in it. GREAT MOVIE!!!!!!! IF THIS DOES NOT WITH THE OSCAR I GIVE UP ON ALL HUMANITY!!!!!!

-- Mary (n/a), January 15, 1998.

Re: Ben Guggenheim:

Check out www.rmplc.co.uk/eduweb/sites/phind/ . This web site has a list of Titanic passengers and crew, ordered by class. According to this site, Ben Guggenheim was 46 years old at the time of the sinking. Obviously this most famous photo of him was taken when he was much younger.

The photo of Ben Guggenheim used in "Titanic: An Illustrated History" was originally published by the "London Illustrated News" after the sinking, as part of a montage of passenger photographs (hence the little number "13" at the bottom of the photo). Walter Lord published the full montage in his 1976 special illustrated version of "A Night to Remember."


-- Kip Henry (kip-henry@ouhsc.edu), January 15, 1998.

Re: Stack #4:

It is true that stack #4 was a dummy, added simply to balance the lines of the ship. However, there were vent lines mounted to the outer surface of the stack which were used to vent off excess steam. This may be what the CG animators were depicting, not the exhaust gasses from the boilers.

I saw the film for the second time last week and noticed another little thing Cameron got RIGHT. In the scene after First Officer Murdoch orders the engines full astern, the film shows the wing propellers stopping, then reversing, but not the center screw--it stops, but does not reverse direction. According to information at the Harland and Wolff website (the Belfast shipbuilders which built the Titanic), the steam turbine engine which powered the center screw could NOT reverse direction. That's a VERY minor detail which all but the most fanatically dedicated Titanic scholars would have missed. But it demonstrates once again Cameron's determination to tell the Titanic's story as accurately and faithfully as possible.


-- Kip Henry (kip-henry@ouhsc.edu), January 19, 1998.

One historical inaccuracy I noticed: during her lifetime, Molly Brown was called Maggie. I found that on a page about her life from the Molly Brown House Museum in Denver; sorry I don't have the URL right here off the top of my head.

-- Nonie Maus (please@dont.email.me), January 24, 1998.

In the movie there is smoke coming out of the fourth stack but if you look closely it is not as dense or as dark a colour as from the other three. This would be because this stack acted as a chimney from the kitchens and some of the first class rooms which actually had their own fireplces.

-- Simon Kermode (sjkermode@bigpond.com.au), February 11, 1998.

I've been a TITANIC enthusiast since 1958-this movie is incredible insofar as its accurate interpretation of the ship, the interiors and, for the most part, the events during the sinking. That said--my big beef with the movie version is Cameron's decision to leave references to the CALIFORNIAN, the undelivered ice warnings and the real drama in the wireless room, engine room and bridge out of the story. In light of the incredible success for this movie I guess Cameron didn't guess wrong, though.

-- Al Orvedahl (alfred.orvedahl@lmco.com), March 05, 1998.

After four viewings, I'm still not convinced about the "collapsible" lifeboats in the movie. They don't look at all like the canvas-sided things I've seen in photographs taken by Carpathia passengers on the morning of April 15th. In the movie, the extra lifeboats (stored on top of the officers quarters) look just like the other likeboats, with hard, wooden sides and bottoms.

Am I missing something?

-- Thomas Shoebotham (cathytom@ix.netcom.com), March 05, 1998.

Tom, the collapsible lifeboats ***did*** have hard bottoms. In "The Night Lives On", Walter Lord describes the Engelhardt collapsibles as "semirafts with wooden bottoms and canvas sides." The bottoms were curved upward from the keel and extended above the waterline, so they must have been 2 or 3 feet deep. The canvas was attached to a wooden frame which went completely around the boat, and was lifted to raise the sides; slats of some sort were used to hold the frame and canvas sides in place.

I don't have any good closeup photos of the collapsibles, but in "Titanic: An Illustrated History" there is a small painting by Ken Marschall showing the crew trying to wrestle collapsible B from the roof of the officer's quarters (page 122). This painting shows the hard bottom curving up from the keel.

In the book "James Cameron's Titanic," there is an excellent photograph of collapsible C floating in one of the smaller water sets, which very clearly shows the canvas sides (page 163).

"Bottom" line: Cameron got this one right, too (sorry for the pun ;-).


-- Kip Henry (kip-henry@ouhsc.edu), March 05, 1998.


I had read the passage in TNLO; the boats in the film just didn't match what I had pictured in my mind all these years. I guess it's hard to tell from old, fuzzy, black-and-white photos. Kudos to Cameron again. It did seem strange that they wouldn't be correct, given how concerned he was to get everything else so correct.

Did we ever actually see the canvas sides in the movie? I don't remember so. If I'm not mistaken, Ismay got into a collapsible (collapsible C?), but I don't remember seeing the sides very clearly in the movie to be able to say one way or the other.

-- Thomas Shoebotham (cathytom@ix.netcom.com), March 06, 1998.

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