In a work of fiction based on a true story, sometimes a Historical-Domain Character
is killed off in a way which departs drastically from his or her passing in real life. This may be justified if the work is a Secret History
or Alternate History
; otherwise, it's a rather flamboyant example of Artistic License – History
. Top marks if the fictional death differs notably in terms of both cause and date.
Note that this trope doesn't cover instances where the death is altered, but is still ultimately recognisable as a fictionalization of the real death. For example, the Hammer film Rasputin The Mad Monk
makes some notable changes to Rasputin's historical murder, most obviously replacing his actual assassins with fictional stand-ins and having Rasputin successfully kill some of them before going down, but the sequence is still broadly similar to the accepted account.
The inversion of this would be when a historical figure's death doesn't take place when it did in real life - either because the story depicts their historical death as being faked or otherwise misreported, or when it simply avoids the matter altogether.
Essentially this is the Based on a True Story
version of Death by Adaptation
(or Spared By Adaptation
, for the inversion.)
As a Death Trope
, expect unmarked spoilers ahead.
- Inglourious Basterds. Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels are assassinated in June 1944, long before their actual deaths by suicide in 1945.
- Gladiator does this twice, first to Marcus Aurelius (shown killed by Commodus; actually died of plague) and then to Commodus (shown killed in combat by the fictional Maximus; actually murdered in his bath).
- The Hammer film Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde shows William Burke lynched by a mob in London in the same year as the Jack the Ripper murders. In reality, he was formally executed in Edinburgh fifty-nine years before the Ripper killings.
- In Shadow of the Vampire a few people involved with the filming of Nosferatu are killed, while in real life they had careers that lasted a few more decades.
- The infamous witch-hunter Matthew Hopkins probably died of consumption, although one account has him ironically tried and executed for witchcraft by an unnamed individual. The film Witchfinder General ends with him being axed by a fictional Roundhead, before another Roundhead puts him out of his misery by shooting him. (The missing link? The film is based on a novel by Roland Bassett, in which Hopkins is ironically tried and executed for witchcraft by... the fictional Roundhead.)
- In the Hellboy movie, Adolf Hitler is mentioned to have faked his death in 1945 and still lead his own occult movement until his actual death (which only the BPRD knows) in 58.
- The Dennis Wheatley novel The Second Seal has Dragutin Dimitrijević strangled to death by the dashing but entirely fictional Duc de Richleau in 1914. He was actually shot for treason in 1917.
- The Spear by James Herbert portrays Himmler as having faked his death, and eventually dying some time after the war.
- Secret history example: Blackadder creatively kills off King Richard III at the start of season 1, Queen Elizabeth I at the end of season 2, and the Prince Regent at the end of season 3, with the latter two implied to have been replaced by impostors.
- Psychoville inverts this trope by revealing that Tony Hancock actually faked his suicide in 1968 and became Oscar Lomax, one of the series' regular characters. It then plays the trope straight when Lomax/Hancock is murdered.
- Because William Shakespeare frequently either didn't have the true facts at hand or used Artistic License to make a better story, his plays based on real-life people often have these (Macbeth being a prime example).
- Oda Nobunaga has been subjected to the villain treatment numerous times throughout Japanese Media, including the various ways he dies. The video games Sengoku Basara and Onimusha perhaps being the most notable.
- Zig-zagged in the Assassin's Creed series. While most of the villains are genuine historical figures who indeed died around the time the story is set, the parts about them being killed by a white-robed Assassin are, of course, purely fictional. However, some of the circumstances seen are similar to real-life events: Rodrigo Borgia is poisoned by his son Cesare turning his own murder attempt against him, as is believed happened (although his death is instant rather than slow, lingering, and gruesome as it was in real life), and Cesare himself is thrown off the walls of the same city history records him dying in the siege of.
- In Anastasia, Rasputin dies in an accident during the February Revolution; he was actually assassinated a couple of months beforehand. To be fair, the actual cause of his death - drowning in a frozen pond - remains the same.
- Inverted in Pocahontas: Ratcliffe survives to return to England (albeit under arrest). In reality he was killed by Indians.