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Artistic License History / Titanic (1997)

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James Cameron sought out to make his depiction of the sinking of the RMS Titanic as accurate as possible, conducting an exhaustive amount of research into not only the ship but Edwardian Era society. Given the scientific understanding of the disaster at the time, he certainly succeeded beyond what any filmmaker could hope to achieve, and this film is rivalled only by A Night to Remember as the most accurate depiction of the sinking. Nevertheless, in his own words, he often spent his time thinking as a screenwriter rather than a historian, resulting in many of the following historical inaccuracies. He also said that some of the myths were included, despite having been disproven by the 1990s, because "audiences would expect to see them."

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  • Thomas Andrews is generally described as the designer of the ship, and depicted as blaming himself for its faults. In reality, Andrews was the shipwright - the actual designer was a man named Alexander Carlisle.
  • The scenes which take place on the forecastle head, at the very bow of the ship, could not have happened in real life because this area was out of bounds to passengers.
  • Thomas Andrews' tour of the ship for Rose, Cal, and Ruth goes to the bridge and he mentions that they'll be seeing the engine room, both of which were out of bounds. The boiler rooms were also out of bounds to passengers, although Frederick Barrett does say that Jack and Rose shouldn't be there when they dart in there to escape Lovejoy.
    • While Rose, Cal, and Ruth were accompanied by Thomas Andrews, who has more access than the average passenger, it's unlikely an exception would have been allowed for a simple recreational tour, and in the background there are clearly two other passengers on the bridge as well. The only indication of this rule is when Cal and Lovejoy storm through the bridge as a shortcut across the ship and James Moody feebly protests "Sir, you can't come through here!".
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  • Due to concerns about lice and such, Third-Class passengers were also not allowed in the First-Class section and vice-versa, so Jack dining in First Class and Rose partying in Third Class would both have been impossible. This is the real reason for the infamous "locked gates" that prevented Third Class passengers from accessing the boats: the strict separation of classes meant that only Third Class had to go through the health inspection in New York. Third Class had their own deck space fore and aft, including both well decks. However, the Boat Deck was only for First and Second Class outside of an emergency, and most of Third Class had no idea how to get there - coupled with the fact that a lot of them couldn't speak or read English and so wouldn't understand the panicked directions they would have been given - hence the crushing mortality rate.
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  • Tickets for the Titanic were not transferable. Indeed, the prop tickets used for filming, being faithful reproductions, even state this (see this image). Jack and Fabrizio shouldn't have been able to board with Sven and Olaf's tickets. But then, when James Moody allows them to board, he does only glance at the tickets anyway.
  • Cal, Rose, and Ruth are stated to be staying in the parlor suite B-52, 54, 56, as that is where Lovejoy says to bring their luggage. In real life, this was occupied by J. Bruce Ismay.
  • When Jack and Fabrizio are looking for their cabin, the Irish mother and Helga's family can be seen in the hallway. The third class cabins in the bow were for single men, while accommodations for single women and women with children were located in the stern. Families that included men were located amidships, separating the two groups. This arrangement dates back to the earliest days of ocean liners, with the theory being that the men travelling with their families would provide some buffer of protection to unaccompanied women.
  • Captain Smith personally greeted the First Class passengers as they came on board, but does not appear doing that in the film.
  • The departure from Southampton is portrayed very smoothly, omitting the near-collision with the SS City of New York which delayed the ship by an hour (and some would say was a bad omen).
  • In a deleted scene, Rose clearly unlocks the door to her suite and tosses a key on the table. Lovejoy later unlocks the door while looking for her. Passengers were not issued keys to their cabins, as they were all kept unlocked.note 
  • As is common in many depictions of the sinking, J. Bruce Ismay is portrayed as encouraging Captain Smith to push the ship to full speed so that they get to New York a day early. In reality, Ismay and the rest of the White Star executives knew they could never compete with Cunard's faster ships, and they wanted to focus on luxury and comfort. That said, Titanic was performing very well and there was talk on board of a potential early arrivalnote .
    • In addition, J. Bruce Ismay remarks that the last four boilers are still unlit before pressuring Captain Smith into increasing the ship's speed. At the British inquiry, Leading Fireman Frederick Barrett testified that the day before the disaster, eight of the boilers were unlit.
  • As one of the most prevailing myths surrounding the sinking, Ismay also remarks that Captain Smith is due to retire at the end of the voyage. While this has become a staple of Titanic folklore, there is no contemporary evidence that Smith intended to retire after the voyage; he even commented that he looked forward to commanding Britannic once she was completed.
  • Margaret Brown was never referred to as "Molly" during her lifetime; her friends called her "Maggie" instead, and after the sinking, she was usually known as "the Unsinkable Mrs. Brown." The "Molly" nickname only stuck on after her death, in due part to the 1960 musical and its 1964 film adaptation starring Debbie Reynolds.
  • Though he only makes a handful of appearances, Third Officer Herbert Pitman is shown to be clean-shaven, even though he had a moustache at the time of the sinking.
  • Ismay is depicted having lunch in the Palm Court with Rose and Cal's party, when he actually ate by himself in an alcove. In addition, the Palm Court did not serve full meals, only beverages and light snacks like pastries and sandwiches. Cameron probably chose this as the venue rather than the First-Class Dining Saloon or the À la Carte Restaurant so that Jack could plausibly happen to get a clear view of Rose, since the veranda overlooked the poop deck.
  • "Eternal Father, Strong to Save" was not used in the Sunday service for first class, but in a second class prayer service later in the day.
  • Whether or not the band actually played "Nearer, My God, To Thee" as Titanic went down is a matter of speculation. Survivors mostly described them playing upbeat music to help keep everyone calm, with hardly any specific tunes cited. In the film's defense, band leader Wallace Hartley had once told a friend in casual conversation that if he were ever to find himself on a sinking ship and knew he was going to die, that's the tune he would choose to spend his final moments playing.
  • A common misconception of the sinking is that the ship sucked people down when it fully sank beneath the surface. This was busted by Mythbusters. Many survivors described it as like riding an elevator. In fact, the chief baker (the last person to 'leave' the ship) didn't even get his hair wet.
  • The last thing Captain Smith says to Second Officer Lightoller before retiring for the night is to maintain their current speed and heading. In reality, his last order before the collision was to be alerted if their situation became uncertain. This line actually does appear in the script, but was ultimately cut from the film.
  • In the deleted Californian scene, after getting Phillips's rude reply, Cyril Evans listens to the end of his current message to Cape Race, then shuts down for the night. Evans actually kept working until 11:30, ten minutes before the collision.
  • About two minutes pass between Frederick Fleet sighting the iceberg and the collision. In reality, the elapsed time was roughly forty seconds. In addition, Titanic scraped the iceberg for only seven seconds, whereas the collision lasts about a minute.
  • Thomas Andrews is shown feeling the vibration of the iceberg collision while in his cabin and realizing that something is wrong. Reportedly, he didn't notice anything was wrong until Captain Smith sent for him. Andrews's cabin was on A Deck, where the impact was barely felt.
  • All of the stokers are shown fleeing the boiler rooms as the watertight doors close, even those who are in rooms that have not yet flooded. In reality, the stokers remained at their posts to make sure the boilers were fully vented; otherwise, they may have exploded when they came in contact with the freezing water. In addition, all of the boiler rooms had escape ladders to the upper decks, so no one was trapped when the doors were closed.
  • After the collision, Captain Smith orders full stop. In reality, he ordered half ahead while the damage inspection was carried out, then ordered full stop.
  • In his damage report, Thomas Andrews says that the first five compartments have been breached (the forepeak, the three cargo holds, and Boiler Room 6). Boiler Room 5 was also breached. However, in fairness, the damage in Boiler Room 5 was quickly contained, and it was the damage to Boiler Room 6 that doomed the ship.
  • Contrary to what is portrayed in the film, Third-Class passengers were not deliberately locked below decks by the crew during the sinking. Some stewards did make it difficult for passengers to leave steerage, since they didn't understand their orders, but at no point in the voyage were the doors locked (doors with locks were required by law at the time, but locking them was not). It may not be clear from the film but more women and children from Third Class survived the sinking than men from First Class.
    • Stewards did block a number of stairways and doors, but this was intended to allow them to shepherd the Third Class passengers to the boat deck without them getting lost. This is apparently referenced in the scene where Jack and the others break down the locked gate, as the steward tells them to head for the main stairwell and they'll be able to find their way up from there. Overall, there was a serious lack of communications among the stewards overseeing Third Class that prevented many passengers from getting to the lifeboats.
  • Perhaps most infamously, there is no evidence that First Officer William Murdoch shot panicking passengers while loading the last lifeboats, or that he committed suicide. A number of survivors did report that an officer shot himself late in the sinking, but the incident, and the identity of the officer in question, are impossible to verify; meanwhile all of the surviving officers deny seeing an officer shoot passengers and then himself.note  Murdoch is believed to have drowned in the disaster. Contemporary sources tell that it actually was the captain that wielded the gun (a known folk song of the time states this point, written not long after the disaster).
  • The Syrian family is used in a darkly humorous way to show the plight of steerage passengers who didn't know English and were left to figure out what was going on by themselves.note  Surprisingly, this depiction is incorrect. The people listed as "Syrians" on the Titanic's passenger list were overwhelmingly urban, westernized Lebanese who were fluent in French or English, and quite a few of them had already been to America and knew the drill. Most survived the sinking. A better pick would have been Bulgarians, of which none survived.
  • Robert Hitchens is depicted as a tall, lean man with a cockney accent. The real Hitchens was 5'6", stocky of build, and from Cornwall. He's also depicted as saying "shut that hole in your face" to Molly Brown; in reality, those words were spoken by a steward in lifeboat 8 to another woman.
  • The ship's orchestra did not perform during dinner in the First Class Saloon. They performed for the restaurants, along with teatime and after-dinner concerts.
  • Thomas Andrews is depicted speaking with an Irish accent. While he was born in Ireland, he grew up in an upper-class Anglican family and therefore spoke with a typical English RP accent.
  • Captain Smith tells wireless operators Phillips and Bride to start sending the distress call CQD. In a deleted scene, right after he leaves, Bride suggests that they use the new distress call SOS, as it might be their only chance to use it. Phillips did not start using SOS until about half an hour later.
  • When Captain Smith goes to the operators, Phillips is surprised when he orders a distress signal sent. Smith actually went to the wireless room just before midnight to tell them to prepare to send out a distress signal, then came back fifteen minutes later with Titanic's coordinates.
  • The coordinates that Captain Smith gives Phillips, 41°46’ N, 50°14’ W, were actually calculated after the distress signal started being sent.
  • Also, when Bride informs Captain Smith that Carpathia is heading for them, the crew are still getting the lifeboats ready. In reality, Carpathia confirmed that they were on their way at 12:40 am, the same time that Lifeboat 7 was launched.
  • Fourth Officer Joseph Boxhall is the officer who shouts "Bloody pull faster and pull!" during the final moments of the sinking. However, he left the ship on Lifeboat 2, which was one of the emergency cutters located directly behind the bridge and was on the port side with the other even-numbered boats. His vantage point of the sinking is shown to be on the rear starboard quarter, which is where the odd-numbered Lifeboats 9 through 15 would have gone.
  • The ship's engineers are depicted struggling to keep the ship's lights on just moments before it breaks in half, keeping with the tradition that all of them died inside the ship when it sank. In reality, though, they managed to get to the decks when it was clear there was nothing more they could do, although they all died regardless.
  • Rose mentions that there were only six people out of fifteen hundred left on board who were rescued from the water. Actually, it was about forty. This can be justified by her only knowing of six, or only six people in her particular batch. Most of the survivors who were actually on the ship as it went down managed to make their way to one of the two collapsible boats, such as Jack Thayer or Charles Joughin.
  • Speaking of Charles Joughin, in a Deleted Scene he's shown having made it on Collapsible B. In reality, there wasn't enough room for Charles so he had to wait in the water before he was let on, by the time there was enough room, lifeboat 14 had already arrived and began picking people from the water. Joughin swam to the lifeboat and was saved, without actually climbing on Collapsible B.
  • Fang Lang, a Chinese steerage passenger rescued alive from the water after the sinking (as depicted in a Deleted Scene), is seen traveling alone when Jack and Fabrizio enter the ship, and again sometime after the crash. In reality, Lang was part of a group of eight Chinese men who, at the time the movie was produced, were believed to have boarded the ship with the intention of working as stokers in the Caribbean.note  Nearly all others made it into Collapsible C, the same lifeboat boarded by Bruce Ismay.
  • Rose mentions only one lifeboat came back, whereas in reality, two lifeboats returned. The first was lifeboat 4, who rescued 7 crew members from the water, 2 of them died inside the lifeboat. Much later, lifeboat 14 returned, having wasted a lot of time transferring passengers into other lifeboats in order to make room. They rescued 3 or 4 passengers, one of whom died in the lifeboat.
    • Actually, Lifeboat 4 rescued 8 crew members from the water as it was rowing away (it was one of the last boats lowered, so people had already begun jumping off the ship), and 2 died. It was then one of the boats attached to Lifeboat 14, taking several of the female passengers aboard it, and after Lifeboat 14 departed, it and Lifeboat 12 (which had also attached to 14), heard Officer Lightoller's whistle and left to rescue him and the rest of the men balancing on top of overturned Collapsible B.
  • The master-at-arms' office was around the middle line of the ship and therefore had no portholes. However, the room serving the same function on the Olympic, the Titanic's big sister, was located at the periphery and did have a porthole, and the film depicts it this way rather than how it was on the Titanic. Obviously this change was made to stoke up tension by having the water on the porthole serving as Death's Hourglass.
  • Isidor and Ida Straus are depicted being in their stateroom, embracing each other on the bed, as the ship sinks. Testimony from survivors indicated that they remained in deck chairs on the Promenade. In addition, Isidor's body was recovered, which would be unlikely if they were both inside the ship, and their suite was on C Deck and would have been well underwater at the time they are last seen.
  • John Jacob Astor is depicted steeling himself for the end at the top of the Grand Staircase, just before the glass roof collapses and the ocean pours in, killing everyone. In reality, he was likely crushed by the first funnel collapsing a little while before.
  • Fifth Officer Lowe and Lifeboat 14 did not have flashlights. Apparently, Cameron knew this, but kept it in order to provide lighting.
  • In the extended Carpathia scene, Ismay undergoes a "walk of shame," with many of the survivors staring at him while clearly blaming him for the sinking. He was actually brought to the cabin of the ship's doctor after coming on board, remained there in a state of near shock, and did not emerge until they arrived in New York.
  • A very minor one with Lovejoy's nickel-plated Colt M1911. While the M1911 came out in 1911, it's highly unlikely it would have found its way in Lovejoy's hands, especially fancied up as it is, as widespread sales only began in 1913. The hammer on the gun is also one from the M1911A1, which came out in 1924. A Colt M1902 or M1903 would be more likely at that time.
  • With the context clues given, it seems like Cal escaped on Collapsible A. In real life, this boat was partially water-filled, leaving the people who escaped in it freezing up to their knees, with quite a few dying, until about a dozen remaining survivors were finally rescued by Lifeboat 14, the boat that Officer Lowe brought back to look for survivors. That obviously didn't happen in the movie, as there's no indication of Cal being on either a water-filled boat or the same one as Rose.
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