Chances are you've seen the 1997 film, "Titanic," since it is the second highest grossing box office movie in history. Although it contains elements of fiction, historian Ron Dalton gives it an accuracy score of 9 out of a possible 10. James Cameron, the film's director, researched archives and pictures of the Titanic, life during the early 20th Century and filmed the actual ship's wreckage to portray many of the true events of the 1912 disaster. However, historian Robert Brent Toplin characterises the film as historical fiction, a mix of fact and fiction, but he states this is not a bad thing as it serves an educational purpose.
Jack and Rose
What many romantics are prone to ask is: Did the love affair between Jack Dawson, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, and Rose DeWitt Bukater, played by Kate Winslet, really happen? No, these characters are fictitious and historian Dalton states that chances of a relationship developing between first class and third class passengers during that time period are "slim to none." James Cameron wrote this part of the story ingeniously to reveal the differences between social economic classes while entertaining the viewers. Interestingly enough, without James Cameron's prior knowledge, a J. Dawson was on the ship and died in the disaster. He worked as a fireman shovelling coal in the furnaces in the bowels of the ship. He is buried in a cemetery in Halifax, Nova Scotia, along with others who died during the Titanic disaster.
Do you remember the Heart of the Ocean, the jewel that elderly Rose 'mistakenly' drops into the ocean at the end of the film. The sapphire jewel surrounded by 30-carat diamonds in no way relates to the true Titanic story. The Heart of the Ocean is, however, inspired by the Hope diamond, a gift given to Marie Antoinette from Louis XVI. No Picasso paintings actually came on board the Titanic to end up on the bottom of the sea either, as is portrayed in the movie. In the film, lifeboat operators held flashlights to see if anyone floating in the water was still alive. Dalton says that they would not have actually had lifeboats equipped with flashlights.
Third Class Passengers
One of the most disturbing or chilling points of the film was when the gates were locked and guarded to keep third class passengers from rushing to the decks when first class passengers were boarding the lifeboats. According to Ithaca College, a third class survivor recounted that there were no such barricades. Another account the college reports is that these gates were constantly closed, not just when the ship began to sink, because steerage passengers were not allowed to frequent the higher decks at any time.
Besides Jack and Rose, other characters were fictitious too, such as Rose's mother and fiancé and Jack's friends. But some were based on passengers that were actually on the Titanic on that fateful night, such as Margaret "Molly" Brown, played by Kathy Bates and the head shipbuilder, Thomas Andrews, played by Victor Garber.
One specific scene portrayed an actual character aboard the Titanic in 1912, Officer William Murdoch. In the movie, he accepts a bribe to let someone on a lifeboat ahead of others, he shoots two erratic passengers and then shoots himself. No proof exists that any of the scene's events actually took place, they just came out of Cameron's imagination, although Officer Murdoch perished in the disaster. Since Murdoch's surviving relatives and townspeople were outraged after seeing the movie, the studio flew to Scotland to issue an apology face-to-face and donated a significant sum to Murdoch's memorial fund (See References 1).
- Chasing the Frogs: Reel Faces - Titanic
- Encyclopedia Titanica: The Real Jack Dawson
- Ithaca College: Demographics of the Titanic Passengers
- The Internet Movie Database: All-Time Worldwide Box Office
- San Jacinto College: Historian, Lecturer Brings Titanic Characters to Life
- American Historical Association: Titanic - Did the Maker of "True Lies" Tell the Truth About History