History of the World According to the Movies: Part 52 – Early 20th Century Europe


Of course, I couldn’t think of any movie that characterizes Pre-World War I Europe than the 1964 My Fair Lady starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison. Yes, I know it’s a musical but it’s fun and entertaining with costume as authentic as the misogyny. And, yes, hats in that era were that big. For all the ladies out there, I sincerely recommend you making your boyfriends watch this with you.

Unless it’s set in Russia, no era in history has been shown as nostalgically as the early 20th century. Despite the fact that much of the world was under a ruling monarchy, the a small elite controlled much of the world’s wealth, most women didn’t have the right to vote and were willing to go through extraordinary measures to get it, and child labor existed in even the most prosperous nations, a lot of family friendly musicals, cartoons, and romances are set in this period. Perhaps there’s the steam punk appeal with the old timey automobiles out on the road with no traffic rules, seat belts, or speeding limits, and went as fast as 20 miles per hour. Perhaps there’s the appeal with the amazing flying machines like biplanes, balloons, and airship zeppelins. Maybe it’s the amazing costumes and the massive women’s hats. Or perhaps this period is so idealized by movies because this is the part of the 20th century which is before things like the Titanic, a war that would wipe out a significant fraction of a generation of young men, a flu epidemic that would also wipe out a lot of young people. Let’s just say the 1910s wasn’t a great era for young people. Still, for Europe, the early 1900s was a time when the British Empire was in it’s glory days, France still had its art scene and was getting into experimenting with film, Germany and Austria had their monarchies, and technology and science were creating a great range of new inventions. Nevertheless, there are significant inaccuracies in movies set in this time which I shall list accordingly.

Edwardian Great Britain:

The Duke and Duchess Marlborough had daughters before World War I. (The Duchess of Marlborough was an American woman named Consuelo Vanderbilt Marlborough who was married to the 8th Duke of Marlborough who was a cousin of Winston Churchill. They had two boys who weren’t yet of marriageable age and were separated until their divorce in 1921. Thus, the reference of the Duchess of Marlborough’s daughter in 1912 would’ve been historically inaccurate.)

Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen killed and brutally mutilated his wife Cora. (Recent DNA evidence has found that the remains found in his basement not only weren’t Cora but of a dude. So it’s probably likely that he didn’t kill his wife like he’s alleged to.)

King Edward VII:

King Edward VII was alive in 1912. (He died in 1910. Yet, he’s the king in My Fair Lady.)

King Edward VII wanted his son the future George V to be frightened of him. (Actually they were very close and Edward VII actually brought George’s desk next to his at Buckingham Palace so they could work together. Of course, they come from a family in which it wasn’t very common for sovereigns to get along so harmoniously with their heirs apparent.)

King George VI:

King George VI was starved and pinched by his nanny when he was a child. (Actually, his original head nanny wasn’t really that abusive and actually pinched his brother David {the future Edward VIII} before taking him to see his parents and didn’t starve him or his siblings. Nevertheless, she was quite a piece of work who neglected the kids, particularly Bertie. Also, while Bertie might’ve had an eating disorder, he developed it all on his own and by that point the original nanny was replaced by a kind and motherly one named Charlotte Bill who swore like a sailor off duty. Still, she was a full time companion to Bertie’s youngest brother Johnnie when the boy was “hidden from view” and was with him when he died.)

Dora Carrington:

Dora Carrington was straight. (She was bisexual and had affairs with women which is left out in the 1995 movie about her. At least Frida Kahlo’s bisexuality wasn’t left out in her movie.)

James M. Barrie:

James M. Barrie was a normal sized attractive man. (He was actually very short with a head that seemed too big for his body {5’3 ½” to be exact which is about my height} with a receding hairline and a persistent cough to boot. Yet, in Finding Neverland, he’s played by Johnny Depp. Some said he might’ve had psychogenic dwarfism. Also, he’s said to have a lot of self-esteem issues stemming from when he had a brother die at six and how his mother made it clear to her surviving child that she preferred the dead son who’d never grow up to him. )

James M. Barrie set aside seats for children on Peter Pan’s opening night. (This didn’t happen.)

Peter Davies was James M. Barrie’s inspiration for Peter Pan. (Barrie met the Llewelyn Davies boys when Peter was only a baby and unlike as seen from Finding Neverland, he wasn’t the youngest brother. Barrie was actually closer to George and Michael with the latter being the inspiration for Peter Pan. Peter just shared the character’s name. Oh, and Peter Pan initially appeared as a character in a fictional universe in one of Barrie’s novels before he wrote the play.)

The Llewelyn Davies boys were all living with their widowed mother Sylvia when they met James M. Barrie. (Actually the father of the boys Arthur Davies was very much alive several years into Barrie’s friendship with his sons. He and Sylvia also had Michael and Nicholas during that time, with the latter being absent in Finding Neverland. And no, Barrie didn’t have any romantic feelings for Sylvia for their relationship was much more platonic though Barrie claim they were engaged. Besides, Arthur Llewelyn Davies was a much more attractive man even though he did die in 1907 of skin cancer and Sylvia 3 years later in 1910.)

Sylvia Llewelyn Davies had blond hair. (Photographs reveal her as a brunette.)

James M. Barrie and his wife Mary Ansell divorced before the Peter Pan premiere in 1903. (They divorced in 1909.)

James M. Barrie’s producer Charles Frohman was full of cynical misgivings of the Peter Pan idea. (He was actually very supportive of Barrie throughout his career and one of the few friends he ever had and was crazy about Peter Pan from its inception that he’d act out whole scenes of the play to friends. Frohman would die during the bombing of the Lusitania.)

James M. Barrie’s relationship with Peter Davies managed to achieve an equilibrium. (Their relationship became more strained as the boy grew up and Peter actually grew to hate his association with Peter Pan. As with George and Michael, they both died young and in tragic circumstances. George was killed by a sniper in WWI at only 21 years old. Michael and his close friend {possibly lover} drowned in either a terrible accident or a suicide pact. Peter committed suicide in 1960 at 63 though he was actually much luckier than the boys and might’ve did it because he was suffering from emphysema and found out that his wife and kids had inherited Huntington’s disease. Also, he became an alcoholic yet he probably had plenty of reasons why he drank and might’ve just been drunk when he threw himself in front the train. Still, he managed to start a publishing company that published works by his cousin Daphne Du Maurier and managed to win a Military Cross for his actions in World War I.)

Beatrix Potter:

Norman Warne proposed to Beatrix Potter in person and her parents softened their opposition to the match. (Contrary to Miss Potter, he proposed through letter but her parents never softened their opposition to the match. Lucky for them, Norman died a month later due to lymphatic leukemia. He’s probably the reason why she never married.)

Beatrix Potter had no interest in shrooms. (She had detailed studies in fungi and once wanted to be a mycologist, though you wouldn’t know it from Miss Potter. Still, being a woman at the time, she had to settle for children’s book author.)

Frederick Warne published Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit. (Actually she published the story herself in a private manner before Warne took it up.)


Carl Jung and Sabina Spielrein engaged in BDSM during their affair. (Their fantasies were more about an obsession with the Wagnerian hero Sigfried than anything related to BDSM as in A Dangerous Method. Still, Carl Jung did have a sexual relationship with this woman.)

Sabina Spielrein went crazy when Carl Jung tried to dump her that she was set on ruining him. (She did have trouble accepting the breakup yet the real Jung’s letters make him sound so much like an asshole that it’s impossible not to take his side. However, him and Freud also belittled her as a colleague throughout her career while simultaneously incorporating some of her ideas such as the “death instinct” into their own work. In A Dangerous Method, Spielrein is made to be like Glen Close in Fatal Attraction. Yet, Spielrein might have some justification on wanting to ruin Jung’s career because he used her for his own ends, both as a sexual partner and as a colleague.)

Carl Jung was an open-minded, human-hearted, progressive who gallantly explored uncharted territory in search of ideals and nobly believing the possibility of more. (Jung may have put forward a lot of new and interesting concepts in psychology but vast bodies of his work were disproved, and his penchant for the mystical was rather detrimental to scientific theory like the equivalent of a creationist in the field of evolutionary theory. Not to mention, he was a Swiss evangelical who married a woman for money and had the habit of sleeping with his patients. Oh, and he was complicit with the Nazis.)

Carl Jung was under 6 feet tall. (He was 6’1.”)


Sigmund Freud’s work on a male’s preoccupation with penis size was around before World War I. (He actually didn’t publish anything about this until 1920 under the title “The Pleasure Principle.” Also, until 1919, Freud relied on data solely from females.)

Sigmund Freud was a gruff, stubborn, conservative crackpot who jumped to conclusions, reduced everything to sex, shirked any ideas that weren’t his own, impeded progress, and strived to preserve the status quo in psychiatry. (This is a popular image of Freud but he wasn’t really like this. Still, while Freud was fallible and stubborn, he was also lighthearted and brilliant. Also, many of his theories proved to be right and his Oedipus complex theory had absolutely nothing to do with parental incest. Oh, and he was never as hot as Viggo Mortenson.)

Sigmund Freud rejected the notion of the repression of ego during sex. (The repression of ego during sex was Freud’s own idea.)


Kaiser Wilhelm II spoke English in a German accent. (He spoke it like a member of the British Royal Family would since his grandmother was Queen Victoria. Then again, he was German and spoke the language so maybe having a German accent in World War I movies can be forgiven.)

“Deutschlandlied” was the national anthem for Imperial Germany. (Imperial Germany never had a national anthem, though “Watch on the Rhine” served as one in the unofficial sense. “Deutschlandlied” is actually the national anthem for the Weimar Republic when it was adopted in 1922.)

The Cecilienhof palace was built for Wilhelm II. (It was built for the last crown prince of Germany who lived there from 1917-1919 and 1926-1945.)


Colonel Alfred Redl was a essentially a scapegoat by officials of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to distract from a coup d’etat planned by Archduke Franz Ferdinand who actually betrayed military secrets to Russia. (There’s a movie about this but this premise is total bullshit. Redl actually did betray military secrets to the Russians. Most historical accounts claim that Redl committed treason because Russian agents blackmailed for homosexuality, while a few accounts say he merely did it for money. As for Archduke Ferdinand, there’s no way he was planning a coup, nor was he a bloodthirsty warmonger of any kind.)


Old timey cars were perfectly safe and navigable. (Yes, you certainly start seeing more cars on the road at this time and yes, they did go slower than nowadays. However, these were the days when there weren’t any speed limits, traffic rules, or seat belts. Also, while many people were upset when Matthew Crawley was killed in a car crash in Downton Abbey, such accidents were very common place. Not to mention, between 1890 and 1916, they used horses to haul stranded cars out of ruts, mud, and ditches. As for navigability, paved asphalt streets weren’t a common sight in this time and your early cars weren’t all-terrain vehicles. Oh, and you had to use a crank to get them to start.)

Early flying machines were perfectly safe. (Orville Wright and Lieutenant T. E. Selfridge found out the hard way in 1908 when Orville’s plane developed mechanical problems and crashed in Maryland, killing Selfridge.)

Wristwatches were a common accessory. (Not until after World War I. Until then, pocket watches reigned supreme.)
Electric trolleys were faster than horses and clanged to alert passengers of their presence. (Yes, they could but they usually didn’t travel that fast since they had to deal with traffic. They usually traveled at a horse’s pace and seldom at their rated speed because the horses just wouldn’t get out of their way.)

Knapsack parachutes were around in 1908. (They were invented in 1911.)

Nobody sweat in an old timey bathing suit. (They were made out of wool and were very impractical to swim in, more or less made for preserving modesty than actual swimming. Women’s bathing suits were black, knee-length, puffed-sleeve wool dresses, often featuring a sailor collar, and worn over bloomers or drawers trimmed with ribbons and bows. Men’s kind of resembled striped pajama leotards or something worn by guys on the high school wrestling team. Still, if you were a woman who wanted to swim, you sometimes ran the risk of being arrested for indecent exposure. Also, it wasn’t unusual for beaches to ban topless bathing for men.)

Early psychoanalysis was permeated with sexual perverts. (There were a lot of early psychoanalysts involved who were there for the intellectual and humanitarian purposes. That’s not to say that there weren’t any perverts among the early shrinks for there certainly were like Carl Jung. Still, while Sigmund Freud has been portrayed this way in movies, he wasn’t a pervert though or at least knew to keep it in his pants.)

Wheels had metal rims and spokes at this time. (They actually had wooden rims and spokes.)

Modern frosted glass light bulbs were used at this time. (Light bulbs of the era were hand blown clear glass ones.)
Most roads were paved during this time. (Most of them were unpaved, cobbled or lined with crushed rocks, such as gravel and they weren’t properly maintained as well as often lay in disrepair.)

Gentlemen wore their hats indoors. (They didn’t do this until in very recent times.)

Suffragettes were just angry women shouting with signs. (Women in this era went through great lengths to get the vote even risking their lives and braving police brutality. One British woman threw herself at the horse tracks during a Derby race. A lot of suffragettes got arrested and went on hunger strikes in jail. Still, suffragettes make hippies and Occupy Wall Street protestors look like a bunch of wusses.)

Catholic priests at the time wore a traditional black garment with a white “dog collar.” (By this time, the Catholic Church forbade priests to dress this way.)

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