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20 Famous Historical Figures Hollywood Always Gets Wrong

You may think you know all there is to know about a particular historical figure once you’ve watched their biopic. But often Hollywood will have taken some creative license with the genuine facts. Cleopatra, for example, wasn’t exactly the personification of beauty depicted by Elizabeth Taylor in the silver-screen era. Here’s a closer look at this misconception, along with 19 other famous names who were portrayed, for better or for worse, in a different way to their true selves.

1. Cleopatra 

From her glowing blue gown to her coat styled in leopard print, the Egyptian Queen who Elizabeth Taylor portrayed in 1963 epic Cleopatra was always the height of glamor. Even when the royal was wearing nothing but a sheet, she still managed to somehow look catwalk-ready.

And then there was the thick blue eye shadow that the Hollywood actress applied liberally to her face herself and which subsequently became one of her signature looks. But in reality Cleopatra wasn’t necessarily someone who would instantly make men’s jaws drop. 

Pointed nose

Yes, there have been several conflicting reports about Cleopatra’s beauty over the years. And the argument that she was distinctly average in the looks department gained further credibility in 2007 when a coin was found by the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle.

Dating from ancient times, the artifact boasted an image of the Queen, and she looked nothing like Hollywood icon Taylor. The real Cleopatra had a much more pointed nose and was even described by some unkind folk as “shrewish.”

2. Marie Antoinette 

Sofia Coppola’s portrait of Marie Antoinette certainly looked the part. The 2006 biopic of the Queen of France was a visual feast thanks to its eye-catching colors, while Kirsten Dunst got the chance to wear all kinds of elaborate costumes as the leading lady.

Its aesthetic was also deliberately anachronistic at times. You may remember seeing characters wearing Converse sneakers and clothing that had been dyed. And the music of Adam Ant could be heard several centuries before the New Romantic icon was born. But there were certain times when the film took liberties with the actual story, too.

Long-term seducer

For example, Marie Antoinette takes just a few months to seduce Louis-August into bed on the big screen. In real life the Queen had to wait a remarkable seven years before finally reeling in the object of her affections. And even then they never got under the covers together.

The MTV-friendly picture also ignores much of the politics of the time, which would have explained why so much of French society seemed to take against the royal. In the film no reason is given for her unpopularity among the public.