Hashtag No Fun at Parties, or, Never Watch Historical Movies with Jules

Film poster for Kate & Leopold
Film poster for Kate & Leopold – Copyright 2001, Miramax Films

Ever had those movie nights when no one can agree on films? Happens all the time in my family. So when Mum found out I hadn’t seen Kate & Leopold, guess what the group ‘decided’ to watch? Except Dad gave a delicate shudder and went next door to watch a Four Corners episode on COVID, or climate change, or something.

[Sidebar: My mother truly believes that not only have I seen every movie she likes, but that I saw it at the cinema with her. (FYI, that’s a big nope.) Hence her astonishment that I hadn’t seen Kate & Leopold.]

Back to our movie night. It wasn’t a bad film. The eye candy hit all the right notes: Meg Ryan is eternally gorgeous despite the fashion victim haircut, and Hugh Jackman is superhot even in a weird coat that I imagine the costume designer thought looked ducal. The story is pure fluff, but it’s fun and witty. There’s even workplace harassment, which gets resolved in a way that strains credulity (we have #metoo for a reason) but doesn’t leave you angry.

But oh, oh, oh, the historical boo boos!

Ten minutes into the movie, I began to channel Lady Fanny from Ghosts.

A gentleman would never wear riding boots to a ball!
A gentleman would never go outside without his hat!
A gentleman would never appear in company in his underclothes!
A gentleman would never complain about the food to his host!

[Sidebar: Watch Ghosts. It’s awesome. My favourite character is Mary, burned as a witch in the seventeenth century. She measures everything in potatoes.]

As soon as the elevator subplot made an appearance, I turned to Mum and said, “Otis displayed the safety elevator at the 1853 World’s Fair in NYC. I think it was used in the Latting Observatory, which was the tallest building in New York before it burned down.” Yes, I did actually say all that off the top of my head. (And thank you, research for A Summer Pursuit…)

[Sidebar: The Latting Observatory didn’t have an elevator, but it was supposed to.]

On to the Mountbatten thing, that got me like nails down a chalkboard. The founders of the British dynasty of Mountbatten was a German prince who married a daughter of Queen Victoria. Due to rising anti-German sentiment around WWI, they changed from Battenburg to Mountbatten and renounced all German titles—a good seventy years after Leopold was born. That aside, Leopold’s surname can’t possibly Battenburg/Mountbatten as he has a hereditary dukedom, which are all founded by British nobles, not German princes.

[Sidebar: While there are no Mountbatten dukes, King George V did toss his cousin a marquessate in 1917.]

John Roebling, the dude who designed the Brooklyn Bridge, rather famously died long before it was completed, so wouldn’t have appeared in the ‘erection’ scene. Yeah, it was funny, but they could have had his son (who was his successor) make the speech. I didn’t know Roebling died before 1876, but having him appear tingled my spidey senses, so I looked it up while watching the movie.

[Sidebar: Mum gets exasperated by my googling and remembers why she doesn’t watch costume dramas with me.]

I rolled my eyes at the La Boheme scene. They could easily have picked an opera, or a play, or a novel that Leopold would actually know and could humiliate JJ with. But I did a smidgy of research on this and discovered the New York City Opera company was performing La Boheme in 2001, the year the movie was released. Cross promo, and all that! So the opera being the zeitgeist for JJ is historically accurate from the 21st century end.

I missed the Pirates of Penzance boo boo, which a friend mentioned later. The difference was only three years, and Pirates is so much fun, which tempts me to give them a pass. But the Brooklyn Bridge wasn’t finished until 1883 (and I think, maybe the bridge not being finished was important? I’m not sure, my attention was divided as I was busy googling), so why not have Leopold be from 1879? It’s not like he was a real person, or the Duke of Albany was a real dukedom.

I did get a lot of enjoyment out of Kate & Leopold, and I don’t mind anachronisms, as long as the story either justifies or acknowledges them (Jack Rackham’s line about condoms in Black Sails still makes me snigger when I rewatch that episode). But the moral of this blogpost is, unless you like getting blasted with petty facts, don’t watch a costume drama/comedy with me!

Next week: Bridgerton, here I come…