6 Ways The Boys In The Boat Changes The True Story

Summary

  • The Boys in the Boat film compressed the story’s timeline to focus on the events leading up to the 1936 Olympics, cutting out three years of the University of Washington team’s journey.
  • The film left out a significant moment in Joe Rantz’s life, where he was abandoned by his father and stepmother at a young age.
  • The Berkeley coach did not donate money to the rowing team as depicted in the film but instead offered his support for their Olympic journey.


The Boys in the Boat is based on Daniel James Brown’s 2013 book of the same name, which depicts the inspiring true story of the United States men’s eight rowing team at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. However, director George Clooney and screenwriter Mark L. Smith had to make a handful of changes to the account of the events to dramatize the 2023 biographical sports drama film further (as is the case with most movies based on true stories). Everything in the feature couldn’t be completely accurate to real life. But the producers tried their best to honor the University of Washington men’s rowing team, who pulled off an upset in Germany.

Despite the filmmakers having to alter parts of the story, the cast of The Boys in the Boat played actual people, including Callum Turner as Joe Rantz, Joel Edgerton as Al Ulbrickson, Jack Mulhern as Don Hume, Sam Strike as Roger Morris, Alec Newman as Harry Rantz, Peter Guinness as George Pocock, Luke Slattery as Bobby Moch, Thomas Elms as Chuck Day, Tom Varey as Johnny White, Bruce Herbelin-Earle as Shorty Hunt, Wil Coban as Jim McMillin, Hadley Robinson as Joyce Simdars, Courtney Henggeler as Hazel Ulbrickson, James Wolk as Thomas Bolles, and Chris Diamantopoulos as Royal Brougham. The cast came together to portray the 1936 men’s eight team’s story on the big screen as faithfully as possible.


6 The Timeline In The Boys In The Boat Is Compressed

One of the most significant changes that director George Clooney and screenwriter Mark L. Smith had to make to Daniel James Brown’s non-fiction novel The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics for their film was the story’s timeline. During an interview with USA Today, Brown revealed how the 2023 biographical sports drama altered the 1936 Olympic United States men’s eight team’s story, including its duration. In the movie, it only took a year for Joe Rantz, Don Hume, Bobby Moch, and the other rowers to come together and start their trek to the Olympic Games. But in real life, the timeline was longer.

Whereas the University of Washington’s men’s rowing team’s complete story arc took three years in real life, The Boys in the Boat only chronicled their training and Olympic journey in 1936. Brown told USA Today, “[The film is] all compressed into the year 1936, which is the year when everything came together. [The compressed timeline] makes sense, unless you’re doing a [longer] TV series.” There was only so much that the producers could include in the two hours and four minutes that encompass the 2023 movie, so they had to shorten the timetable from three years to one year.

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5 The Film Cut Out An Important Moment In Joe Rantz’s Life

callum turner rowing alongside two others in the boys in the boat

Given that the University of Washington men’s rowing team’s journey to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin began three years before the games, the filmmakers were forced to make difficult decisions and cut some parts out of the characters’ stories. One of the most significant omissions was a life-altering moment in Joe Rantz’s life. Callum Turner’s character was undoubtedly the movie’s main protagonist, despite it focusing on each person who made the United States win in Berlin possible. So, the film focused a lot on Rantz, but the rower’s life before joining the team was complex and tragic, so much so that everything that happened to him couldn’t be included on the big screen.

According to author Daniel James Brown, one of the most devastating events in Rantz’s childhood was left out of the script. Brown said, “There was a moment in high school. It was a rainy day, and the car was packed up with his father, stepmother, and stepkids, and they said, ‘We’re leaving, and we’re not taking you.’ It’s a touchstone of his story and resulted in it being hard for him to trust people.”

When Rantz was 15 years old, his father and stepmother abandoned him. From that moment on, he was forced to fend for himself by finding his own shelter and food to eat. Rantz put himself through school and worked hard to save money to attend the University of Washington, where he would eventually join the rowing team and become an Olympian (and gold medalist). Unfortunately, the moment he was abandoned by his supposed parental figures was left out of The Boys in the Boat.

4 Berkeley’s Coach Never Donated Money To The Rowing Team

Joel Edgerton as Al Ulbrickson in The Boys in the Boat.

Daniel James Brown revealed that one part of The Boys in the Boat was a complete work of fiction. When the University of Washington’s men’s rowing team qualified for the 1936 Summer Olympics, their happiness was quickly ripped away when they realized the United States Olympic Committee couldn’t afford to send them to Germany for the games. Although they had won the top collegiate rowing prize, it seemed as if the men’s Olympic dreams were over.

The rowers decided to host a fundraising drive to gather the funds needed to send them overseas. One of their donations came from the Berkeley coach despite his rowing team being their rival. The coach wrote them a $300 check (equivalent to almost $7000 in 2024), and the team’s journey to the Olympics in Berlin was back on track. However, Brown admitted that this never happened in real life. The writer said, “[The Berkeley coach] did say that the Washington team should go, which was bold as they were bitter rivals.” But he didn’t give them the money they needed to travel overseas. Instead, the coach offered the Olympic rowers his support.

3 The Rowing Team Tried To Meet President Roosevelt

The Boys in the Boat left out one funny story about the University of Washington’s men’s rowing team trying to meet President Franklin D. Roosevelt during a race in Poughkeepsie, New York. According to Time, the rowers learned that their race was close to Hyde Park, the home to one of Roosevelt’s estates. So, before the competition, they rowed upriver and tried to find the estate. The team eventually did, but when they knocked on the door, one of Roosevelt’s sons answered instead. As it turned out, the president was in Washington D.C., but his son, also a rower, invited the students in, and they had a nice chat before leaving.

2 The 1936 Olympic Games Didn’t Feature A Photo Finish

The United States men's eight rowing in The Boys in the Boat.

The Boys in the Boat‘s story culminated in the men’s eight final at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany. The United States team was behind before they caught up with Germany and Italy, and, in the 2023 film, the race ended with a photo finish because it was so close between the three countries. Ultimately, the American rowers won by just over half a second and claimed the gold medal. However, the story is a little different in real life.

Daniel James Brown told USA Today that the men’s eight final at the 1936 Olympics was a nail-biter and too close to call by the end. But instead of there being a photo to reveal the winner, the judges had to deliberate for a few minutes to determine the placements of each team. Brown said, “It was an extremely close finish, and no one knew who had won. There were photos taken (by spectators) of that finish, but I don’t have any reason to think they took a photo to determine who won. But it works dramatically; otherwise, they’d just be sitting in the boat, waiting.”

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1 Filming Didn’t Take Place At The University Of Washington

Image of George Clooney directing The Boys in the Boat

This is a minute change to the United States men’s eight rowing team’s story, but the cast and crew of the 2023 movie didn’t film the University of Washington scenes at the college campus in Seattle. Instead, they recreated the campus in England and captured those sequences at different locations there. Because the University of Washington has changed since the 1930s, it would be difficult to film there and convince the audiences that the movie took place 90 years ago. As a result, The Boys in the Boat production team chose England as their backdrop for the college scenes.

The Boys in the Boat is now playing in theaters.

Source: USA Today, Time

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