History might not have been your favorite subject in school, but that doesn’t mean you can’t like historical movies. These films serve many purposes while being massively entertaining. For history nerds, they become a topic of profound discussions- pulling all the threads, pointing out mistakes, and debating the impact of the events. There is a lot of fodder there. For some people, who are more invested in the story than the hi-story(!) these are the fascinating tales of another time, of a society they don’t live in, and a world they’ll never get to see (unless the time machine is invented!). For another section, these could very well be the films in the fantasy genre. No matter which category you fall in, you can’t deny the importance of historical movies. They are informative, they are entertaining, and most importantly, they are the warning signs, alerting us of what the world could be like if we, humans, make the same mistakes again. There’s a reason they say “history repeats itself”.
13. A Little Chaos (2014)
Starring and directed by Alan Rickman, this film follows the story of two people who are tasked with designing the famous Garden of Versailles. Kate Winslet played the role of Sabine De Barra, a commoner who is selected to assist with the designing of the gardens. She is picked by Andre Le Notre, who was a famous landscape artist. The film also takes into account the political struggle in the court and presents the lifestyle of the French aristocracy. However, its main focus lies on the relationship between the married Andre, whose wife has been cheating on him, and Sabine, who is haunted by something in her past. The film is not close to being historically accurate, neither does it bother to do so. However, the strong performances from the cast, especially the lead pair make it worth a watch.
12. Devil’s Bride (2016)
11. The Angel (2018)
Speaking of historical films always conjures up the image of the times that lie at least a hundred years prior to one’s own era. To be honest, what happened a decade ago is history too, though the most recent one. But, let’s not get into that debate. My point is that if I tell you to watch a film that is set in the early 70s, it is historical too, no matter how different it is from the rest of the films on this list. And this one, you must watch, because it acts as more of a spy-thriller. Based on the book of the same name by Uri Bar-Joseph, it focuses on the story of an Egyptian man who served as a spy for Israeli intelligence. Set in the aftermath of the Six Days War, it shows the Egyptian Prime Minister and his cabinet talking about how they can get back at Israel after their recent loss. Ashraf Marwan, the son-in-law of the Prime Minister, is let in on the discussion, however, he is harshly rebuked when he makes a substantial suggestion. This throws him towards the Israeli intelligence and the rest that happened was history!
10. Outlaw King (2018)
The name of Robert Bruce is held in high regard in Scottish history. He is known as one of the fiercest warriors and led the First War of Scottish Independence. ‘Outlaw King’ focuses on the events after the besieging of Stirling Castle where the Scottish nobles surrendered to the King of England. Acting in subordination to the King continued for some time, but not long after, Robert Bruce led a rebellion against the British, motivated by sensing the unrest among the masses for the regime and the public display of William Wallace’s mutilated body. Chris Pine played the role of the titular king, while Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Florence Pugh, Billy Howle, and Tony Curran appeared in other important roles. Like any other Hollywood film, you can expect some historical inaccuracies. But you will get the overall gist of all the events that led him to become a leader and, eventually, the King of Scots.
9. Mudbound (2017)
One of the best films of the year, ‘Mudbound’ is set in the post-Second World War era. Two soldiers return home from the War, but all that they were before is washed away by what they experience in the War. Jamie McAllan served as an army pilot, while Ronsel Jackson was in the infantry. Back home, Jamie’s elder brother, Henry shares a loving marriage with Laura. Ronsel’s family, on the other hand, works in the fields of the McAllans. On returning home, Jamie and Ronsel strike a friendship sharing their experiences of the War. However, the assimilation of blacks and whites wasn’t a common thing yet, not where they lived, and both of them face trouble because of that. The film focuses on PTSD, which mainly haunts Jamie, and the racism that Ronsel has to bear witness to, something that he isn’t used to after becoming the part of the army.
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8. The Red Sea Diving Resort (2019)
A Netflix original film, ‘The Red Sea Diving Resort‘ is based on how Mossad (Israeli intelligence department) managed to smuggle out Ethiopian Jews living in the country to Israel. Mossad agent Ari Levinson suggests to his seniors that they can buy a beach resort and use it as a cover to carry out their covert mission. They carry out their mission in Sudan, but it is not long before some secrets are spilled and the lives of the agents, as well as the people they are protecting, get shrouded in danger. The film had enough elements to make a compelling thriller, but writer-director Gideon Raff completely squanders away the opportunity by coming up with poorly-written characters and not giving the actors enough material to work with. The film’s “white savior complex” has also been widely criticized.
7. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny (2016)
While ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny’ might not be a historical film in the truest sense of the term, it is definitely a brilliant historical fiction that deserves our attention. The film is a sequel to the 2000 film ‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon‘, directed by Ang Lee. Michelle Yeoh reprises her role as warrior-maiden Shu Lien for this film. After being away for around eighteen years, she is now eager to find the magical sword known as Green Destiny, which once belonged to her lover Li Mu Bai. As a dangerous criminal called Hades Dai gets eager to claim the sword, Shu Lien is hell-bent on saving it. In her quest, she is joined by a young woman and a mysterious warrior called Silent Wolf. ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny’ is a wuxia film that tells us a lot about the medieval Chinese culture of martial arts. While we get to see some brilliantly choreographed action sequences, we are also made privy to the philosophy of the era.
6. The King (2019)
This Netflix original film is based on a number of plays by Shakespeare and mainly chronicles the early life of English ruler King Henry “Hal” V. The film begins with Hal being completely disinterested in the affairs of the state and later when his brother Thomas passes away in a battle, he is suddenly made the King of England. Many people around him presume that he is weak, and his coronation is openly mocked by King Charles VI of France. When Hal comes to know that Charles VI has sent an assassin to kill him, he declares war and marches on towards France to show his enemies his true powers. The boy who was always against politics and violence now gets molded in the image he always despised. Timothée Chalamet has been able to establish himself as a major talent, and this film again reminds us of his ability to do justice to any role he has been given. Production design, costumes, and cinematography of this film also deserve our admiration.
5. Troy (2004)
2004’s ‘Troy‘ is one of the best historical films you can watch on Netflix. The movie depicts the entire saga of how Paris, the youngest son of King Priam, falls in love with Helen, the wife of Menelaus, (who is the king of Sparta), and secretly takes her away to Troy without even informing his elder brother Hector. The Greeks soon attack Troy with a huge army led by the greatest warrior of the time, Achilles. Though Achilles does not like his king Agamemnon, he knows this war can help cement his legacy as the greatest warrior of all time. Brad Pitt put in his heart and soul into the performance and gave us one of the most authentic versions of Achilles we have ever seen. The action sequences of the film are brilliantly shot and choreographed. One fight scene between Achilles and Hector (Eric Bana), has now gained a cult status among film fans all over the world.
4. Lincoln (2012)
Steven Spielberg has time and again come up with films that make us simply wonder at his immense versatility when it comes to the craft of filmmaking. The 2012 film ‘Lincoln’, starring Daniel Day-Lewis in the leading role has managed to exactly depict how conditions were in America during the Civil War, and how hard Lincoln had fought to abolish slavery from America. Day-Lewis is perfect in his portrayal of the 16th President of the United States and even bagged an Academy Award for his performance. Spielberg has managed to make a film that directly transports us to the darkest time in American history, but the story is woven in a way that it leaves us not with dread or sadness, but with a renewed belief in humanity and love for one another.
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3. Suffragette (2015)
The Suffragette movement is one of the most important events of England in the 20th century since this was the first time when women began fighting for their voting rights in the country. The central character of the film is a woman called Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan), who gets inspired by the female leader Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep) and joins the movement to fight against the oppressions of patriarchy. However, as it always happens, the women who speak of change are targetted by the police and the establishment. They suffer serious consequences even in their personal sphere, but they willingly risk everything to give their future generations a more just society than the one they were born in. The film is rather inspiring, and despite having some structural inadequacies, makes it all up using the powerful performances by its glittering star cast.
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2. The Age Of Shadows (2016)
If you wish to know about Korean history as the country was trying to gain independence from Japanese colonialism, ‘The Age Of Shadows’ is a film you must check out. The story of the film is set around a Korean police officer called Lee Jung-chool who works for the Japanese government and helps them catch revolutionaries who are trying to take their resistance movement forward against the imperial rulers. Though Lee Jung-chool is quite infamous for selling out his own countrymen, he himself begins to question his choices when one of his close friends is killed for being a part of the movement. The movement’s leader Che-san sees this as an opportunity to turn Jung-chool in their favor and appoint a revolutionary called Kim Woo-jin to make this happen. If Jung-chool is converted, it will be much easier for the revolutionaries to smuggle in explosives from Shanghai. The film is stylistically made with some brilliant action sequences to blow you over. Though the story is somewhat hard to follow, the overall appeal of the film makes up for it quite easily.
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1. Gangs Of New York (2002)
It is always fascinating to explore the culture of the place one was born in, and this is exactly what Martin Scorsese does in his 2002 film ‘Gangs Of New York’. Scorsese’s love for New York is rather well-known, and he has based most of his films in this city. ‘Gangs Of New York’ gave Scorsese an opportunity to explore how Manhattan and other parts of New York looked like in the 19th century. We see the prevalence of gang culture in the city during that time as the film begins with a massive gang war between the Protestants led by Bill the Butcher, and the Irish Catholic gang called “Dead Rabbits” led by “Priest” Vallon. Bill kills Vallon in the battle and establishes his authority over the area. Vallon’s son is initially taken away to an orphanage after his father’s death and later returns as Amsterdam (Leonardo DiCaprio) to take revenge by killing Bill. The production design and performances of the film are simply world-class. Interestingly enough, Daniel Day-Lewis had retired from acting and was busy learning shoe-making in Italy when Scorsese approached him to be a part of this film. Having earlier worked with Scorsese in ‘The Age Of Innocence’, Day-Lewis readily agreed.
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