History might not have been your favourite 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”.
With every passing year, Netflix has been broadening its horizon regarding the genre of stories it tells. Historical movies, fact or fiction, aren’t untouched by it. If you want a history lesson, without the boredom of the classroom, the following is the list of really good Historical movies on Netflix. The list also includes historical war movies, historical drama films and historical fiction movies.
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)
The witch trials aren’t something that happened in just one part of the world. Until science got a proper hold of the world, most people believed in witches and many women were persecuted because of that. Most of them were the victims of false accusations, their crime being just that they angered someone who didn’t hesitate in leading them to death over nothing. Set in 1600s Finland, ‘Devil’s Bride’ follows the story of a girl who falls in love with a married man. Trying to get his wife out-of-the-way, so that she can be with her love, she accuses the innocent woman of witchcraft. However, she soon regrets it when she discovers exactly what the society does to the women labelled as witches.
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 the 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. Testament of Youth (2014)
Based on the memoirs by Vera Brittain, this film is set in the First World War era. Vera, played by Alicia Vikander wanted to leave the confines of her house to join the university and become a writer. However, her plans had to take a backseat when the War comes knocking on Britain’s door. As she watches all the men around her enlist for War, she decides that she too would contribute in some way. She becomes a war nurse, and what she sees at the front, changes her complete perspective about wars. The film focuses on a lot of elements that are otherwise left out of war dramas. Instead of focusing on what happens at the front, it shows what happens back home, how the people deal with the troubled times of sending their men to war while waiting at home, holding their breath. It shows the effect of war on men who fight it, by showcasing the difference in the personality of its characters before and after the war. Most importantly, it offers a pacifist’s point of view.
8. Silence (2016)
Based on the novel of the same name by Shusako Endo, this film is set in Japan and tells the story of two priests who are on a quest to find their mentor. Directed by Martin Scorsese, it stars Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver in the leading role. The story is set in the 17th century which was a difficult time in Japan, especially for Jesuit priests, who were tortured and killed for propagating their faith. When Sebastiao Rodrigues and Francisco Garupe receive the news that their mentor, Cristovao Ferreira had renounced his faith, the two priests set out for Japan to continue with the Catholic mission and finding out the real cause behind the action of their mentor. What becomes of their journey makes them question their faith and how they perceive it. In his third film about the search of religious identity by its characters, Scorsese delivers a powerful film.
7. The Last of the Mohicans (1992)
Set during the French and Indian War, this film stars Daniel Day-Lewis as Hawkeye, the adopted son of the Mohican chief. It starts with a British Army Major tasked with escorting the daughters of a colonel. However, along the way, they pass through a rough territory and as it turns out, walk into a set-up. Just as they are about to be killed, the Mohican chief and his sons jump in and save the day. One of the daughters develops an attraction for Hawkeye, who reciprocates it. Exploring the love angle between the protagonists, the film features the struggle between the various forces, native and foreign, present in the region. This film is the second adaptation of the book of the same name by James Fenimore Cooper, the first being the film of 1936. The film won an Academy Award and Day-Lewis received a lot of praise for his performance.
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6. The Last Samurai (2003)
Set in 19th century Japan, ‘The Last Samurai’ tells the story of an American soldier, Captain Nathan Algren, who is sent to Japan to train the army in the western form of war so that they can suppress the Samurai rebellion against the Emperor. It is on one of the early missions that Nathan is captured by the samurais and there he discovers that they are not the real villain of this story. He had come to westernise their art form, but in turn, takes to their ways. Tom Cruise played the role of the Captain and the film went on to be nominated for four Academy Awards. Though the film is not based on a real story, it does derive inspiration from people who were involved in similar circumstances. The effect of westernization, especially by America, and the quest of preservation of the culture by the natives are the most prominent themes of the movie.
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5. The Last King (2016)
The throne, be it of any country or kingdom, is always a thing of contention. Someone who can’t have it always wants it. And this makes the real ruler, and his heirs, vulnerable to constant threats on their lives. In the 13th century, a civil war-ravaged Norway, where all the royalties who considered themselves worthy of the throne battled to sort out the dispute once and for all. It was during this tumultuous time that Haakon Haakonsson was born. He was the natural heir to the throne. However, after the death of his father, the war erupted, and the infant’s head became the most wanted thing in the kingdom. This film tells the story of the loyalists who guarded him against all the people who wanted to kill him, which was basically half of the kingdom. The film stars Kristofer Hivju (from ‘Game of Thrones’) and Jakob Oftebro in the leading roles.
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4. The Danish Girl (2015)
Sexual identity is a very complicated thing, except for the ones who are colour-blind to any other shade in the spectrum. ‘The Danish Girl’ tells the story of Lili Elbe, who was one of the first recipients of the sex reassignment surgery. Einar Wegener and his wife Gerda Wegener were painters living in Amsterdam. Einar had always felt something different about himself, however, talking about such things wasn’t commonplace, even back then. One day, his wife asks him to pose as a woman for her painting and loosely dresses him up as one. Since then, Einar starts to get a hold of his real identity and finds that he feels more natural as a woman. The film follows his difficult journey of coming to terms with his sexuality, and the endless support that he receives from his wife.
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3. 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, work 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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2. Elizabeth (1998)
England’s history has seen its fair share of rulers of all kinds. And the variety of them has given a lot of stories to the world. However, when it comes to rounding up the names of the ones who did the most work (no bars held on what kind of it was), there are only a couple who made their mark deeper than others. The name of Elizabeth I is one of them. Her most recent portrayal came in the form of Margot Robbie in ‘Mary, Queen of Scots’. Early in her career, Cate Blanchett, too, got the opportunity to play the role of the famous monarch. Directed by Shekhar Kapur, the film focuses on the early years of her reign, starting from her freedom from imprisonment by her half-sister, Queen Mary. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, one of them being the nomination of Blanchett for Best Actress.
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1. 12 Years A Slave (2013)
History is marred by all the worst things done by human in all their time on Earth. And in our offence, we really have done some pretty bad things. ‘12 Years A Slave’ is based on something which is perhaps a rather common topic now, but a topic that needs to be discussed more often because the world needs to be reminded of the things that their actions result into. It tells the story of Solomon Northup, a free, black man, who works as a musician and is happily living with his family. One day, lured into the trap of a job, he is drugged by two men who sell him as a slave in the South. His further selling from one master to another, his perseverance in the cruelest of situations, and his undying hope for freedom are what mark the tone of this film.
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