We’ve done historical books and shows, but what about when you don’t have the time to binge watch Call the Midwife? While we’re in the midst of Droutlander, also known as ‘the time where Kelsey binge-reads Scottish romances while watching Diana Gabaldon’s Twitter like a hawk for new book news’, historical themed movies are great at filling the void. Here are some films that will make you laugh, cry, or search for the accompanying book, some of which I’ve already found for you. Not all are romances, or movies that you’ve even ever heard about, but all have their place on this list as some great films.
In the time of the bubonic plague,a monk named Osmund (Eddie Redmayne) falls in love with a girl named Averille. To save her life from the illness, he forces her to leave the monastery. She begs him to come with her and tells him she will wait a week at a their secret spot. However, Osmund is torn between her and his vows to God. Matters become complicated when a knight named Ulric (Sean Bean) gives Osmund the task of leading his men to a remote village where something otherworldly may be occurring. While not overly historical, it’s still an exciting film that features an unforgettable cast.
Belle is about the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay, the daughter of a Royal British naval officer and an African slave from the West Indies. After the death of her mother, Dido’s father entrusted her into the keeping of his uncle, the 1st Earl of Mansfield. She is raised as a high born lady, although she is both mixed-race as well as a bastard, and often isn’t given the same societal treatment as her cousins. However, she is a true heiress, and watches as one of the most important racial trials in British history unfolds, all while engaging in a romance with a white lawyer. This enthralling movie, though a Hollywood version, follows the true life of a young girl trying to find her place in a world that isn’t all that accepting.
Tristan & Isolde
This movie, which I’m sure many of you have seen, is based originally on the opera, which was based on legend of the Irish princess Iseult and her English lover sir Tristan. It’s the classic star-crossed lovers saga, but a quieter version full of believable heartache. The pair’s coupling could set the truce between their two nations on fire and they have tough choices to make. The original legend is also said to be the inspiration for William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and for good reason. Surprisingly, star funny man James Franco is one of the stars and I count it among one of the best of his career.
I know, I know, you’re thinking ‘how can a movie about a pope be full of romance?’. Well, there’s a tale surrounding a woman who disguised herself as a man in order to enter into the Catholic clergy around the 1100s who was only found out after she gave birth to a child. While this probably completely false, but makes for a good book, and movie. Pope Joan, the film, was based on the novel by Donna Woolfolk Cross and focuses on the life of an intelligent girl named Joan who desires a higher education, something not many people thought was important for a woman. But, after a series of events, Joan ends up in school and in the care of Count Gerold. They fall in love, but are separated for many years until Joan is securely hidden as a man and on her way to the top of the Catholic religion hierarchy. This movie doesn’t have many roses and gumdrop moments, but it does have an interesting premise and an even more captivating legend.
This is a relatively new movie that I found particularly enjoyable because of it’s realism. A young Irish girl named Eillis moves to New York in the 1950’s searching for a new life and adventure. Initially homesick, she soon finds her place, but Ireland is still calling to her. Eillis is later torn between a New York native and an Irish man back home. Saoirse Ronan is the star and makes you really believe her heartache.
Phoenix was a roller coaster; a real ride of emotions with a twist ending and a haunting musical finale. It’s based off of a book by Hubert Monteilhet titled Le Retour des Cendres, but finding a copy in English is impossible. The only one I could find was upwards of $400 but, if you find a copy, let me know! Anyway, Nelly survives the Holocaust, but before she can attempt to return to her old life, she has reconstructive surgery that makes her look slightly different than she did before. Unfortunately her husband Johnny, who she has not seen since she was arrested, doesn’t recognize her. Believing her to be a random girl, he tells Nelly (aka Esther) that she will impersonate Nelly in order to get her vast inheritance. The story is reminded me of a new age Casablanca.
La Reine Margot (Queen Margot)
Don’t like subtitles? Too bad, learn to read them and watch this movie. Trust me. Le Reine Margot is based off the Alexandre Dumas book of the same name, which he based off of real events. Catherine de’Medici and King Charles IX (Catholics) give their daughter Margot to Henri de Bourbon, the king of Navarre and a Protestant, hoping to garner peace over the fighting for control of France. Spoiler alert; the Catholics and Protestants aren’t friends around that time, so Margot goes into a loveless arranged married and into the heart of war. She finds love, but it’s not with her husband, and her life is filled with horrors. It’s a beautifully done movie and really highlights the life of one of history’s most scandalous, and cunning, women.
Attoment is based on the novel by Ian McEwan that some of you may already be familiar with. Robbie and Cecelia are two young lovers torn apart by a lie. Years later they meet again during World War Two and try to overcome their negative feelings surrounding Ceclia’s younger sister, who began the lies that ended their relationship the first time. You find yourself really rooting for Robbie and Cecelia to overcome the odds and finally be together. There’s lost love, strained family relationships, and a twist ending no one saw coming.
There was once a German-Jewish boy named Solomon Perel who escaped the Holocaust alive thanks to a mix of quick thinking and good luck. He travels Eastern Europe, taking on new identities as needed, and watching as the wold around him crumbles at the hand of the Nazis. At one point, through a series of mistakes and misfortune, he accidentally becomes a Nazi war hero. Solomon lives a horrifying, and ridiculously interesting, life and his autobiography was turned into Europa Europa.
You’re all probably familiar with the legend of Countess Elizabeth Báthory, the woman who bathed in the blood of young girls, hoping to recapture her youth. In this movie, her story begins in her childhood where she’s raised to be brutal and touches upon her love affair with a peasant. Her parents taught her to lock away all happiness and that’s what she did. While it doesn’t paint her as a completely innocent party, it does open up the idea that she was a product of her own twisted environment.
Testament of Youth
Never before have I ugly-sobbed so hard over a movie that I needed to take a minute and reevaluate my existence. Testament of Youth is based on the war memoirs of Vera Brittain, which became a pacifist call-to-arms about the draft and cost of war. The fact that the events shown in this book are based on the real lives of these people made it a difficult, but compelling, watch. I promise you will be gripped by the lost love, feel the ripping pain of each gun shot, and cry along with Vera as she slowly loses everything she knows. It also features an all-star cast of Alicia Vikander, Emily Watson, and Kit Harrington, who you may recognize as Jon Snow from GOT. Harrington plays poet and soldier Roland Leighton. I’ll leave you with one of Leighton’s last poems that really sets the tone for this must-see movie;
“Violets from Plug Street Wood,
Sweet, I send you from oversea.
(It is strange they should be blue,
Blue, when his soaked blood was red,
For they grew around his head:
It is strange they should be blue.)
Violets from Plug Street Wood,
Think what they have meant to me—
Life and hope and love and you.
(And you did not see them grow,
where his mangled body lay,
Hiding horror from the day;
Sweetest it was better so)
Violets from oversea,
To your dear, far, forgetting land,
These I send in memory,
Knowing you will understand”