I am always on the look out for a good historical movie to watch, the kind that are based on actual historical events and presented in a realistic way. You know, the kind that can take one away to another time and place. Unfortunately, trying to watch history in the movies can be pretty tough. I mean, there's a reason why the term "Hollywood History" exists; most movies about history coming from this city of fantasy tend
to be more fictionalized than fact. In my opinion, however, if they
throw in mostly facts and make the fiction secondary (such as the love
story in "April Morning" - of which you will read about shortly), then, to me, it's all good. Sometimes a
add to the story and flesh it out as long as the facts remain.
And if one digs deep enough they can find films that have
honest portrayals of occurrences that most movies rarely - if ever -
show. Surprisingly, an example is the "Felicity" movie, based on the colonial American
Girl Doll. "Felicity" shows the battles not of the Revolutionary War
itself, but between neighbors, families, and even between indentured
servants and their masters.
"Copperhead" is another example of a
story not often told about how there were many people in the north that
were against the Civil War.
And it's when they "get it right," that you will suddenly find yourself transported, if only for a few hours, to another place and time.
So what I have here is a list of historical movies with short reviews following each.
And this is why I included certain movies while not including others. They may not be 100% in all areas, but they're pretty darn close in certain ways, as far as movies are concerned.
Just my opinion, folks - nothing more, nothing less.
Oh! And the movies stories and themes are all pre-20th century, so you will not see the Titanic or any of the World Wars included.
Now...in historical chronological order (for the most part), here are my selections of the best American history movies:
This singular vision of early seventeenth-century America from Terrence Malick is a work of astounding elemental beauty, a poetic meditation on nature, violence, love, and civilization. It reimagines the apocryphal story of the meeting of British explorer John Smith (Colin Farrell) and Powhatan native Pocahontas (Q’orianka Kilcher, in a revelatory performance) as a romantic idyll between spiritual equals, then follows Pocahontas as she marries John Rolfe (Christian Bale) and moves to England.
With production designer Jack Fisk’s raw re-creation of the Jamestown colony and Emmanuel Lubezki’s marvelous, naturally lit cinematography, The New World is a film of uncommon power and technical splendor, one that shows Malick at the height of his visual and philosophical powers. It transports us back to 17th century America and England and evokes a specific time and place more so than any film I've seen, aside, perhaps, of the two film following this in my list. I'm not that well versed in Native American beliefs and I don't mean to overstep my bounds, but I think that they were portrayed beautifully. To these people, everything around them was imbued with a sense of holiness and sacredness. They were truly in tune with nature and formed a symbiotic relationship with their natural surroundings.
The New World contains numerous historical inaccuracies, however, that some would argue undermine the significance and usefulness of the film as a portrait of American History.
I did enjoy it, I must say.
Part movie-part documentary (otherwise known as a docu-drama), this film (believe it or not produced by The History Channel) of the pilgrims is two and a half hours of a
well-known and very important part of our American history, although you may
not realize how little you actually do know of these separatists and of the
times they lived. In fact, it certainly is more movie than documentary
and, although interspersed throughout are historians filling in the gaps, this
docu-drama is as engulfing and riveting as any full-length period movie I have
seen. The lives and times of these early European settlers are authentically
portrayed by use of English Shakespearean actors, and the quality shows. Never
have I seen any other film put flesh on the bones of the pilgrims to the extent
this one does. A social history extravaganza!
The clothing, lighting, effects (especially while on the Mayflower), and, at
times, even some of the speech patterns are reflected fairly accurately. I did
not see the typical revisionist history so often reflected in many of today's
historical depictions. They were very religious folk bent on keeping their
practices, even if they had to cross the ocean to do it, and this movie shows
that in no uncertain terms.
The Indian dramatization was done very well for the most part, although I would
have preferred to have their speech in their original (or close to their
original) language and include the use of sub-titles.
Oh well, can't have everything.
As an extra added bonus, by the way, there are a couple of short (too short!) extra's - one features the making of this extraordinary documentary, and the
other has outtakes and bloopers.
For teachers and lovers of history I recommend this docu-drama very highly. A
wonderful way to learn about our early American history.
Ken's Observations: Since I actually wrote this review for Amazon.com, I guess it's also my observation as well, isn't it?
Three Sovereigns For Sarah
Salem Witch Trials - as good as it gets!
"This is a true story. Nineteen people were hanged and one old man
pressed to death, while hundreds of others suffered in jail cells during
the witch hysteria of 1692. THREE SOVEREIGNS FOR SARAH is the most
accurate portrayal yet. Each character you will see actually existed, actually spoke many of the words you will hear. Original transcripts of
the trials are woven into the dialogue."
Ken's Observations: I
do not believe there is a better movie showing America's Puritan past as well
as the awful Salem witch trials. Another one of those 'you are there' epics, the THREE SOVEREIGNS FOR SARAH is a must see for all students of American
history. Hearing that this was filmed in some of the actual buildings where the
original events happened sends shivers down my spine.
Last of the Mohicans
epic adventure and passionate romance unfold against the panorama of an 18th century frontier
wilderness ravaged by war. Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Hawkeye, rugged frontiersman and
adopted son of the Mohicans, and Madeleine Stowe is Cora Munro, aristocratic
daughter of a proud British Colonel. Their love, tested by fate, blazes amidst
a brutal conflict between the British, the French and Native American allies
that engulfs the majestic mountains and cathedral-like forests of Colonial
Ken's Observation: The written novel come to life - drama and action surrounded by the French and Indian War, and there's
not too many contemporary movies that can say that! And that's why it's included here. Another great movie.
George Washington Mini-Series
sweeping twelve-hour, five-part miniseries chronicling the life of Washington
from ages 11 to late in life, beginning just after the death of his father in 1743 and
taking him through his journeyman days as a young surveyor, his hidden love for
Sally Fairfax (the wife of his best friend), his marriage to widowed Martha
Custis, his involvement in the French and Indian Wars, his premature retirement
from military life and his return to uniform to head the American colonists in
the Revolutionary War. We also see his emotional farewell to his officers
and his return to Mount Vernon following war's end. It
then continues on to his life as the United States' 1st President, showing the pluses and minuses during his time as the Father of our
Barry Bostwick heads an
all-star cast in this dramatization of historian James Thomas Flexner's four
volume "George Washington" biography."
Ken's Observation: I was seriously surprised by how good this mini-series from 1984 is. It does an admirable job in putting flesh on the
bones of Washington and pretty much sticks to the
truth by following documents and letters. However, I had a tough time getting through the first hour or so - but, once we get into the French & Indian War the quality jumps up in leaps and remains there for the rest of the series.
John Adams -
|A scene from John Adams|
"Based on David McCullough's
bestselling biography, the HBO miniseries John Adams is the furthest
thing from a starry-eyed look at America's founding fathers and the brutal path
to independence. Adams (Paul Giamatti), second president of the United States, is portrayed as a skilled orator and principled attorney whose preference for
justice over anti-English passions earns enemies. The first thing one notices
about John Adams' dramatizations of congress' proceedings, and the
fervent pro-independence violence in the streets of Boston and elsewhere, is
that America's roots don't look pretty or idealized here. Some horrendous
things happen in the name of protest, driving Adams to push the cause of
independence in a legitimate effort to get on with a revolutionary war under
the command of George Washington.
Besides this peek into a
less-romanticized version of the past, John Adams is also a story of the
man himself. Adams' frustration at being forgotten or overlooked at critical
junctures of America's early development--sent abroad for years instead of
helping to draft the U.S. constitution--is detailed. So is his dismay that the
truth of what actually transpired leading to the signing of the Declaration of
Independence has been slowly forgotten and replaced by a rosier myth. But above
all, John Adams is the story of two key ties: Adams' 54-year marriage to
Abigail Adams (Laura Linney), every bit her husband's intellectual equal and
anchor, and his difficult, almost symbiotic relationship with Thomas Jefferson (Stephen Dillane) over decades."
Ken's Observation: "The
thing from a starry-eyed look at America's founding fathers" as is
quoted here does not mean they make our Founding Fathers look like
bumbling idiots, sex fiends, or 21st century people thrown into an 18th
century world. There is no modern PC to make it contemporary. It's a
very well-done historical drama that shows people as they were in a very
natural way. Though not always as historically accurate as we'd like (unfortunately, that is pretty much impossible from Hollywood), it still is hands down one of the best out there and definitely my very favorite movie of all-time! I hope Tom Hanks continues directing such films.
is simply a gem of a movie based on Howard Fast's excellent 1962 novel of the
first day of hostilities between colonists and Britain.
There may have been bigger blockbusters made about the American Revolution (The
Patriot, etc.) but this under- rated
1988 film is a true classic, capturing the quintessential decency of American
colonial village life in Lexington and the developing tensions and conflict on
that fateful day of 19th April 1775.
Morning is also effective because it does not glamorize war or demonize
the redcoats. In fact, a Patriot and a Redcoat are both seen, at various
stages, to be scared witless by the whiff of grapeshot and of battle. Yet
overall, in what is truly a momentous day for the villagers of Lexington and
Concord, we see how the events mature a young colonist, and this is brilliantly
illustrated at the end of the film when he leads his family in prayer for their
food and life. This very subtle approach makes it evident that the boy, like
colonial America, is gone forever and has been replaced by a decent man who
would, with humility, be worthy of his emerging new leadership role-in young America."
Crossing is a stirring dramatization of General George Washington's surprise
attack on the British Army's German mercenaries and the Battle of Trenton. Based on the book by Howard Fast, The Crossing brings to life Washington's
historic passage across the Delaware on Christmas night, 1776 and the lopsided
fight that followed."
This is another movie that took me by surprise when I discovered it a
couple years ago. We now make it an annual watch on either April 18 or
19. I highly recommend this movie of the beginnings of the Revolutionary War.
Because of excellent acting by Jeff Daniels, this is a very well-made drama that puts flesh on the bones of General Washington. You want this.
respectable entertainment, but anyone expecting a definitive drama about the
American Revolution should look elsewhere. On those terms, the film is
engrossing and sufficiently intelligent, especially when militia leader
Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson) cagily negotiates with British General Cornwallis (Tom Wilkinson) in one of the most rewarding scenes. For the most part, the
story concerns Martin's anguished quest for revenge against ruthless redcoat
Colonel Tavington, and the rise to manhood of Martin's eldest son, Gabriel (Heath Ledger), whose battlefield honor exceeds even that of his brutally
volatile father. At its best, The Patriot
conveys the horror of war
among innocent civilians, and the epic battle scenes (which) are graphically intense and impressive. The focus on family (which
frequently relegates the war to background history) provides a suitable vehicle
for Gibson, who matches his achievement in Braveheart
effectively brooding performance.
Director Roland Emmerich crafts a
marvelous re-creation of South Carolina in the late 1770s."
Ken's Observation: I suppose once in a while, action-packed is okay. Think of this as the American 'Braveheart.' Yes, there's underlying truth and fact, but
it's mostly historical action/fiction for entertainment purposes. And the battles really are very well done - probably the best of any RevWar movie. And that's why The Patriot is included here - to show pretty realistically the horrors of Revolutionary War battles.
Felicity Merriman, a 10 year-old girl who's as spirited and independent as the
American colonies she lives in. For the first time ever, Felicity comes to life
on screen in Felicity: An American Girl Adventure, a full-length live
action movie based on American Girl's best-selling books. When Felicity meets
Penny, a beautiful copper colored mare, she knows with all her heart that she
must free Penny from her cruel owner. Felicity desperately wishes for that same
sureness of heart about the rumors of revolution swirling through Williamsburg. Felicity's father believes that the colonies should be free from England's
rule, but her beloved grandfather and her best friend Elizabeth both support
the king. With fiercely conflicting loyalties dividing the colonists, something
as simple as a cup of tea could divide Felicity from her best friend forever. As Christmastide draws near, Felicity struggles to hold her family and friends
close, and to find ways for love and friendship to rise above the growing
While the intent of this made-for-TV movie is for the younger female
set, I see it as an excellent introduction for the young 'tweens and
teens to American History, one that adults - male and female - can enjoy
as well. It does have plenty of modernisms in the language, by the way. But because of who it is meant for, and the fact that it was mostly filmed in Colonial Williamsburg, I feel that can be overlooked. Two thumbs up.
forgotten when we think of the Revolutionary War is the involvement of
non-combatants. In this case, General Silliman was not commanding troops
but rather served as a state’s attorney. He was caught up in the intense
conflict between the Tories, Whigs and those who tried to remain neutral.
Silliman was abducted during the night by Tories and taken to Long Island and
wife, wonderfully portrayed by Nancy Palk, rises to the occasion and works to
obtain his freedom through various plans of exchange. Time and time again
she is thwarted. Wonderfully depicted is the neighbor vs. neighbor
clashes of civilians as well as conflict with those in authority who find
General Silliman a convenient political bargaining chip.
is a wrenching tale. Absent are the ranks of soldiers firing in
battle. Instead, there is the struggle of a woman to overcome the myriad
of obstacles in her way. Eventually, she very reluctantly resorts to
desperate measures." (This review from All Things Liberty web site)
Ken's Observation: This was a very impressive, well-made movie. Who needs Hollywood when independents can show history much more accurate? Yes, an excellent movie about a part of the Revolutionary War rarely shown.
AMC's "TURN: Washington's Spies
- is an excellent and gripping television series drama that I cannot get enough of. Based on Alexander Rose’s book "Washington’s Spies," AMC’s TURN tells the untold story of America’s first spy ring. A historical thriller set during the Revolutionary War, TURN centers on Abe Woodhull, a farmer living in British-occupied Long Island who bands together with his childhood friends to form The Culper Ring -- an unlikely team of secret agents who not only went on to help George Washington turn the tide of the war but also gave birth to modern spycraft.
The trouble is, many of the characters, though real to history, are, in many cases, presented historically inaccurate (though they did wonderfully well with General Washington!). But the show itself is so well done, and it does tend to bring the viewer back in time to the late 1770s. It just seems to get better not only with each season, but with each episode (filming many episodes in Colonial Williamsburg was a shot of genius!). Quality entertainment - stressing entertainment.
Four seasons = 40 hours of Rev War bliss. Yes!
: I wrote what much of what you just read. I stand by that.
Legend & Lies: The Patriots -
Legends & Lies - The Patriots uses dramatic
recreations of historic events to re-examine the inspiring story of America's
founding. The 9-part series (12-part with the "special edition" set) dispels the exaggerations and falsehoods which have
developed over time, shedding new light on iconic characters and their stories. Legends & Lies cuts through the myths and brings untold truths to the
screen for the first time.
|Paul Revere about to get his brains |
blown out in Legends & Lies
Executive Producer Bill O'Reilly combines his own historical research with the
knowledge of leading experts to bring the patriots who fight for American
independence to life. From George Washington to Benjamin Franklin, John Adams
and Alexander Hamilton - experience the epic battles and personal struggles of
the heroes who create the United States of America, as they stand up to the
world's most powerful empire and establish a new nation that will become a
beacon of liberty for the rest of the world.
By the way, if you are able to find the "special edition" you will receive a fourth DVD that includes three more parts - that's three extra hours which includes a great rendition of the Battle of Trenton, a very cool episode on African American soldiers who also fought and played such an important part in the war, and one called How Freedom was Won, which shows a sort of overview of the entire series with extra scenes added to give a more rounded picture as well.
Ken's Observation: This is amazing, to say the least. I don't give a hoot what anyone thinks of Bill O'Reilly personally, because this series is a shining example of a docudrama done right no matter what role he played in its production. Like "Desperate Crossing" and "A Midwife's Tale," this set plays much more like a movie/mini-series than a documentary; it is engulfing in every sense.
By the way, you will not see or hear Sheryl Crow or Tony Bennett or Sean Diddy Combs or any other entertainer paid to read a script as if they knew what they were talking about like on other so-called docudramas (the abysmal Story of US). Only bonafide historians interject here (yes, O'Reilly actually has a degree in history).
I am not being political here...just promoting something very well-done.
A More Perfect Union
Description of America 1786, ten years since the signing of
the Declaration of Independence, and England wages a new war of unfair trade and
tariffs. Bickering and jealousy fracture the once united states, but a handful
of brilliant men, James Madison, George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin, lead
a political battle to create a new form of government, one that will establish
the standard of self-government to the world. A More Perfect Union: America
Becomes A Nation is the first comprehensive recreation of those stirring, heated debates during the sweltering summer of 1787. Filmed on location at
Independence Hall, Williamsburg, Virgina, and other historical sites, it
dramatically chronicles how America became a nation and established those
underlying principles that guard our freedoms today."
This is not a documentary, but an actual dramatization of the events. If you like quality historical drama, you will almost certainly like this; it's like viewing history through an open window, eyewitnessing our Founding Fathers in action. Very well done!
(By the way, the picture and sound quality are not up to DVD specs - not awful, mind you, just not super high - but it's so worth getting. Bravo!)
1785, America was a rough and chaotic young nation, and Maine its remote
northern frontier. That year, at the age of 50, Martha Ballard began the diary
that she would keep for the next 27 years, until her death. At a time when
fewer than half the women in America were literate, Ballard faithfully recorded
the weather, her daily household tasks, her midwifery duties (she delivered
close to a thousand babies), her medical practice, and countless incidents that
reveal the turmoil of a new nation -- dizzying social change, intense religious
conflict, economic boom and bust -- as well as the grim realities of disease, domestic violence, and debtor's prison.
In "A Midwife's Tale" the daily activities, the physical feel of the
people and buildings involved, and the historical verity that helps us envision
late 18th century life, are always conscious - these eighteenth-century details
are overlooked treasures that are rich in the texture of everyday life.
actors were unfamiliar. They look like real people, not movie stars. Family
dynamics were more believable and souring relationships took on terrific
Ballard is played by actress Kaiulani Sewall Lee, a direct descendant of the
Sewall family of Maine -- people the real Martha Ballard knew, aided in
childbirth, and nursed through illness.”
Ken's Observation: This docu-drama just brought the historic colonial homes I often visit (like the 18th century Daggett Farmhouse inside Greenfield Village in Dearborn, MI) to life. This is one
of the most amazing films about everyday 18th century life - - wow----it
authentically and accurately brought the era and people of the Founding Generation to
life like I've never experienced. Seriously...this struck a strong chord in me. After the first 15 minutes or so, it played more like a movie than a docu-drama. Real life history.
The Awakening Land
homesteader Sayward Luckett couldn't read her name if you showed it to her, yet
she fell in love with and married agnostic, book-learned frontier lawyer
Portius Wheeler. Now it's time to make a life with him in wild, wooded 1790s
There will be children, seven in all; joy and hardships aplenty; inconsistencies
of heart; and the enduring legacy of settling a new land. Based on Conrad
Richter's trilogy of novels (he received a Pulitzer Prize for the third), this
miniseries nominated for 6 Emmy Awards celebrates the pioneering spirit as it
chronicles Sayward's heroic, unadorned life. Elizabeth Montgomery and Hal
Holbrook (earning two of those six Emmy nominations) lead a strong cast that
includes Jane Seymour."
Ken's Observation: There are some who really like this mini-series while others I know think it's a piece of crap. I happen to like it. The story is a good one, though it's not about any one actual person in history, and to see a town spring out of the woods helps one to understand just how towns were formed in our country's early days.
the America’s Navy website): "Master and Commander," based on British
author Patrick O'Brian's set of 19th-century naval novels, follows Royal Navy
Capt. Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) and the crew of his ship HMS Surprize as they sail
out to see the richness and strangeness of life on the far side of the world, against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars.
was impressed by 'Master and Commander.' I think it was the best portrayal of
life in a warship during the Age of Sail that has been produced in Hollywood. The language, the uniforms, the rigging of the ship, the customs of the Royal
Navy of that period, the portrayal of the captain by Russell Crowe, all seemed
quite authentic to me," said Dr. William S. Dudley, director of the Naval Historical
Hill, Navy Museum educator, has a unique insight on 19th-century sailing having
recently spent two weeks on the U.S. Brig Niagara on the Great Lakes, where the
crew ran the ship as if during the War of 1812.
Ken's Observation: I didn't realize the high standards set in the making of this film until I read the review here. An excellent movie, especially on a large screen.
"The Niagara is a brig, so she is smaller and designed differently than
the ship used in 'Master and Commander',' but all of the commands that I heard
in the film with regard to her sailing and handling were the same that I heard, repeatedly," Hill said.
It was so well done that NHC senior historian Dr. Edward J. Marolda said, "One can see, hear, and almost smell what it must have been like for
England's Jack Tars in the wooden sailing ships of the Nelsonian Age."
"I was impressed with the depiction of the combat scenes: the crew moving
to and fighting at their battle stations, the working of guns below decks, the
damage to ship and personnel from shot and shell, the care of the wounded and
the repair of the ship after battle," said Early History Branch historian
"Master and Commander also did a fine job of illustrating how disguise and
deception could be employed with effect in the age of sail," said Brodine. "Warships could and would change their appearance in order to fool the
enemy, whether to make captures or elude battle. Numerous American captains
used such 'ruses de guerre' with great effect in the War of 1812."
Gods and Generals -
Gods and Generals does a very good job at depicting the earlier
of the Civil War, though for the more dramatic scenes it can be a bit stodgy. It's always leaned heavily toward the
southern point of view in its original form, but this new director's cut
has been divided into chapters and totally re-edited to fit in the extra
hours worth of scenes, some of which include involving President
Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth, more of the Chamberlains, and, especially
for fans of battles, Antietam. It now gives a somewhat more balanced perspective
of North vs South. Yes, it still centers mainly around General Jackson and his pontificating, but, from what I've read, that's the way he was. More than what is shown, in fact.
Because the entire movie has been re-edited the way it has been, I don't believe I could watch the original theatrical release
again. All the scenes are there - intact - but the entire movie is
so much less choppy and so much more cohesive (it would have been nice
to show the picnicking civilians at Manassas - oh well...).
And the women's clothing? Yeah...they could've done better. Much better. Why didn't
they research the details of the period clothing more? I feel it's probably because it was war
film makers who made the movie and, like many of the senior reenactors, they felt the civilians are considered to be background...eye candy...rather than place
any real importance on them. Remember, this was filmed in 2003 and period
movies have somewhat improved since then.
But, aside from this and some of the over-dramatic scenes, Gods and Generals is
still one of my personal movie watching pleasures, and I love to sit back for
six hours and immerse myself into the early 1860's via modern technology. Almost - but not quite - as good as being at a Civil War re-enactment.
|Box set consisting of|
Gods & Generals and Gettysburg
: I wrote the review you just read, and when I published it elsewhere I was either praised or slammed. Mostly slammed. This is a movie one either loves or hates, and those who hate it want everyone else to hate it, too, or else they're idiots.
Yep...still love it!
Except for a few exceptions (why are there always exceptions?) Gettysburg is another MOSTLY historically correct film. I feel the
biggest reason for this is due to the fact that re-enactors have played
such a prominent role in the making of both of these films, making sure
that they're as historically correct as the producers would allow, right down to the buttons on the uniforms worn by the fighting men (yes, yes, I KNOW about the fake facial hair, but those aren't re-enactors! Blame the costume/make up people on that!). And the battle scenes are
as realistic as can possibly be done. When you watch the men during
Pickett's charge and see the anguished look on the General's face
during the aftermath, one gets the feeling of actually witnessing the
carnage that took place.
And the Little Round Top scene will get your heart beating just as it must have beat in the men who were there. Truly gripping.
Gettysburg is another very long but engulfing movie filled with
battles and tactics, which truly brings the viewer into the horrific
time of early July 1863.
Both this one and Gods & Generals help to bring the people of the
Civil War alive - the men on both sides who fought in this war are no
longer just old sepia-toned pictures in a history book, or silly 1950's
b-movie style characters, but real men who fought and died horrible
deaths. I wish more historical epics would use re-enactors in the movie
making process (The Conspirator did!). They truly help bring the past
: This is the Civil War movie that all others are compared to. Since I wrote the above review, you have my observations.
(Amazon.com reviewer): "Here's
one of those rare movies that succeeds as both a sweeping, visually sumptuous
historical epic AND an intimate, character-driven personal drama. This
fact-based account of the first black regiment to fight for the Union in the
Civil War is filled with scenes of grand pageantry: the bloody battle at
Antietam Creek; the first assembly of the 54th Regiment; the proud parade of
the finally-trained and uniformed soldiers; the climactic attack on Fort
Wagner. And yet despite these heart-pounding, majestic sequences, the film at
no time loses its focus on the individual characters whose stories provide an
emotional connection to the action. The performances of the once-in-a-lifetime
cast are uniformly superb: Matthew Broderick, Morgan Freeman, and Andre
Braugher are all at the top of their game, and Denzel Washington (who
deservedly won the Supporting Actor Oscar) is amazing, especially in the scene
in which he undergoes a bitterly harsh punishment. The dozens of emotions that
flicker across Washington's face in that sequence, wordlessly conveying his
character's essence, represent a powerful economy of acting that is rarely achieved
in any medium.
Right up there with the best of 'em. Though not 100% correct, it is still a very good accounting of a very important piece of African-American history.
a rural community in upstate New York in 1862, farmer Abner Beech is a Northern
anti-war Democrat. While his neighbors take up the union cause in the ongoing
American Civil War, Beech believes that coercion in resisting the secession of
the southern states is unconstitutional, and gradually becomes more and more harassed
for his views, derisively called a 'Copperhead.' "
Ken's Observations: I bought this solely on the low price (under ten bucks!), not sure how good it would be. My wife and my then 23 year old son, all of us reenactors, gave it two thumbs up. We felt it showed another side of the War not normally seen. The feel was very well done, by the way, and it drew us into their world.
Gangs of New York
waves of immigrants swell the population of New York, lawlessness and
corruption thrive in lower Manhattan's Five Points section. After years of
incarceration, young Irish immigrant Amsterdam, Vallon, returns seeking revenge
against the rival gang leader who killed his father. But Amsterdam's personal
vendetta becomes part of the gang warfare that erupts as he and his fellow
Irishmen fight to carve a place for themselves in their newly adopted homeland
Violent, but it was a violent time."
A violent movie rooted in history showing occurrences rarely seen in other films, but is not very accurate in that the telling of the story itself. I included it because of the historical aspect of the "Five Points" section.
(From an Amazon.com reviewer): "Andersonville" is an intense drama about a Civil War prison camp for captured Union soldiers. The camp is a huge stockade, built for 20,000 prisoners of war, but is filled
to overcrowding with over 35,000 Union POW's, and more arriving daily. The
conditions are horrible beyond words, virtually no food, no sanitation, clothing in rags and tatters, no shelter from the rain, gangs rampaging through
the camp, rampant disease, a hundred men dying a day - a literal hell on earth. Purported to be historical fact, the story centers on a brigade from
Massachusetts and their struggle to survive, and what a horrendous struggle it
is. Other reviewers have stated that the story is not entirely truthful. Due to
the shortage of critical supplies in the south, I do not doubt that the
deplorable conditions existed exactly as depicted in the movie. I cannot comment
on other issues as I have not read the book that the movie is based on. You will be shocked by the
condition of the men, the violence in the camp, the slow agony of starvation, and the inevitable decline in the men, both physically and spiritually."
There's been a lot of discussion about how accurate this movie is and how cruel Captain Wirz actually was. To be honest, I haven't really researched this to any great extent so I can't tell you the truths or myths. I can say that this prison truly did exist and was said to be a very cruel place to be sent. On that basis alone makes this film historically worth your while. I found it riveting.
Friendly Persuasion -
"For two years the Civil War has been
elsewhere. Now Confederate forces are nearby, looting and burning. It is time
to fight back, Jess Birdwell's neighbors insist. Yet Birdwell, a Quaker, knows
there must be a better way to settle things. In a role ideally suiting his
stalwart persona, Gary Cooper plays Jess in William Wyler's beloved film of
Jessamyn West's novel that earned six Academy Award nominations, including Best
Picture. Dorothy McGuire (Best Actress), and Anthony Perkins and a superior
supporting case get to the heart of a family, faith and pacifism put to the
Ken's Observations: A film that's obviously dated (it was made in 1956) but still holds up very well in the story it has to tell. It looks at the Civil War from a different angle from nearly any other movie, and as a descendent of Revolutionary War-era Quakers myself, I found this to be a more personal look at the lives and the social societal treatment of folks with a strong enough belief system to warrant them to attempt to live as they felt God wanted them to live, not as society dictated.
Gore Vidal's Lincoln -
(from an Amazon.com reviewer): "The movie starts with Lincoln slinking into Washington DC, for fear of a
secessionist uprising in Balitmore, under disguise, for which he was much
aligned. Contrasted with Mary's arrival, with hoopla and a thousand suitcases, shows the underlying dichotomy in the famous first couple. Jumping from
historical event to historical event, the drama digs a bit deeper into the
effects of the events on the family. By the time you've finished the movie, you
felt like you've not only have a deeper understanding of the Civil War, but of
the Lincolns as well.
Sam Waterson nails, absolutely nails, Lincoln. We see all
sides of him. It must have been a daunting role to play. We have solely deified
Lincoln, almost erasing his humanity. Waterson brings it back in full force, with all the humor and sadness needed. At first, hearing that Mary Tyler Moore
as Mary Todd Lincoln seems like a joke. Who would ever thought that Mary
Richards could play someone Hay and Nicolette called "Hell Cat?" But
she does. Her descent into madness at the death of Willie is heartbreaking. Richard Mulligan's performance as Seward is uncanny, and the ever stalwart Ruby
Dee plays Mary Lincoln's dressmaker Mrs. Keckley with all of the sassiness and
Ken's Observation: I thought this was a well-done made for TV look at Lincoln's presidency. Showing the illness and ultimate death of his son, Willy, is something that surprising so few are aware even happened. Good movie though the picture quality is not up to normal DVD standards. Still worth purchasing.
movie itself was done very well.
"A riveting thriller, THE
CONSPIRATOR tells the powerful story of a woman who would do anything to
protect her family, and the man who risked everything to save her.
In the wake of Abraham Lincoln's
assassination, seven men and one woman are arrested and charged with conspiring
to kill the President, Vice President, and Secretary of State. The lone woman
charged, Mary Surratt (Wright) owns a boarding house where John Wilkes Booth (Toby Kebbell) and others met and planned the simultaneous attacks. Against the
ominous back-drop of post-Civil War Washington, newly-minted lawyer, Frederick
Aiken (McAvoy), a 28-year-old Union war-hero, reluctantly agrees to defend
Surratt before a military tribunal. Aiken realizes his client may be innocent
and that she is being used as bait and hostage in order to capture the only
conspirator to have escaped a massive manhunt, her own son, John (Johnny
Simmons). As the nation turns against her, Surratt is forced to rely on Aiken
to uncover the truth and save her life."
: Drama! Drama! Drama! That's what this movie is. Oh! But what drama! An excellent and gripping movie that held me from start to finish. It goes well as a sort of Part 2 to "Lincoln."
Little House on the Prairie (Disney mini-series)
|Little House on the Prairie:|
not the TV series
Is this really a Disney production? Seriously! For the first time in many, many years you did ol' Walt proud!
This newer one is closer to Mrs. Wilder's original
biographical-oriented stories than the Michael Landon pilot movie (and, of course, TV series). It's this version of "Little House on the Prairie" that you
will find a very good account of pioneer life in the latter part of the
19th century, pretty close to realistically portraying what it was like to leave a comfortable
setting with family and friends around, and then deciding to begin a new life out west hundreds
of miles away.
Traveling by wagon was a trying experience, and this series shows that very
well. Through cold weather, crossing a frozen river, rainstorms, the family
made it after two months to their land in Kansas. You will find realistic
portrayals of continued hardships and illnesses.
Cut off from all they knew, as well as having their nearest
neighbors quite a distance away, the Ingalls family learn to survive on their
wits and skills, coming across the local (angry) Indians, meeting a life-loving
free spirit, as well as a rather curt couple from Scotland. The Indians are seen from three different angles: the Scott's hate the savages
and want them all dead; the Ingalls' feel that all people - no matter what race
- have good and bad in them, and that the Indians are NOT savages and should
receive the respect deserved to all folks; and free-spirited Mr. Edwards is somewhere in
between. Not PC, though not far right, either. It also hints of the atrocities
that the American government did to the Indians, but also shows that the
government screwed the white folks as well.
Except for Charles' extremely white teeth, all of the actors fit the time
portrayed very well, including dirty and unkempt hair for the women, burly men
who, you can just tell, smelled like they haven't showered in years, and even
folks with foreign accents - something rarely seen in film versions of our
earlier American history.
I know what you're thinking - "Little House on the Prairie? Really??"
But this version is very well done and gives a fine perception on westward immigration. It shows the fear of the unknown, concern over food (or lack
thereof), the sounds on the prairie at night, the solitude of pioneer life, the
fact that one had to be of a tough stock to handle all that came, hopes and
dreams - this version of Little House actually puts meat on the bones of not
just the Ingalls family, but of all American Pioneers.
Western has become a modest cult favorite since its release in 1993, when the
film was met with mixed reviews but the performances of Kurt Russell (as Wyatt
Earp) and especially Val Kilmer, for his memorably eccentric performance as the
dying gunslinger Doc Holliday, garnered high praise. The movie opens with Wyatt
Earp trying to put his violent past behind him, living happily in Tombstone
with his brothers and the woman (Dana Delany) who puts his soul at ease. But a
murderous gang called the Cowboys has burst on the scene, and Earp can't keep
his gun belt off any longer. The plot sounds routine, and in many ways it is, but Western buffs won't mind a bit thanks to a fine cast and some well-handled
action on the part of Rambo director George P. Cosmatos, who has yet to make a
better film than this."
Ken's Observation: From what I've read, there is not much factual historic truth to this movie other than the basics surrounding the fight at the OK Coral. That's a shame. I would love to see an accurate account of what actually happened. But I included "Tombstone" because I wanted to have a representation of the old west - something based on fact.
Now, "Tombstone" leads me to Wyatt Earp (Kevin Costner), which came out right around the same time. I've read on the internet that numerous people have researched "Wyatt Earp" and have found it to be more accurate than "Tombstone." You be the judge. I, myself, enjoyed it for entertainment purposes.
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Nearly all the movies listed above have a strong sense, in one way or another, toward historical accuracy, which is why they are on the list (yes, I know about Tombstone, but it's inclusion was to show the old west). It's
when they have more fiction than fact that they do a
disservice to the past by presenting false
history and, thus, frustrate historians and many viewers alike. The
powers-that-be don't seem
to understand that truth can actually be far more interesting, but the
dumbing down of American society for the love of money tends to be the
trend in movies. It seems too many producers of such films will loosely
base famous historical names and dates around a concocted "historical" story with lots of 21st century
accuracy? Bah! People don't care about that, they say. Why have
historical accuracy when you can make loads of money by selling the
people mush-for-brain action-packed crap or lots of on-screen sex?
Funny, though...loads of money can still be made when a film is done with care
and quality, am I correct, Tom Hanks, executive producer of "John
So why, then, do film makers continue to insist on making "based on" fantasy flicks?
Case in point: The History Channel's 2014 fiasco, "Sons of Liberty."
watching it I cannot express enough just how deeply disappointed I was
in the poor representation of the beginnings of the founding of our
country. Within the first few minutes we find Samuel Adams, who was
supposed to be in his mid-40s, leaping onto rooftops to avoid being
arrested by the British army. Really? I never knew that. And
how about Samuel flirting with Abigail Adams - if you know anything
about Mrs. Adams, for there is plenty of primary source material readily available about
her, you would know she was not the "flirting kind." And I don't think
Samuel's second wife would have liked it much either. Ah, but ya gotta
put in those 21st century modernisms to show they were just like us and
keep the interest, right?
|Sons of Liberty: very disappointing|
How about British soldiers shutting down newspapers, arresting popular
patriot leaders for acts of insubordination, and stifling political
demonstrations in Boston?
Nope - there is no evidence to suggest
that British soldiers shut down newspapers, arrested any popular patriot
leaders, or stopped any peaceful demonstrations in 1765.
Again, all within the first hour of the movie. There is plenty more. The inaccuracies make inaccuracies look good in this film!
know that the History Channel says "based on" as part of its
advertisement. Sorry - poor excuse coming from a network that's
supposedly giving historical truth. (The History Channel - where history
is history) - - -
In my opinion, period movies should also have a strong feel - some soul - to the times being portrayed. "Sons of Liberty" has little to none of that - they just took very 21st century actors with
21st century mannerisms and language (did you catch the modern anachronisms in
the dialogue?), dressed them up in colonial-looking clothing, and threw them
into the 18th century. Now mix in action police-drama-type scenes without a
care for historical accuracy, and what do you get?
The closest thing I can compare it to would be the "Pirates of the Caribbean
" meets NCIS.
Very little actual truth.
|Pirates of the Caribbean: fun stuff not |
to be taken seriously!
By the way, I really enjoy the "Pirates" movies. A rollicking good time not to be taken seriously!
I could go on and on about why "Sons of Liberty," was not very good, but if you are that interested (which you really
should be), just click HERE and HERE it to get a more complete composite of all what's
wrong with this History Channel atrocity, for p
retty much every historian I have either read or interacted with agrees.
Now why could I not enjoy "Sons of Liberty" in the same way as, say, "Tombstone," strictly as entertainment?
I'm not quite sure...I suppose it all boils down to if you're going to call yourself THE HISTORY CHANNEL then you will be held up to higher standards in movie making. As one commentator wrote: "I find it
deplorable for a channel called “The History Channel," which implies truth in
history, to air such a piece of fiction as fact without noting it as such
during the programming."
That's the best answer I can give.
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By the way, are there other good history-oriented movies I enjoy that, for varying personal reasons, I've not listed in the above 'main' list:
"Into the West" does a fairly good job in showing the growth of our nation in a mini-series format, but I do have some personal issues with this one, so I didn't include it. I will say the wagon train portion is excellent as is the scene showing the devastation of Quantrill's Raiders. I believe we also meet John Sutter, the man who began the California gold rush (if I'm not mistaken).
"Cold Mountain" is one I like a lot, and may be added to the "big list" in the future. The movie is one of those "I can't stop watching" types. The feel is real...and it successfully does bring the viewer back to the war-torn 1860s south. We watch it strictly for entertainment.
I haven't seen "The Blue and the Gray" mini-series in years. I recall some scenes well done while others were schlocky. I'm going to have to take some time to watch it soon and maybe add it to this listing if I feel it's good enough.
"North and South," has some good parts, for instance showing the siege of Vicksburg and the starvation of its citizens, but the bad scenes (sex every half hour folks!) overshadows it.
"Outlaw Josie Wales" tells the tale of a renegade Confederate soldier who escaped death from the 'forgiving' Yankees. Great Clint Eastwood western with a little historical fact in this particular story.
"Lincoln the Vampire Slayer"
- - A very minor occurrence during Lincoln's presidency that the history books have chosen to ignore.
Ha! Just kidding!
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
And, finally, here is a sort of oddity that I would say is perfect for someone who would like to sit back and watch the 18th century world go by....almost like being a fly on the wall. It doesn't necessarily have a plot, mind you, for it's not a movie. Yet, there is a story here. It's not a documentary either, though there are introductions to each 20 minute story.
So, just what the heck is it?
It is a DVD made available through the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation called "A Day in the Life."
As is written on the DVD package itself:
"A Day in the Life" presents eight stories of Williamsburg residents on one day in May 1774. These stories, drawn from historic examples and years of research, help (us) to understand what daily life was like for American colonists in the years preceding the Revolutionary War.
|The DVD cover|
While "A Day in the Life" takes place in Williamsburg, Virginia, the routines that are portrayed would have been familiar to people living in other British colonies in North America. These stories give (us) the opportunity to experience 18th century life from the perspective of working-class young men, women, gentlemen, merchants, enslaved and free African Americans, and more.
This series (guides the viewer) to colonial American history, explores 18th century daily life in Great Britain's North American colonies, and examines the roles of individuals in colonial communities. "A Day in the Life" immerses (us) in the colonial period and explores the 'Becoming American' story---how the diverse people who settled in the colonies evolved into a society that valued liberty, equality, and the responsibilities of citizenship."
This set just might be the most unusual depiction of the past that I own or have even seen. Through a series of eight twenty minute short stories, a much larger picture of the past is told, for each segment is interconnected, sometimes in minute ways, to the previous or following segment. And after viewing the entire set, almost three hours total, we get a very interesting idea of a typical day from sunrise to sunset for a variety of people of all classes, from slave to middling to the gentry, and how their lives all intertwine on one particular day in May 1774.
Hence the name "A Day in the Life."
If you are looking for Hollywood movie thrills or suspenseful drama, you won't find it here. Nor will you find big-name actors ( they are, more or less, local theater, though a few here aren't bad, I must say). In fact, unless you are a true history nerd who enjoys watching 18th century mundane daily life activities, you might not enjoy this very much.
Don't say I didn't warn you.
The background sets, by the way, are extraordinary, for it was filmed entirely at Colonial Williamsburg!
Now, if you are like me and thrive on the common, ordinary things from the past, then I can recommend it to you.
Yes, I enjoyed it and have watched it twice within a span of a couple months.
Just so you know, if you purchase it through The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, you are going to spend big bucks to own this set - upwards of a hundred dollars. I found it brand new on Ebay for only $20 - a much more reasonable price.
And if it is everyday life in the colonial past you seek, this just may be the video for you.
It is for me.
~ ~ ~
I hope you find this guide useful in a moving picture study of American History. As I said, period movies should also have a strong feeling of drawing you into the world of the past - to the times being portrayed.
And that's what these movies do for me.
However, as good and great as these movies are, they will never replace the history books where the information mostly comes from. If you enjoy a movie or a particular era, please make and take time to research by reading further on the subject or time period for your own sake.
And don't be afraid to look at differing views on a subject, for the truth will lie somewhere in between.
Til next time, see you in time...
To read my full posting on "A Midwife's Tale," with much more information on the quality of the filming process, click HERE
To read my two part postings on "Turn: Washington's Spies," click HERE
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