To earn extra credit, pick one of the movies from the following list. Write a 1-2 page essay giving me a summary of the movie and telling me how your chosen movie relates to the history we have studied and what you learned from watching it. A good summary including points of both historical accuracies and inaccuracies will earn you up to five points on top of your final grade. Any analysis over and above the basic may earn you extra points. Analysis over and above the basic would be, for example, most movies made about historical subjects tell us more about what is going on at the time they are made than it does about the historical subject they’re portraying. Pay attention to the dates these movies were made, points will be awarded for showing an understanding of the historical context in which they were created. For example, despite the fact that the first Indiana Jones movies ostensibly portray Harrison Ford battling the Nazis, they much more accurately portray Americans’ feelings about the Soviets and the Cold War in the 1980s, when the original movies were made. The new Indiana Jones, while the only one actually about the Cold War, really shows you a lot more about how Americans think of the War on Terror and the post-Cold War world. Points will be given for humor and entertainment value. Copying any portion of your essay from IMDB or any other website will not earn you points, so don’t waste your time (and mine)!
I, Claudius (1976) One of my favorite movies of all time, it is really a BBC miniseries, so it’s about twelve hours long. If you watch the whole thing, and prove to me you didn’t fall asleep in the middle, I’ll give you double points. This movie covers the development of the Roman empire from the point of view of the emperor Claudius. It is completely accurate to Suetonius’ Lives of the Caesars, which means it probably isn’t accurate historically, but it is full of all the most salacious gossip about their emperors that a wealthy empire could come up with.
Spartacus (1960) A classic epic film, the fictionalized account of an actual slave revolt that took place in southern Italy under the late Roman Republic.
The Return of Martin Guerre (1982) The story of a medieval Frenchman who returns to his home village after having been away at war for years. His friends and family suspect him of being an impostor. More entertaining than it sounds from this description, it is also interesting because it is a true story, found in the French archives by a historian in the 1970s.
The Lion in Winter (1968) Yes, there is a later remake of this movie, but watch the early one with Katharine Hepburn as Eleanor of Aquitaine and Peter O’Toole as Henry II. This is the story of Henry’s reign in England in the High Middle Ages, his battles with France over his territories there, and his battles with his family, including his powerful wife and his pain-in-the-neck sons, particularly Richard and John.
The Seventh Seal (1957) An Ingmar Bergman film about the Black Death and its effect on European culture. Does the film portray the ways that medieval Europeans dealt with the plague, or really just what 1950’s culture thinks about death?
The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965) Starring Charlton Heston as Michelangelo, this is the story of the painting of the Sistine Chapel, and the difficult relationship between Michelangelo and Pope Julius (the warrior pope).
A Man for All Seasons (1966) The story of the last years of the life of Thomas More, chancellor to Henry VIII. More was a committed Catholic and was (spoiler alert!) beheaded because he wouldn’t publicly proclaim that Henry was the rightful supreme head of the Church of England.
Elizabeth (1998) The story of the early years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England. Pretty good on the politics, but as most of these movies do, it completely invents a romantic plot line between Elizabeth and one of her courtiers. You can also watch the sequel, Elizabeth: The Golden Age if you want.
La Reine Margot (Queen Margot) This is the story of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, told from the perspective of Margot, or Marguerite, the sister of the king and the one who is being married off to Henry of Navarre, leader of the Huguenots. It gives an interesting view of the politics of early modern France as well as their religious difficulties. And, of course, some really bloody massacre scenes.