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Take 5 – History-inspired films

Because who doesn’t love a period piece?

Whether centred around a particular historical event or time period, these types of movies tend to greatly resonate with me; a) because I’m quite a fan of looking back through history b) there is always a human-interest element to them and c) it usually involves illustrating the courage and triumph of the human spirit.

So, come join me for another trip in the time machine!

12 Years a Slave (2013)

Adapted from the memoir of the same name by Solomon Northup which was originally printed in 1853, “12 Years a Slave” follows the story of Mr Northup, a freeman who was kidnapped, separated from his family and sold into slavery on the plantations of Louisiana. Winner of three Academy Awards including Best Picture, “12 Years a Slave” is brutal in its depiction of the suffering enacted upon Black people. Chiwetel Ejiofor, who played Solomon Northup, I thought did a fantastic job, with the ending scene leaving no dry eye in the house. Solomon Northup, the man who survived and did not fall into despair (to paraphrase one of my favourite lines from the movie).

Schindler’s List (1993)

Based on the 1982 non-fiction novel, “Schindler’s Ark,” the film centres around the rescuing of more than a thousand Jews by German Oskar Schindler during the second World War. Schindler deviously employed the Jewish refugees in his factories to help them escape the Holocaust. Directed by Steven Spielberg and shot entirely in black and white, “Schindler’s List” went on to pick up seven Academy Awards including Best Picture. Liam Neeson, who played Oskar Schindler, delivers his best performance (in my opinion), and the scene towards the end where Schindler still feels like he didn’t do enough absolutely broke me.

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Another film directed by Spielberg, “Saving Private Ryan” portrays the invasion of Normandy in World War II arguably in the most graphic and intense way ever seen in cinema. Starring Tom Hanks (as US Army Ranger Captain, John Miller) leading the search for Matt Damon (as paratrooper, First Class Private, James Ryan), “Saving Private Ryan” was lauded by audiences and critics for its performances, realism, cinematography and score (amongst other things). Winner of five Academy Awards including Best Director and Best Cinematography, it surprisingly didn’t win Best Picture, losing out to “Shakespeare in Love”, much to the bemusement of many.

Gladiator (2000)

By name and nature, “Gladiator” is an epic tale set approximately not long after BC became AD during the time of the Roman Empire. A prime example of why I titled this post “history-inspired”, director Ridley Scott took several creative liberties that deviated significantly from historical accuracy in order to maintain narrative continuity, and which I still think makes a compelling film (after all, “are you not entertained? Is that not why you are here?”). For instance, Russell Crowe’s character, Roman general Maximus Decimus Meridius, never existed in real life and the notion that Marcus Aurelius was killed by his son, Commodus, is patently untrue (they even ruled jointly for a period of four years). Despite some noticeable historical inaccuracies, “Gladiator” depicts the colosseum combat and political scheming quite well, as Maximus rises back up and avenges the death of not only his family, but his emperor (Aurelius).

Hotel Rwanda (2004)

The least well-known on this list and a bit of an underrated gem (in my opinion), “Hotel Rwanda” is based on the 1994 Rwandan genocidal conflict between the Hutu and Tutsi which saw an estimated 1,000,000 people killed. Don Cheadle does an excellent job portraying hotel owner/manager Paul Rusesabagina, who attempts to save not only his family, but more than 1,000 others seeking refuge in his hotel. This was made even more difficult by the fact that Rusesabagina was Hutu and his wife, Tatiana, was Tutsi. There is a pretty harrowing scene where they are driving along a road in the mist and suddenly the road becomes very bumpy, so they stop and get out. The mist clears to reveal that the bumps were dead bodies littered across the road. Dubbed by some as the “African Schindler’s List”, “Hotel Rwanda” is a fantastic movie of courage, hope and love in the face of extreme adversity and the song “Million Voices” by Wyclef Jean is matched beautifully to it.

So, how many of these have you seen? Do you have some other favourites which I have not included here? Naturally, there are plenty I have omitted here, which leaves room for a possible “Part II” perhaps…

For now, let’s go back to the future…or present, rather.

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