10 Best English Historical Movies

Monday, May 2 by Honora James

The 10 best English historical movies depict the power of English royalty, and they lengths they will go to obtain it, and keep it. But, for a little variety, two English history war movies have been included. 

  1. “Braveheart.” This film showcased the talent of Mel Gibson as an actor, and as a director. Gibson plays the part of Sir William Wallace, the Scottish who led Scotland in the first war of independence from England. The movie’s vivid portrayal of war in the 13th century adds authenticity to the storyline, but makes it difficult to watch more than once. The movie whets the history buffs’ appetite to learn more about Wallace, King Edward 1 of England, and Scotland.
  2. “Becket.” This movie depicts the conflict that arises between Thomas á Becket, when King Henry II appoints him Archbishop of Canterbury.  Becket’s conscious convicts him to obey God rather than the King on religious matters. For his faithfulness to his faith and office, Becket is sentenced to die by the King. If you are a history buff, you know how the movie will end. However, the fine acting by Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole makes you think otherwise.       
  3. “Anne of a Thousand Days.” This movie recounts Henry VIII’s (played Richard Burton) plotting to divorce his first wife, Catharine of Aragon, who is unable to provide a male heir. Enter, Anne Boleyn (played by Genevieve Bujold). Bujold, brings a humanity to Boleyn not seen in other movies with the same storyline. Anne, too, fails to produce a male heir and is beheaded.
  4. “A Man for All Seasons.”Another depiction of King Henry VIII plots to divorce Catherine of Aragon to wed Anne Boleyn, and his removal of anyone standing in way. The obstacle this time is the Lord Chancellor of England, Sir Thomas More Paul Scofield acts the part of Sir More with great believability, and John Hurt’s portrayal of Richard Rich vividly shows the scoundrel that he was.     
  5. “Lawrence of Arabia.” This war film is based on the life of T. E. Lawrence, a lieutenant in the British Army during World War I. Lawrence uses his knowledge of desert life in Arabia to become one of the central figures in galvanizing Arabs in their fight against the Turks. The superb acting, costumes, the location filming make for a memorable movie experience.
  6. “The Bridge Over the River Kwai.”This war film is set in a Japanese prisoner of war camp during World War II. A unit of British soldiers is assigned by the Japanese commanding officer, Saito, to construct a bridge over the River Kwai. The British commanding, Colonel Nicholson, invokes Geneva Conventions terms excluding officers from manual labor. If, a prisoner of war can appear suave in captivity, then Alec Guinness as Colonel Nicholson is that embodiment.
  7. “Mary Queen of Scots." This English historical movie depicts the royal intrigue at court and behind the scenes, as Mary Queen of Scots plots and schemes to place her son, James I of England on the throne of England. The casting of Vanessa Redgrave as Mary, and Glenda Jackson as Elizabeth I have a nuance effect that works. 
  8. “The Virgin Queen.” This is loosely told English historical movie depicting Queen Elizabeth’s love for Sir Walter Raleigh. But Sir Raleigh’s love of life is one of the Queen’s maids-in waiting, Beth, who he secretly weds. Bette Davis reprises her role as Queen Elizabeth l, which she originally played in, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex.
  9. “Cromwell.” More royal intrigue. Cromwell, a member of Parliament and a devoted Puritan, is becoming and more convinced that King Charles is being greatly influenced by his French Catholic wife, Queen Henrietta Maria to change the rites of the Church of England. Then begins battle of wits between the King and Cromwell. Richard Harris plays Cromwell, and makes the film somewhat interesting.
  10. “Young Bess.” This is an entertaining English historical movie about young Elizabeth (Bess) during the years before her ascension to the throne of England.  This movie is heavy on the unknown part of Elizabeth’s life as a young teenager, and light on historical facts, but again, it is an entertaining movie. 

So, there you have the 10 best English historical movies, for your consideration, and for your enjoyment.

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  1. May 2, 2011 8:19 am


    A good choice of movies, but your writing needs a whole lot of polishing. How do you tell a story “loosely?” “heavy on the unknown part” is really sloppy writing. You should blush at “The casting of Vanessa Redgrave as Mary, and Glenda Jackson as Elizabeth I have a nuance effect that works.” Take a writing class and try again.

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