French Revolution Movies
The 10 Best Movies about the French Revolution give us a thorough understanding of the background, the political outcomes, and the individuals that comprise one of the most remarkable periods in history. From the corrupt aristocrats to the starving peasants, these films capture Charles Dickens’ infamous conclusion, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” as he described the many levels of disruption and idealism in the French Revolution and the war that shook the nation.
“La Marseillaise” (1938)
As a worthy introduction to the many people and events of the French Revolution, auteur Jean Renoir’s faux documentary, styled as a news story, gives the differing perspectives of the peasants, the exiled aristocrats, the imprisoned King Louis XVI, and other players.
“Les Misérables” (1998)
An excellent adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic novel of the historical period that spares the audience the musical numbers of the long-running Broadway hit. Director Bille August brings together an excellent cast, including Liam Neeson, Geoffrey Rush and Uma Thurman, for an emotionally engaging depiction of the lead up to the revolt.
“Tale of Two Cities” (1989)
For another literary exploration of the era, this BBC miniseries may lack production values, but captivates with its emotionally resonant rendering of the Charles Dickens classic, which contrasts the London and Paris uprisings of the time.
"Dangerous Liaisons" (1988)
Tounderstanding the depravity of the French aristocracy leading up to the French Revolution era, enjoy Stephen Frears’s adaptation of the award-winning play that examines the sexual games and heartless manipulations by a Marquise (Glenn Close) and a Viscount (John Malkovich) upon an innocent (a lovely Michelle Pfeiffer).
“Jefferson in Paris” (1995)
The American Revolution has been cited as one of the inspirations for the push for democracy in France, so this historical drama of Thomas Jefferson (Nick Nolte) during his time as an ambassador in France fits into the overall era. As an outside, Jefferson is philosophically pulled between the corrupt French court, and the impoverished peasants, while taking in the refinement and intellectual riches of Paris.
“Marie Antoinette” (2006)
More impressionistic than historically accurate, writer/director Sofia Coppola does succeed in capturing the sumptuous look and naïve King and Queen of France that inspired the French Revolution. The film ends before the arrest and beheading of the monarchs, but still rates high for its style.
“La Nuit de Varennes” (1982)
The King and Queen attempted fleeing France, but they were caught by revolutionists in Varennes. This French film, by director Ettore Scola, uses historical figures from the French revolution era, such as Casanova (Marcello Mastroianni) and American patriot Thomas Paine (Harvey Keitel) to demonstrate the conflicting attitudes during those momentous changes.
Polish director Andrzej Wajda finds parallels between the French Revolution and the Solidarity movement of his own country. In the last stage of the revolt, one-time revolutionary leader Danton, played marvelously by Gérard Depardieu, has become the enemy of the new government in a thought-provoking meditation on how power can corrupt.
“Scarlet Pimpernel” (1982)
For a little bit of swashbuckling fun in the Reign of Terror era of the French Revolution, enjoy this fanciful story, based on the widely popular play, of a disguised hero attempting to save aristocrats from the guillotine. This all-around entertaining picture maintains a droll humor, and political intrigue with a charming Anthony Andrews as the foppish lead, and able support from Sir Ian McKellen and Jane Seymour.
“Start the Revolution Without Me” (1970)
For a comedic contrast to the serious historical French Revolution depictions, try this amusing take starring Gene Wilder and Donald Sutherland, in a very broad adaptation of “Tale of Two Cities” from director Bud Yorkin.