It is always fascinating to watch a film that showcases an event from humanity’s past, be it real or otherwise. Whether a war, an event, or a fictional story, they give us a taste of that particular time period and how things would have been back then. Through the plot, we get to know about the society and its religious, cultural, political, and all other kinds of norms that existed. At a subconscious level, we are carrying a part of that in ourselves, too. In other words, history is a part of us, and we are a part of it. Keeping that in mind, we bring you the list of best period movies available on HBO Max.
17. The Gathering Storm (2002)
Directed by Richard Loncraine, ‘The Gathering Storm’ is set in the 1930s and follows Winston Churchill during his pre-war years as he grapples with the wilderness years, both in his professional and personal life. On the one hand, there is his strained relationship with his wife Clementine and son Randolph; on the other hand, there is his inability to convince the House of Commons of the danger of appeasement with Nazi Germany. How he redeems himself from this situation, reconciles with his family, and takes on the command of the Royal Navy after England declares war on Germany are what we see in this film. The cast includes Albert Finney as Winston Churchill, Vanessa Redgrave as Clementine Churchill, and Tom Hiddleston as Randolph Churchill, along with Jim Broadbent, Linus Roache, Derek Jacobi, and Lena Headey. You can stream ‘The Gathering Storm’ here.
16. Pearl Harbor (2001)
Starring Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, Kate Beckinsale, Jennifer Garner, and Alec Baldwin, this war movie has been directed by Michael Bay. It is set against the backdrop of the Pearl Harbor event of World War II, wherein the Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Hawaii, in December 1941. We have three characters: US Army Air Corps pilot Rafe (Affleck), Danny (Hartnett), and nurse Evelyn (Beckinsale), who are involved in a triangle of love. A sleeper hit, ‘Pearl Harbor’ is one of Bay’s underrated directorial ventures. You can watch it here.
15. Iron Jawed Angels (2004)
Starring Hilary Swank, Frances O’Connor, Julia Ormond, Anjelica Huston, and Vera Farmiga, this Katja von Garnier directorial centers on the 1910s American women’s suffrage movement and follows a group of female suffrage activists that includes foremost authorities of the movement including Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, Inez Milholland and Carrie Chapman Catt. How the women paved the way for the feminist movement and ensured that women got the right to vote is showcased in a brilliant manner. You can watch the film here.
14. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (2007)
Directed by Yves Simoneau, this Western historical flick is based on the 1970 book of the same name by Dee Brown. The story revolves around Charles Eastman né Ohiyesa, a prolific speaker on American Indian affairs and the first American Indian to be certified in Western medicine, Sitting Bull, leader of the Hunkpapa Lakota, who led the resistance against American policies that were aimed at compromising the Indian culture, U.S. Senator Henry L. Dawes who was the guy behind the Dawes Act of 1887 that regulated land rights on land belonging to the natives and Red Cloud, leader of the Oglala Lakota, who was ready to shake hands with the American government on the Dawes Act. A film that showcases a historical juncture in American history, ‘Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee’ is a must-watch. You can do so right here.
13. Gangs of New York (2002)
A film directed by Martin Scorsese, this film is based on the 1927 non-fiction novel ‘The Gangs of New York’ by Herbert Asbury. It is set in the 1860s and follows a guy named Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio) who returns to Lower Manhattan, New York City, for revenge, 16 years after his father, Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson) was killed by William Cutting’s (Daniel Day-Lewis) men. Vallon and Cutting belonged to rival gangs, Irish Catholic Immigrants and Protestants, respectively. How Amsterdam avenges his father’s death is what we see in this signature Scorsese film. You can watch it here.
12. Anthropoid (2016)
Directed by Sean Ellis, ‘Anthropoid’ stars Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan as agents of the Czechoslovak exile government, Jozef Gabcik and Jan Kubis, respectively. They were sent into Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia to carry out “Operation Anthropoid,” the assassination of high-ranking German SS Reinhard Heydrich (Detlef Bothe), the principal architect of the Holocaust during World War II. The experiences and the inner turmoil of the soldiers, portrayed brilliantly by Murphy and Dornan, underscored by the world of politics and espionage, make for a brilliant historical drama. You can watch ‘Anthropoid’ here.
11. The Exception (2016)
With World War II as the backdrop, this drama, based on Alan Judd’s 2003 novel “The Kaiser’s Last Kiss,” follows Nai Germany armed forces Captain Stefan Brandt (Jai Courtney), who is sent to keep a close eye on exiled German Emperor Wilhelm II (Christopher Plummer) at his manor house in Doorn, Netherlands. This is because the German authorities believe that there is a British spy after the king and intend to assassinate him. However, things get complicated when Brandt gets romantically involved with the king’s maid, Mieke de Jong (Lily James), who has a secret that can put not only her life but that of Brandt at risk. Directed by David Leveaux, ‘The Exception’ can be streamed here.
10. Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)
Directed by Shaka King, this brilliant film stars Daniel Kaluuya as Fred Hampton, chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party (BPP), and LaKeith Stanfield as FBI informant William “Bill” O’Neal. It follows the betrayal of Hampton by O’Neal after the latter was approached by the FBI, who offered to drop his charges in return for the betrayal. O’Neal successfully carried out the infiltration and betrayal, following which Hampton was killed on December 4, 1969, by a team of armed police team. You can watch the film here.
9. Far from the Madding Crowd (2015)
Three men. One woman. 1870s Britain. Based on English novelist Thomas Hardy’s acclaimed novel of the same name, ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ is set in the English countryside and follows rural lady Bathsheba Everdene, who gets involved, deliberately or otherwise, with Gabriel Oak, a shepherd, William Boldwood, her neighbor who owns the largest farm in the neighborhood, and Army Sergeant Frank Troy. Affection, love, and romance can be complex and confusing. With Everdene as the subject, director Thomas Vinterberg gives us an exploration of the consequences of the choices of life as told by Hardy. You can watch the film here.
8. Einstein and Eddington (2008)
Directed by Philip Martin, ‘Einstein and Eddington’ explores the respective researches by British scientist Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington (David Tennant) and German scientist Albert Einstein (Andy Serkis) and how Eddington found Einstein’s research on relativity correct, although he is required to prove it wrong and defend the research of Isaac Newton. Set against the backdrop of World War I, the film not only shows how the two scientists contributed to the discovery of perhaps one of the greatest theories of science but also their personal and professional lives. Both characters are portrayed brilliantly by the actors and offer an intriguing watch. You can stream ‘Einstein and Eddington’ here.
7. Oslo (2021)
Directed by Bartlett Sher, ‘Oslo’ is based on American playwright J. T. Rogers’ play of the same name. It showcases the secret peace negotiations carried out between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). The first one (Oslo I Accord) was signed in Washington, DC, in 1993, and the second one (Oslo II Accord) was signed in 1995 in Taba, Egypt. The negotiations took place in Oslo, Norway, and the film follows the brave actions of diplomat Mona Juul (Ruth Wilson) of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and her husband Terje Rød-Larsen (Andrew Scott), director of the Fafo Foundation, an independent body, that conducts social research in Norway as well internationally. To find out how it all came to be and what happened at the peace talk, you can watch the film here.
6. Charlie Wilson’s War (2007)
This film is adapted from American journalist George Crile III’s 2003 book “Charlie Wilson’s War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History.” Directed by Mike Nichols, the film is set in the 1980s and showcases how Operation Cyclone came into being. The covert operation, carried out by the U.S., was to arm the Afghanistan forces to defend itself against the Soviet Union before and during the Soviet-Afghan War (1979-1989). The main roles were played by U.S. Congressman Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) and CIA agent Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who worked together tirelessly to bring this operation to fruition. As a result, the Soviet Union forces had to withdraw and eventually brought the Cold War to an end. You can watch the film here.
5. Europa Europa (1990)
This classic war drama is directed by Agnieszka Holland and is set during World War II. It is based on ‘Ich war Hitlerjunge Salomon’ (I Was Hitler Youth Salomon), the autobiography by German-Jewish Holocaust survivor Solomon Perel, and shows how thirteen-year-old Solomon “Solek” Perel managed to survive the Holocaust by pretending to be a Nazi and joining the youth organization of the Nazi party, i.e., the Hitler Youth. Winner of the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film, ‘Europa Europa’ stars Marco Hofschneider as Solomon “Solek” Perel, along with Julie Delpy, Hanns Zischler, René Hofschneider and Piotr Kozlowski. You can watch the film here.
4. The King’s Speech (2010)
A beautiful period film directed by Tom Hooper, ‘The King’s Speech’ follows Prince Albert, Duke of York (Colin Firth) of England, whose speech impediment makes his wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) hire a speech therapist named Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) to help Albert overcome his issue before he ascends the throne and becomes King George VI. The film follows the unlikely friendship between Albert and Logue as they learn each other’s ways as Britain prepares to declare war on Germany in 1939. You can stream the film here.
3. The Last Emperor (1987)
From director Bernardo Bertolucci comes a historical epic that follows the life of China’s final emperor, Puyi, who had to renounce his throne at the age of six in 1912. He became the emperor at the age of two. It was the Xinhai Revolution that brought an end to his rule and established the Republic of China. The cast includes Richard Vuu, Tijger Tsou, Wu Tao, and John Lone (all of whom play Puyi at different ages), along with Joan Chen and Peter O’Toole. You can watch the film here.
2. The Seventh Seal (1957)
Directed by Ingmar Bergman, ‘The Seventh Seal’ is considered a classic in world cinema. A Swedish historical fantasy, the events in the film occur during the Black Death period (1346-1353) in Sweden and show a medieval knight named Antonius Block (Max von Sydow) having a game of chess with Death (Bengt Ekerot) after the latter comes to take the former’s life. A commentary on the existence of God, ‘The Seventh Seal’ (which refers to a passage from the Book of Revelation) is a must-watch. You can watch it here.
1. Conspiracy (2001)
This film dramatizes the Wannsee Conference that took place on January 20, 1942, in Wannsee, Berlin. It follows the Nazi officials discussing the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question” during World War II. It was in this meeting that they decided to use concentration camps for the murder of millions of Jews. The meeting was chaired by SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich (Kenneth Branagh), who was the Chief of the Reich Security Main Office. He was assisted by SS-Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann (Stanley Tucci). But to greenlight the plan, they need to change the mind of Friedrich Wilhelm Kritzinger (David Threlfall), who believes that the meeting is of no use, thereby making it clear that killing Jews is not an option for him. To find out what really happened during the meeting, as the Frank Pierson directorial is based on the meeting’s only surviving transcript, you can watch ‘Conspiracy’ here.
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