Category Archives: historical

Darkest Hour – Joe Wright (2017)

On the outbreak of WWII the British prime minister Chamberlain is replaced by Winston Churchill, without much enthusiasm of his own party. Especially when Churchill’s rhetoric is about fighting rather than trying to make peace, ways to get rid off him are soon thought of.

Starting optimistically it soon becomes clear that Churchill has to admit that he cannot overpower Germany and when 300.000 of his troops get trapped at the French border, an unpopular way of evacuating them is started (this evacuation is what the film Dunkirk is about).

Some of his ministers want to make peace with (meaning: surrender to) the Germans, but as the people seem to prefer fighting over flying, Churchill pushes his old tactics again.

The film makes a nice history lesson showing a hard politician who was also but a man.

The Name Of The Rose * Jean-Jacques Annaud (1986)

The next film in my rewatching of classics is this famous film based on the famous book of Umberto Eco. I have no idea when I last saw this film, but it can never have been longer after it came out. I did not remember a whole lot of it for sure.

William of Baskerville (Sean Connery), a Fransican friar, together with his student Adso of Melk (Christian Slater) travel to a Benedectine abbey in Italy where a papal convent will take place during which will be decided if the Fransiscan order will be declared a heresy. William is obviously on good terms with the Benedictine abbot, because the latter not only asks William to investigate a mysterious death on his abbey, but also hides an outlawed Fransiscan monk.

But perhaps it is not the abbot who is tolerant towards William, but rather other monks of the abbey who, during the investigation of the murder, turn out to be not Benedictines, but Dulcinians, a branch of Christianity that has been declared heretical before. When the abbot announces the arrival of William’s foe, the inquisitor Bernardo Gui, William and Adso speed up their investigation, running into a massive labyrinth-like tower-library.

The 1980 book of Eco obviously foreshadows the popularity of the genre that was to rise with the books of Dan Brown with a few decades, but also popular-science works like that of Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh with a few years.

For quite a while during watching the film, I wondered why the film is so highly-regarded, but indeed, when the story starts to unfold, it becomes an enjoyable film.

Ron Perlman has a very amusing part that is heavily sampled by Kreuzweg Ost for the “Oh No Lo So, Magnifico” track on the 2000 album “Iron Avantgarde” by the way.

The Other Boleyn Girl * Justin Chadwick (2008)

Amazing how many films have been made about this part of British history. In “The Other Boleyn Girl” we follow the Boleyn family and mostly the two daughters who are played by Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson (two reasons I picked this film). The Boleyn family want to raise on the ladder and when King Henry (Tudor / VIII, played by Eric Bana, reason number three to watch this film) proves unable to have a son with his wife, the Boleyns set out to try to turn one of the daughters to become the Kings misstress and give him the son that he needs. Anne is ‘suggested’, but the kind fancies the recently married Mary. Anne has her own plans and the sisters that used to be very close are teared apart.

The story is that of the mini series “Henry VIII“, but then from the point of view of the Boleyns. An element not touched upon in the series, for example, is how exactly Henry got to marry Anne.

The film makes a nice costume drama and maybe even a bit of a history lesson.

Anonymous * Roland Emmerich (2011)

It has been a point of controversy for some time, did William Shakespeare write the things that made fame with his name? Emmerich (the director of several blockbusters) took one theory that he did not and worked this out into “Anonymous”. It is hard to say anything about the film without giving away that theory, but the box already does give it away. In any case, Shakespeare’s name appeared quite by accident according to Emmerich. It had been a while since I saw a costume film and I must say that I like the genre, especially when it looks as elaborate as this film. Queen Elizabeth is old, the intrigues around her follow-up are in full swing so you also get a bit of history. You also get a pick into the earliest form of mass-media, theatre, and the way the authorities try to keep grip on the thoughts of the common man. The film jumps back and forth in time and I sometimes had troubles telling who was who, but the film is very well done and the whole Shakespeare controversy is only a part of an interesting historical film.

Vision – Aus dem Leben der Hildegard von Bingen * Margarethe von Trotta (2009)

About a year ago we were in Bingen, Germany and of course we visited the local museum with its Hildegard von Bingen exposition. Now there is a film about the life of Hildegard. “Vision” is a rather dull film showing fragments of Hildegard’s life. As a child, Hildegard was admitted to a mixed monastry, in the next fragment she is elected abbess. From an early age, Hilegard had visions, but it takes a long time before she tells monk Volmar, one of the few persons she trusts. Volmar persuades Hildegard to seek recognition for her gift, a request that is agreed upon for worldly reasons only (more pilgrims and more donations that would come with the fame of the cloister). As the years pass, Hildegard develops ideas of her own on varries points and she collides with her abbot, especially when she wants a cloister of her own. Gaining the attention of Berhard of Clairvaux (a mystic himself), the bishop of Mainz and the wealthy mother of her favourite nun Richardis, Hildegard can proceed with her plans. Also she can spend 10 years working on her book with visions.
“Vision” is a fragmented biography of an interesting person. Hildegard is portrayed as a modern woman with broad interests in medicine, philosophy and the like, we hear a few fragments of her visions. Also Hildegard is shown as not completely devoid of earthly emotion. As a film, “Vision” is not very exciting, as a lesson in history, it is alright.

Aldo Moro – Il Presidente * Gianluca Maria Tavarelli (2008)

A tv series or film in two parts (of about 90 minutes) about Aldo Moro (1916-1978), former president (several times) of Italy who was kidnapped aby the Brigate Rosse (Red Brigades). Another history lesson in a turbulent time in political Italy. Moro was may no longer been the actual leader of the Democrazia Cristiana (Christian Democrates, or DC), but he was influential enough for the Red Brigades to choose Moro as their victim. The Red Brigades is an extreme leftwing group that wants to destabilise Italian politics in the hope that the Italian people will turn to their side. The Red Brigades shy no means and are considered a terrorist group. Ironically Moro had just started with an effort to have his DC cooperate with the Partito Comunista Italiano (Italian Communist Party, PCI) just around the time the Brigades are planning his kidnap. The first half of the film (DVD 1) shows Moro in his private and political life and we follow the Brigades members in their planning of the kidnap. In the second half Moro is in the hands of the Brigades and an interesting clash develops between the Brigades members who are in doubt of the effect of their action in the light of recent events and Moro who uses his political skills to try to make the best of the situation. There is no need to say much more about the story, since it is all history. This leaves me to say that what we see is in the same time as in which the great film “Il Divo” plays, a film about the then current president Giulio Andreotti and consequentally a time that goes over in the mafia hunts of Giovani Falcone. Apparently Italy harboured some violent organisations of varried breed and judging “Il Divo” also politicians did not shy some violence. In “Aldo Moro” we see political hardliners and politicians who are willing to negotiate for the best result. The clash between very opposing parties, the DC are a central-right party on paper, but it is obvious that they have a far-right wing, then there are the communists which are of course far left, sometimes “the socialists” are mentioned, but I have not heard of more political parties in this film. The film is interesting from a historical point of view, also psychologically the film is interesting, but (perhaps because it is ‘but’ a TV production?) “Aldo Moro” is not really good. Still worth the watch if you are interested in a little lesson in history.

Valhalla Rising * Nicolas Winding Refn (2009)

The first time I heard of this film I asumed that it would be yet another Viking spectacle with a thin story making a bad history lesson. Later I heard that this is not the case. Indeed, “Valhalla Rising” is far from being a Viking epic, in fact, I wonder why this film is so well-known. Is it because the director (Nicholas “Bronson” Refn) or did the director manage to get a big promotion budget or a large distributor? In any case, “Valhalla Rising” is an extremely slow, very minimalistic and a pretty dark film. There are almost no conversations, nothing much really happens, but when something does happen, Refn created pretty damn violent (but not very explicit) scenes. Especially the first chapter may cause some people to refrain from continue to watch. We follow a one-eyed traveller (a reference to Odin?) who eventually sets out with a group of Christian converts to find the Holy Land. Some overly popular ideas about Vikings (actually the people concerned seem to have been Saxons, or at least, inhabitents of the British isle) and whatever there is of a story is not too strong, but the film has a nice, dark atmosphere. Unfortunately also in that perspective it is not entirely convincing which overall makes the film just nice. Something different for sure, especially when you (also) expect a Viking spectacle.

Hunger * Steve McQueen (2008)

What do you do when you only read mediocre films reviewed here? You send in a few suggestions! Unfortunately I cannot rate this film higher than any of the recently reviewed.
“Hunger” is a very slow and minimalistic film about IRA members in a British prison. Inhumanely treated, humiliated and severly beaten in a couple of violent scenes, we mostly follow Bobby Sands who as a final act of resistance organises a hunger strike. The film is shot in long, silent scenes without much conversation. All talking seems to be reserved for a long and great discussion of Sands with an Irish priest in which the entire story is given. “Hunger” is a grim and good film (the shifting/double perspective is well done and the camera work is good), but in my eyes not a masterpiece and thus I give it a:

Taking Woodstock * Ang Lee (2009)

Jake is a young man who lives in New York and makes his living as a designer. In the summer he goes to his parents to help them with their trailer park, conduct local politics and organise a music and arts festival. When the permit for a festival in a neighbouring village is withdrawn, Jake figures that he might be able to make some money for his parents when he puts that festival under his own flag. He does not realise the scale of that “Woodstock festival”, not even when an old schoolmate (the organiser) comes flying in with a helicopter. Soon it becomes clear that this will not be a festival for 5.000 people like Jake expected.
“Taking Woodstock” shows the amount of money that went around in the festival, the slyness and professionalism of the organisers, but mostly the impact on the small town when half a million hippies start to gather in and around the festival area. Almost nothing about the music, nor of the festival itself, but all about the direct surroundings with Jake’s parents realising the goldmine, the neighbours forseeing the problems and weird characters trying to help Jake or themselves. “Taking Woodstock” is a very amusing film with a different look on the most famous chapter of music history.

Il Divo * Paolo Sorrentino (2008)

Il DivoI was convinced that not that long ago I watched a great Italian film about the maffia hunter Giovani Falcone, but I cannot find my review, nor the film in the IMdB. In any case, “Il Divo” (“the star”) is about Italian politics in the 1970 in which Giulio Andreotti was in power and in which Falcone was killed. In “the extraordinary life of Giulio Andreotti” Andreotti is portrayed as a completely corrupt politician not shying extreme violence in the beginning and as an timid, but frightening person towards the end. Especially the first part of the film is sublime with great camera-work, montage and music. However the film is based on actual events, there are so many characters, liaisons, conspiracies, etc. that I had a hard time following the film. In fact, I need to watch it again should I want to try to give a summary of the story. “Il Divo” has a very good atmosphere and the director did a great job setting an atmosphere that possibly also surrounded Andreotti.