"Film has certain advantages over the written word. It can communicate the look of people, places, and events in ways that even the best written descriptions cannot. Also, film creates an emotional intensity and immediacy that captures audiences in ways that writers can only envy....
On the other hand, the emotional power of film is, from the historian's perspective, not always a good thing. Film is inherently manipulative...what we see on the screen must be analyzed, discussed and challenged...
-from The Methods and Skills of History by Conal Furay and Michael J. Salevouris
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Lesson plans are available for each of the following films.
The Egyptian queen alters Roman history by capturing the hearts of Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, but she ultimately fails to preserve Egypt's independence from the Empire. This classic film is remarkably consistent with the known history of Egypt's last pharaoh. Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, winner for Best Cinematography. Lesson Plan
Starring Claudette Colbert, Director: Cecil B. DeMille
1934, b&w, 100 min, unrated, shop Amazon.com
The Fog of War
Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, raises unsettling questions about the politics of war as he knew it in mid-20th Century America. Academy Award for Best Documentary.
Starring Robert S. McNamara, Director: Errol Morris
2004, color, 107 min., rated PG-13, shop Amazon.com
1492: Conquest of Paradise
After incomparably beautiful portrayals of Columbus's voyage to the New World and early encounters with Native Americans, the film slows down. Great scene in which a native chief asks Columbus why Spaniards want to come to America.
Starring: Gerard Depardieu, Director: Ridley Scott
1992, color, 142 min., PG, shop Amazon.com
Through personal courage, a compelling message, perseverance, and resolutely peaceful means, Gandhi leads India to independence from Great Britain. Beautifully done, but a long film. Academy Award for Best Picture.
Starring: Ben Kingsley, Director: Richard Attenborough
1982, color, 188 min., PG. shop Amazon.com
Jason and the Argonauts
The ancient Greeks told their myths as epic poetry or theater; now we have movies. In this story, Jason and his crew of Greek heroes sail to the end of the Earth in quest of the mythical Golden Fleece. Now a cult-film classic, the pre-digital special effects are a hoot.
Starring: Todd Armstrong, Director: Don Chaffey
Joan of Arc
In a story too improbable to be fiction, an illiterate peasant girl dons armor and leads medieval French armies to victories that save France from British domination.
Starring: Leelee Sobieski, Director: Christian Duguay
1999, color, 140 min., unrated, shop Amazon.com
In this episode drawn from the Spanish conquest of the Americas, a brutal soldier undergoes a change of heart and joins Jesuit missionaries in resisting the Native American slave trade in the jungles of Brazil. Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, winner for Best Cinematography.
Starring: Robert DiNiro, Jeremy Irons, Director: Roland Joffe
2003, color, 125 min., PG, shop Amazon.com
A Tale of Two Cities
Charles Dickens' tale of love and redemption is set amidst the turmoil of the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror. This is the classic film of the classic novel. Colman is unforgettable as the ne'er-do-well lawyer who cheats fate.
Academy Award nomination for Best Picture.
Starring: Ronald Colman, Director: Jack Conway
1935, b&w, 128 min., unrated, shop Amazon.com
Guided by strong wife and mother, a Chinese family survives four decades of revolution, communism, and personal loss in the years after World War II. Infused with humanity, the film was banned in China upon its release. Subtitles.
Starring: Ge You, Gong LI, Director: Zhang Yimou
1994, color, 130 min., unrated, shop Amazon.com
Princess Bess overcomes an extremely dysfunctional childhood to become England's Queen Elizabeth I, one of history's greatest rulers. Charles Laughton is memorable as her dad, Henry VIII. Simmons and Granger were real-life husband and wife.
Starring: Jean Simmons, Stewart Granger
Director: George Sidney,
1953, color, 112 minutes, unrated, shop Amazon.com