Some historical drama films you may not have seen

Richard Lee

One thing that’s spectacularly easier now than it used to be is watching films. The DVD rental sites allow us to watch huge catalogues of material at relatively low expense and at times to suit us. There are usually trailers to watch, and often clips or sections of the films viewable on YouTube. What used to be obscure can now be found quite easily. And often, you discover, obscure things can be pretty darned good.

Here are three films that I’ve recently enjoyed that I, at least, didn’t know existed till I spent some time wandering around the Lovefilm website.

And here, most helpfully, is a wikipedia list of LOTS more to choose from.

The Duellists (1977)

This is Ridley Scott’s first feature film, based on a short story by Joseph Conrad.

Things to like: It’s beautifully shot on location in the Dordogne – much of it in the wonderful town of Sarlat. It’s peppered with pleasing historical detail, for example the changing fashions of the cavalry officers’ hair. It effectively conveys in its background the turbulent changes of several decades of post-revolutionary France.

Less good: If you don’t buy into the duelling theme, it may bore you. The two principals seem to be the only protagonists with American accents (didn’t bother me, but may bother some).

My star rating: 4/5

What people who don’t like it say:  ‘A singularly pointless anecdote.’

Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1973)

Franco Zepherelli’s atmospheric telling of the life of St Francis of Assisi.

Things to like: Again, gorgeously shot, especially the early town and illness scenes. The richness of church and merchants are memorably juxtaposed with brutal poverty and some striking grotesques. Passes the ultimate test in that it makes St Francis believably other-worldly and incomprehensible to his contemporaries.

Less good: The music may have seemed a better idea at the time than it does now (seventies strumming with little attempt to suggest the music of the era, leads to wrong-headed accusations of hippydom). The story loses its way a little in the middle.

My star rating: 3/5

What people who don’t like it say: ‘Good-looking but relentlessly boring’.

Becket (1964)

Faithful adaptation of Anouilh’s play starring two of Hollywood’s costume drama heavyweights.

Things to like: Peter O’Toole’s first outing as Henry II, before the more famous Lion in Winter, and a solid performance by Richard Burton as a rather noble version of Becket. Admirably limits the saga to a character struggle between two very different personalities, and transfers the stage drama well to screen.

Less good: A bit ‘French Lit.’ from time to time, and I found the Henry character too much a spoilt child. Also, hardly a charming portrait of Eleanor of Aquitaine!

My star rating: 3.5/5

What people who don’t like it say: ‘Stagey, verbose and unconvincing’

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