Top 10 Period Films Set In The 1700s
As part of our ongoing effort to expand your viewing options, today we’ll be continuing our look at great period films of recent years. Today’s list covers films set in the 18th century, which of course will include some interesting biographies and literary adaptations. If you’re looking for a little slice of history as served up by Hollywood, you’re in good hands.
Starring: Heath Ledger, Jeremy Irons
Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Swedish director Lasse Hallstrom is best known in the US for his adaptation of The Cider House Rules along with 1993’s What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, which made a star of Leonardo DiCaprio. This fictionalized account of the life of famous lover Giacomo Casanova is worth a look particularly for its amazing cast.
With the late, great Heath Ledger in the title role, great supporting work is also turned in by Sienna Miller, Jeremy Irons and Oliver Platt. Watch also for smaller turns from future television stars Charlie Cox (Boardwalk Empire, Daredevil) and Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones).
Starring: Tom Hulce, F. Murray Abraham
Director: Milos Forman
This towering 1984 film from veteran director Milos Forman (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) won no fewer than eight Academy Awards including Best Picture, and is the most recent film to have two nominations in the lead actor category (for Tom Hulce as Mozart and F. Murray Abraham as rival composer Antonio Salieri).
While not the most historically accurate- Salieri, depicted here as scheming to kill Mozart in order to claim one of his compositions, was actually on friendly terms with the composer- the high melodrama and incredible acting on display make it an enormously entertaining picture. Composer John Strauss won a Grammy award for the film’s soundtrack.
8The Madness of King George (1994)
Starring: Nigel Hawthorne, Helen Mirren
Director: Nicholas Hytner
A comedic-dramatic biography adapted by playwright Alan Bennett from his own stage play, 1994’s The Madness of King George was very well-received critically, but criminally underseen, grossing less than $20 million in its limited theatrical run. Stage director Nicholas Hytner (Miss Saigon) directs veteran British actor Nigel Hawthorne in the lead role, for which he was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar.
Despondent over the state of his Kingdom and the loss of the American colonies, King George III begins exhibiting symptoms of mental illness at a time when this is extremely poorly understood. The all-star cast includes Ian Holm and Dame Helen Mirren, who was also nominated for a Supporting Actress Oscar.
7The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988)
Starring: John Neville, Eric Idle
Director: Terry Gilliam
And now for something completely different. The fourth feature film from ex-Monty Python member and auteur film director Terry Gilliam is a psychedelic ride through the alleged life and times of the character whose name has become a medical term for lying to get attention: German nobleman Baron Munchausen, portrayed by British thespian John Neville.
Although a box-office bomb, the film has become a cult classic thanks to Gilliam’s ingenious script and direction, affirming his signature unhinged visual style while telling a rollicking story. The incredible cast includes fellow Python Eric Idle, Oliver Reed, and Sarah Polley with cameos from a very young Uma Thurman and the great Robin Williams as the King of the Moon.
6Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006)
Starring: Ben Whishaw, Alan Rickman
Director: Tom Tykwer
Director Tom Tykwer is best known for the 1998 thriller Run, Lola, Run and for his recent collaborations with the Wachowski Sisters on the film Cloud Atlas and the Netflix series Sense8. This bizarre story, based on Patrick Süskind’s 1985 novel Perfume, is the tale of an olfactory genius who also happens to be a disturbed killer.
Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, abandoned at birth in a French fish market, becomes obsessed with recreating the scents of young women he encounters, a quest which turns homicidal. The virtually unknown Ben Whishaw owns the lead role, and the film also features strong supporting performances from Dustin Hoffman and the late Alan Rickman.
5Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994)
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Helena Bonham Carter
Director: Kenneth Branagh
This 1994 adaptation of the classic horror tale received mixed reviews, with screenwriter Frank Darabont famously opining that his screenplay had been better than the finished work. While suffering from tonal inconsistencies, the film is notable and deserves a watch due to the performance of Robert DeNiro as the creature, and the ambitious direction of Kenneth Branagh.
Always one to take chances, Branagh (who also acts in the film) was best known for Shakespeare adaptations before branching out into more eclectic material; this film marks the genesis of a grandiose visual style which he would perfect with such releases as the 2011 Marvel film Thor. Besides DeNiro, the deep cast also includes Tom Hulce, Helena Bonham Carter and John Cleese.
4The Patriot (2000)
Starring: Mel Gibson, Heath Ledger
Director: Roland Emmerich
2000’s The Patriot is historical melodrama, with a lead character based- according to screenwriter Robert Rodat- on a composite of four historical people. Mel Gibson stars as Benjamin Martin, a widower sucked into the events of the American Revolutionary War after his eldest son joins the Continental Army. The excellent supporting cast includes Chris Cooper, Heath Ledger and Tom Wilkinson, and director Roland Emmerich gives the proceedings an appropriately grand scale.
While Emmerich has had a varied career, he is best known for tentpole films featuring giant explosions and world-threatening catastrophes. He’s also responsible for the 1996 classic Independence Day and its recent belated sequel, as well as The Day After Tomorrow and 2012; this, however, is his best-reviewed film.
3Jefferson in Paris (1995)
Starring: Nick Nolte, Thandie Newton
Director: James Ivory
Director James Ivory has a filmography spanning decades, including the award-winning films A Room With a View (1985) and Remains of the Day (1993). This fictionalized account of Thomas Jefferson’s tenure as the US ambassador to France prior to his presidency is notable for being the first film portrayal of Sally Hemings, Jefferson’s African-American mistress with whom he fathered children- which had not yet been proven at the time.
The lavishly shot production is anchored by a great turn by Thandie Newton as Hemings, and features Nick Nolte as Jefferson in a fine performance; those only familiar with Nolte from his later work as a real-life perpetually unhinged man will be interested to know that the man is actually quite a good actor.
2The Bounty (1984)
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Mel Gibson
Director: Roger Donaldson
The fifth feature film adaptation of the events leading to the mutiny on the HMS Bounty, 1984’s The Bounty has the distinct benefit of featuring Sir Anthony Hopkins in his intense prime as Lieutenant William Bligh. The film is crisply directed by Roger Donaldson, who would go on to a long career mainly in genre films, such as the Tom Cruise vehicle Cocktail and the 1995 sci-fi/horror cult classic Species.
The film features a young Mel Gibson as Fletcher Christian and a supporting turn from the great Laurence Olivier, as well as a very early appearance (only his third feature film) from Daniel Day-Lewis as John Fryer. A riveting retelling of a classic tale, and perhaps the definitive film version.
1Barry Lyndon (1975)
Starring: Ryan O’Neal, Marisa Berenson
Director: Stanley Kubrick
American film director Stanley Kubrick, widely considered among the greatest directors of all time, was famously eclectic in nearly all of his choices, including source material, with which he was known to play fast and loose. Based on the 1844 novel The Luck of Barry Lyndon by William Makepeace Thackeray, this winding, three-hour adaptation was met with widespread praise of its technical prowess and acting.
Ryan O’Neal portrays the title character, an 18th century adventurer whose exploits are narrated throughout by a narrator who may or may not be the most reliable. Though the film was well received, it was not the commercial success its studio was hoping for, which likely inspired Kubrick to select a slightly more commercial project for his next adaptation- Stephen King’s seminal horror novel The Shining.