Top 10 Period Films Set In The 1600s
Today, we continue our analysis of great period movies for your viewing pleasure. These films are set in the 17th century, and feature a great mix of subject matter and styles. Enjoy!
Starring: Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave
Director: Roland Emmerich
Anonymous is a political thriller with a potent premise: that Edward DeVere, Earl of Oxford, was the true author of the literary works attributed to William Shakespeare. DeVere (Rhys Ifans) attempts to fan the flames of political rebellion through a production of Richard III, which- needless to say- does not go as planned.
Director Roland Emmerich has appeared in a previous list of period films, despite being known mainly for epic-scale, effects driven blockbusters. This well-received period piece immediately followed his apocalyptic disaster film 2012. Screenwriter John Orloff is best-known for his work on the acclaimed HBO series Band of Brothers.
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Winona Ryder
Director: Nicholas Hytner
Adapted by the great playwright Arthur Miller from his play of the same title, the 1996 film The Crucible bombed at the box office despite being well-received by critics. The story of a winding legal battle instigated by an incident of “witchcraft” involving some young girls, the film also has some interesting historical context- the play upon which it was based was written as a response to the House Un-American Activities Committee and the Red Scare.
Despite the film’s poor box office showing, the performances of Winona Ryder and Daniel Day-Lewis were roundly praised, and Miller’s screenplay was nominated for an Academy Award.
Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson
Director: Robert Eggers
The debut feature from writer-director Robert Eggers, 2015’s The Witch was met with widespread critical acclaim upon its release. The story of a Puritan family in colonial America who are confronted with strange goings-on in the woods surrounding their home, the film is notable for its slow-building, suspenseful atmosphere and period-accurate dialogue.
The film won a jury award for its direction at the Sundance Film Festival and has been called one of the best horror films of the last decade. Eggers’ next feature will be a remake of the 1922 silent horror classic Nosferatu.
7The New World
Starring: Colin Farrell, Q’orianka Kilcher
Director: Terrence Malick
This British-American production chronicles the founding of the Jamestown settlement, with the figures of John Smith and Pocahontas as its main focus. The film is noted for its attention to authentic period detail, and has been hailed by some critics as among the best films of its decade.
Which should come as no surprise- director Terrence Malick, despite having a sparse filmography, is widely regarded as one of the finest living filmmakers. In fact, the director’s previous feature- the 1998 war drama The Thin Red Line– was his first in twenty years, and was nominated for seven Academy Awards. Malick’s output has increased considerably in recent years, beginning with 2011’s rapturously received The Tree of Life.
Starring: Vincent Price, Ian Ogilvy
Director: Michael Reeves
Horror icon Vincent Price stars in this British production as Matthew Hopkins, a sadistic self-professed witch hunter with a penchant for torture. Despite being extremely controversial at the time for its near-unprecedented levels of graphic violence- and being heavily censored prior to release- the film has been embraced by critics in later years, and has become a cult film.
Featuring a typically creepy performance by Price, the film is seen as exerting a heavy influence on “folk horror” films of the 1970s (such as the classic The Wicker Man), and even has the distinct honor of having a heavy metal band named after it.
5Mother Joan of the Angels
Starring: Lucyna Winnicka, Mieczyslaw Voit
Director: Jerzy Kawalerowicz
This 1961 Polish film is among the first to deal with the topic of demonic possession. The story of a priest who is sent to a convent to investigate a supposed case of possession among the nuns, the film was well-received and is noted for its dark and disturbing imagery, rendered in black and white.
Director Jerzy Kawalerowicz had a long and distinguished career, and even served in the Polish parliament. This is perhaps his best known film; the same subject was given a much more lurid and controversial treatment by British director Ken Russell, whose 1971 film The Devils was released with an X rating in both the US and UK.
4The Three Musketeers
Starring: Oliver Reed, Raquel Welch
Director: Richard Lester
The 1973 adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ classic tale is probably the greatest and most well-known, with an all-star cast including the great Oliver Reed, Charlton Heston, Raquel Welch, Faye Dunaway and Christopher Lee. Interestingly, it was intended as a three-to-four hour epic, but was eventually split into two parts, with the second part being released the following year as The Four Musketeers.
Director Richard Lester has an odd history, previously being best known for directing the Beatles in the feature films Help! And A Hard Day’s Night; this film, in fact, began pre-production as a potential vehicle for the group. Among cinephiles, he is now notorious for replacing Richard Donner (without Donner’s knowledge) to complete Superman II, and for the poorly-received third installment in that series.
3A Field in England
Starring: Reece Shearsmith, Peter Ferdinando
Director: Ben Wheatley
This taut psychological thriller set during the English Civil War follows a deserter who meets three strangers on his run. Setting out to find an ale house, three of the travelers fall under the sway of the fourth, with help from some hallucinogenic mushrooms and the promise of a hidden treasure.
The black and white film received good reviews upon its release to multiple platforms in 2013. Director Ben Wheatley is quickly developing a reputation for tense thrillers, having written and directed the well-regarded Kill List and contributed a segment to the excellent horror anthology The ABC’s of Death.
2Girl With a Pearl Earring
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Colin Firth
Director: Peter Webber
Girl With a Pearl Earring features a breakout performance from then 17-year old Scarlett Johansson as Griet, a servant to famed Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer. It’s the dramatic and tragic story of how the young woman came to be the subject of the famed painting of the same name and was nominated for a slew of awards, winning several Film Critics’ Awards for its cinematography.
Johansson shines in a role originally intended for Kate Hudson, and bears a startling resemblance to the actual subject of the painting. Director Peter Webber is a self-professed fan of the Kubrick film Barry Lyndon, another great period piece which we have previously recommended.
Starring: Julie Delpy, William Hurt
Director: Julie Delpy
The third feature to be directed by veteran actress Julie Delpy, The Countess is the tale of the infamous Erzsébet Báthory, a Hungarian noblewoman obsessed with retaining her youth and vitality. After being splashed with blood while beating a servant, she begins to believe that this can be accomplished by bathing in the blood of virgin girls… which she orders her servants to obtain for her.
Featuring Daniel Bruhl and the always-welcome WIlliam Hurt, this fictionalized biography of the “Blood Countess” is well-made and creepy, and was actually a gigantic hit in France despite receiving little attention in its home country.