Film Club #12: Historical

Michael Prescott
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The past weekend marked the release of the important and highly-praised 12 Years a Slave, Steve McQueen’s frontrunner for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

Given this and its setting, this week we ask in Film Club: what are your favourite period pieces? And the answers (three plus me) are varied, insightful and, on this occasion, pretty detailed too…

James Gallagher

For me, Ken Loach’s The Wind that Shakes the Barley is period cinema at its finest. It isn’t false, stylish or nostalgic for a golden age rather it is brutal, honest and unrelenting in its realism.

This is a film that offers a heartfelt defence of Irish republicanism and one that takes no prisoners in its attack on the British authorities. The best period cinema captures a mood, and Loach is a master of making his audience feel empathy with his characters, even those with whom they may vehemently disagree. His film is persuasive and passionate, and he displays the knack for character for which he is most revered.

Politics aside, Loach is a master at delving into the dark heart of sectarian Ireland; his film is rich in the sensibilities of the real twenties, not the jazzy, pulpy, falsified twenties of American cinema. The brutality of the era is captured through the film’s striking cinematography, with its use of harsh colour and its grimy set-design, while his no-nonsense approach to story-telling allows the audience to experience the issues of the era from a deeply personal – if not a little biased – perspective.

Michael Prescott

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford sticks out in my mind here, even though it’s been a while since I watched it.

I can’t quite do it the justice it deserves for that reason – as well as the fact that it just has to be seen, rather than described – but it has many elements which arguably make it a modern classic.

The Western – a genre I’m not at all a fan of, generally speaking – is as deliberate and calculating as they come, partly due to its inevitable turn towards the titular act.

But this thriller-like setup is rightly cast aside, leaving the terrific score, beautiful cinematography and brooding performances (from the likes of Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck and Sam Rockwell) to deliver a wonderful film.

Indeed, New Zealand-born director Andrew Dominik (Chopper, Killing Them Softly) gets the most out of every aspect of the production, resulting in a masterpiece of the genre. It’s a wonderful examination of loyalty, betrayal and everything in between.

Raks Patel

I have chosen Gone with the Wind. What I love about the film is the central character of Scarlett O’Hara, the romance between Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler, and the epic backdrop of the American Civil War.

The film follows Scarlett’s life through all her highs and lows. Scarlett is a born fighter and I love her fiery and independent spirit; her resilience and inner strength; and her steadfast determination to do whatever it takes to survive, get what she wants and win through.

Scarlett makes the age-old mistake of chasing a dream (Ashley Wilkes) who will never make her happy, whilst taking Rhett for granted. She belatedly realizes at the end of the film that it is Rhett she loves and only he will make her happy. But is it too late to win him back?

Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable were perfectly cast in the leading roles of Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler and both actors were very successful in bringing the characters depicted in the novel to life on the silver screen.

Gone with the Wind is one of the greatest love stories of all time because its two lead characters – Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler – are so memorable.

Tim Boden

It’s a tale as old as storytelling itself: girl meets boy, girl marries boy, girl finds out boy is a mentally erratic man-child, girl embarks on passionate illicit love affair with boy’s best friend, girl and boy’s best friend use their positions of influence to bring sweeping reforms to Denmark…Yes, you read that right. From the title and the posters it’d be easy to assume that A Royal Affair is a sub-Austen bit of froth, but this is not only a moving period romance but a gripping political thriller and a glimpse into a fascinating period of European history….
Set in the 18th century, the film tells the true(ish) story of Caroline Matilda, an English aristocrat who marries King Christian VII of Denmark but who falls in love with his charismatic and compassionate physician, Dr Struensee. As well as this, it looks at the role the three of them played in bringing Denmark out of an era of medieval repression and into the modern world – but, of course, neither the course of true love or political progress ever run entirely smoothly…
The time period may be familiar to English-speaking audiences, and indeed it has all the bustles, bonnets and sexual-tension-ridden formation dancing that a fan of the Regency era could ever wish for, but its Danish setting makes a refreshing change to the stories from the British and American past we’re more familiar with – not to mention giving fans of Scandinavian noir ample opportunity to play the ‘where do I recognise that guy from?’ game.

The characters are vividly drawn and well-acted, with a distinctive female character at its centre and the reliably excellent Mads Mikkelsen as one of the two male co-stars. A Royal Affair is a treat for both the eyes and the mind, and well worth checking out.

About Michael Prescott

24-year-old Welsh writer on all things film. Background in Philosophy. Accidentally in Sheffield for 6 years and counting. Addicted to Kevin Spacey. Tweetable: @M_S_Prescott