Top 10 Historical 19th/20th Century Dramas

#1 A NIGHT TO REMEMBER 1958

Of the Titanic pictures made thus far this one is by far the best. The British had the world’s greatest navy for eons, but they also knew how to make nautical pictures as well. Kenneth More is beautifully cast as Officer Lightoller, but it is the almost documentary style of shooting that gives this excellent real life drama that wonderful historical feel. And the tragedy itself does not play second fiddle to some sappy love story either.

#2 APOLLO 13 1995

The 1970 Apollo 13 moon shot was a near-disaster that was turned into a triumph by the ingenuity and determination of a bunch of NASA eggheads on the ground (with a little ‘nerves of steel’ help from the three astronauts aboard a badly damaged spacecraft). That director Ron Howard could have audiences on the edge of their chairs throughout this movie is testament to his amazing ability as a film-maker.

#3 LIVE FROM BAGHDAD 2002

If you ever wondered how CNN went overnight from a media minnow to a giant, then this movie will provide you with the answer. I remember watching the pictures coming in from Baghdad as the Americans bombed the daylights out of the place at the start of the First Gulf War in 1991, and the recreation here vividly brought it all back. Michael Keaton and Helena Bonham Carter work well together and David Suchet is ideally cast as Naji. History while it was happening.

#4 CRY FREEDOM 1987

It is disconcerting to think that apartheid lasted nearly fifty years in South Africa – from 1948 until 1994. This movie encapsulates the worst aspects of the system (not that there were any good aspects), and lets us appreciate the life of black activist Steve Biko. South African students of mine at university were strongly disparaging of Cry Freedom when I once expressed admiration for it, but were not forthcoming with any details that accounted for their disdain, so I am left with my own impressions which have not changed since the first time I saw it. Good movie.

#5 THE RIGHT STUFF 1983

Every now and then a movie comes along that seems to improve every time we see it. The Right Stuff is one such film. There was much more to the Mercury Program at NASA than the public were led to believe, so this picture is a bit of an eye-opener. Behind all the brouhaha, being an astronaut was not all it was cracked up to be at times. Ed Harris as John Glenn is perfect.

#6 HOTEL RWANDA 2004

If you believe the United Nations is an august body bent on doing good, then you need to watch this harrowing, heart-breaking movie. While nearly a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were being butchered by the Hutus in Rwanda, the U.N. ordered its peace-keepers to maintain their ‘monitoring’ stance – and do nothing! This is one of the saddest films ever made, an indictment of the United Nation’s position on racial equality.

#7 OCTOBER SKY 1999

I guess this picture might be classified as ‘a sleeper’. I must admit to first viewing it for one reason only – because Chris Cooper was in it. In my opinion, now that Gene Hackman seems to have retired, the three best male movie actors are Tom Hanks, Geoffrey Rush and Chris Cooper. Oh, and a fourth – Johnny Depp. Ha! Feel free to differ. There are some very moving moments in this little picture. Worth watching.

#8 THE INSIDER 1999

Russell Crowe demonstrates (yet again) his enormous range as he plays the whistleblower in this much acclaimed movie about the tobacco industry. Al Pacino and Christopher Plummer give him strong support, but it is Russell’s film all the way. A pity they couldn’t have shortened it by 30 minutes or so (157 minutes is just too long).

#9 THE KILLING FIELDS 1984

Cambodia’s miserable, nightmare under Pol Pot is captured here, although no amount of care taken with authenticity could hope to recreate the utter horror of ‘Year Zero’ under the unspeakable Khmer Rouge. The ill-fated Haing S. Ngor (he would be murdered in a Los Angeles car park in 1996), is superb as Dith Pran.

#10 THE GHOST AND THE DARKNESS 1996

This extraordinary tale still defies belief. How could two lions kill more than 100 people? In fact, the generally accepted death toll is 130! I have read Colonel John Patterson’s memoirs, The Man-Eaters of Tsavo (1907), and it really did happen. Close friends of his were victims too. If you would like to see a movie that deals with events outside the usual mainstream of human endeavour, then this might interest you.