It’s little wonder that so many brilliant films about the French Revolution are based on this momentous historical event.
The French Revolution was one of the most significant events in Western history. Movies have found plenty of inspiration in the popular uprising that eventually led to the overthrow of the monarchy and the emergence of Napoleon’s empire.
Many of these films are adaptations of well-known works of French literature set during this tumultuous period in French history, while others focus on societal inequity and deterioration.
Theo Kogod has the following to say about this post as of today’s date:
There have been numerous instances of insurrection and revolutionary discussion in the last few years. Films depicting the French Revolution and their lessons are an excellent method for people to think on contemporary circumstances. Even if history repeats itself, you can avoid losing your mind if you take what you’ve learned from the past. Check out these five other must-see films about the French Revolution as soon as possible.
1. The French Revolution (1989)
The scope of what transpired during the French Revolution is rarely shown in cinema. As a way to mark France’s bicentennial of the Revolution, the film was split into two parts, Years of Hope and Years of Rage, which resulted in a six-hour long epic work of art.
From the inception of the Estates-General in 1789 to Robespierre’s final date with Madame Guillotine in 1794, it catches everything while staying loyal to history and giving the characters a chance to feel like real individuals.
2. Napoléon (1927)
In spite of the fact that it was created, scripted, and directed by Abel Gance, this picture about the French Revolution is one of the greatest masterpieces of early cinema.
His early military training, as well as important events in his life including his triumph at the Siege of Toulon, his courtship with Josephine, and the rise to power he achieved in France’s Wars With Italy, are all chronicled in this epic biopic.
3. The Visitors: Bastille Day (2016)
People often associate the events of the French Revolution with the guillotine, furious mobs with tri-colored cockades, or big battles like the Storming of the Bastille. However, the Revolution was much more complex than this.
It’s rare to find humor in such a tumultuous time period, but this movie (originally called Les Visiteurs: La Révolution) does just that. It may cause a few chuckles, but it is still hysterically entertaining. The third part of the Les Visiteurs time-travel comedy series is also included.
4. One Nation, One King (2018)
The storming of the Bastille, the Women’s March on Versailles, and the execution of King Louis XVI are all included in this French film produced by Pierre Schoeller. There’s also an interesting look at how various Revolutionary figures like Danton, Marat, and Robespierre came to hold positions in the various government bodies, from the Estates-General to the National Constituent Assembly to the National Assembly.
As a two-hour picture, this one has a tendency to be narratively cumbersome, but it aims for visual grandeur and historical accuracy in a way few similar films even care to try.
5. Saint-Just and the Force of Things (1975)
Saint-Just and the Force of Things, or Saint-Just ou La Force des Choses in French, is one of those underappreciated masterpieces that deserves a wider audience.
It presents the Jacobin leader and Robespierre’s friend Louis Antoine de Saint-Just (Patrice Alexsandre) as an erudite and passionate radical who tried to alter his nation until he was executed by the guillotine. Pierre Cardinal directed the film.
6. A Tale of Two Cities (1935)
When it comes to famous and successful Victorian novelist Charles Dickens, many of his works have been adapted into films naturally. Here’s an elegant look at some of the underlying hypocrisies that pervaded throughout the Revolutionary period in France.
Even the most innocent of people might find themselves in the center of catastrophic historical events that they have no control over.
7. Marie Antoinette (2006)
In the eyes of historians, Marie Antoinette’s conspicuous luxury and apparent lack of compassion were (and continue to be) major elements in the Revolution. Sofia Coppola’s film, starring Kirsten Dunst and directed by her, offers a more nuanced and empathetic picture of the protagonist.
That this young woman, like so many others, was a victim of a system that didn’t give a damn about what she wanted is shown in an exquisitely shot video.
8. Danton (1983)
Georges Danton, one of the most important figures in the French Revolution, is the focus of this French/Polish production. Gerard Depardieu’s portrayal of the titular character in this unsettling drama is flawless.
A disturbing reminder of how even noble political initiatives may be undermined and scuppered by human egotism, this video serves as an excellent example of this.
9. Marie Antoinette (1938)
The magnificent old Hollywood diva Norma Shearer took up the part of the infamous French queen many years before Kirsten Dunst committed her tremendous acting skills to it. With Shearer’s combination of charisma and splendor, the queen’s personality is perfectly conveyed in this film. She is positively radiant.
It’s also a stunning visual treat, serving as a remembrance of how lavish the old Hollywood studios could get.
10. Farewell, My Queen (2012)
However, this film does not focus on the queen herself, but rather on a servant who is tested by the Revolution as her mistress’s allegiance are put in question.
Instead of focusing on the extravagance and emotion typical of many costume plays, this film keeps the audience at a safe distance from the action. In any case, it’s a fresh look at how the Revolution affected individuals who weren’t royal but were yet utterly reliant on them for their own survival.
11. The Lady and the Duke (2001)
It’s not uncommon for films about the French Revolution to depict a hint of violence, but this one went a step further by presenting the Terror’s actual acts of brutality against individuals it considered to be its opponents.
Because of this, it was widely panned in France. This is a well-made film, and the narrative is full of tension as the protagonist, an Englishwoman caught up in the Revolution, tries to survive..
12. Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001)
The Revolutionary War has been the subject of many biopics and costume dramas, but this one is a little more unusual. During the Revolutionary War, a nobleman tells the story of a huntsman’s quest to find an illusive beast that is killing people in one of the provinces..
It’s a haunting film, no doubt, but there are also some over-the-top sequences that, looking back, seem laughable.
13. The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934)
There was a golden era of adventure films in the 1930s, when studios pushed out as many of these swashbuckling flicks as they could. In order to rescue individuals being persecuted by the Revolution, an English aristocrat takes on a new identity and helps save them.
It’s a great film from a bygone age of Hollywood, even if it lacks some of the excitement of more recent adventure flicks.
14. The Affair of the Necklace (2001)
It’s one of the instances that historians have characterized as a progressive disillusionment with Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. This is a visually stunning film, complete with all of the usual accoutrements of a period piece.
The casting of Hilary Swank as Jeanne, a legendary robber, because she had never participated in a costume play is a little out of the ordinary (which has its own stylistic requirements). In the end, critics were split on whether she was up to the challenge of the part.
15. History of the World, Part 1 (1981)
When it comes to the Revolutionary War, Mel Brooks’ parody of the historical drama is the perfect choice. The inadvertent humor in supposedly serious genres (horror, epic, western) has long been a specialty of Brooks’.
While Mel Brooks’ portrayal of the unfortunate Louis XVI occupies only a little portion of the film, it is one of its most memorable moments. It’s a brilliant parody of the period piece.