Top Twenty Heart-Wrenching Historical Films Picks Based On Real Events

What are some of your favorite films? In today’s post I wanted to discuss some really heartfelt movies involving historical people and events in time. I am a huge movie buff and really enjoy historical fiction whether in movies, television, or in books. This post will be my top twenty movies picks that fall under the category of historical fiction. I have seen all of these films.

The very number one movie on my list is The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society. This movie is my absolute hands-down favorite movie ever. It takes place directly after World War II and is about the journey a writer takes after being invited to Guernsey Island by a long distance pen-pal. Juliet is after a story to write about; however, she finds instead a family to love. The movies follows her as she learns the struggles and hardship the people of Guernsey faced during German occupation. This movie is one of the most moving films I have ever seen. 


#1: THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY (2018)

Summary from IMDb: In the aftermath of World War II, a writer forms an unexpected bond with the residents of Guernsey Island when she decides to write a book about their experiences during the war. A correspondence begins between Juliet Ashton (Lily James) and members of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, with them sharing their experiences of Nazi-occupied Guernsey Island. When an idea for a book catches Juliet, she goes to visit the island, making life-long friends and taking life changing steps along the way. This movies is based off a book told by way of letters, and as the reader, you become enchanted by the writers of them and the love Juliet comes to feel for each of the Islanders; Dawsey Adams, Amelia Maugery , Isola Pribby (Katherine Parkinson), Eben Ramsey (Sir Tom Courtenay), Kit (Florence Keen), and Elizabeth McKenna (Jessica Brown Findlay).

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#2: Anne Of A Thousand Days (1969) 

Summary from IMDb: King Henry VIII (Richard Burton) of England discards one wife, Catharine of Aragon (Irene Papas), who has failed to produce a male heir, in favor of a young and beautiful woman, Anne Boleyn (Geneviève Bujold), whose one-thousand-day reign as Queen of England ends with the loss of her head on the block. Henry weds Anne and soon she gives him a child. The girl, Elizabeth (Amanda Jane Smythe), is a bitter disappointment to Henry, who desperately wants an heir. Anne promises Henry a son “next time”, but Henry is doubtful. Shortly thereafter, rumors begin that the King’s eye has already wandered. One Jane Seymour (Lesley Paterson) is at court for a moment. The Queen has her sent away, but, if Anne will bring Jane back to court, the King promises to sign the Act of Succession to insure that Elizabeth will be Queen.

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#3: Young Catherine (1991) 

Summary from IMDb: A German princess is chosen to marry the heir to the Russian Throne, but faces plots and intrigues against her. The action begins in the small German principality, where we meet with the German princess Sophia Augustus Frederica. She is brought to the Russian Empire, where she is forced to accept Orthodoxy and is given a new name “Ekaterina Alekseevna”. The luxury and grandeur of the northern capital, intrigue, love and humiliation – all this is still ahead. Through it all passes the young Prussian princess.

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#4:SCHINDLER’S LIST (1994)

Summary from IMDb: In German-occupied Poland during World War II, industrialist Oskar Schindler gradually becomes concerned for his Jewish workforce after witnessing their persecution by the Nazis. At the beginning of the film Oskar Schindler is a vain and greedy German businessman who becomes an unlikely humanitarian against the barbaric German Nazi reign when he feels compelled to turn his factory into a refuge for Jews. Based on the true story of Oskar Schindler who managed to save about 1100 Jews from being gassed at the Auschwitz concentration camp, it is a testament to the good in all of us. Schindler’s List was directed by Steven Spielberg in 1999. The film would eventually receive an Academy Award for best picture that year.

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#5: SUFFRAGETTE (2015)

Summary from IMDb: In 1912 London, a young working mother is galvanized into radical political activism supporting the right for women to vote, and is willing to meet violence with violence to achieve this end. A drama that tracks the story of the foot soldiers of the early feminist movement, women who were forced underground to pursue a dangerous game of cat and mouse with an increasingly brutal State. These women were not primarily from the genteel educated classes, they were working women who had seen peaceful protest achieve nothing. Radicalized and turning to violence as the only route to change, they were willing to lose everything in their fight for equality – their jobs, their homes, their children and their lives. Maud was one such foot soldier. The story of her fight for dignity is as gripping and visceral as any thriller, it is also heart-breaking and inspirational.

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#6: GETTYSBURG (1993)

Summary from IMDb: In 1863, the Northern and Southern forces fight at Gettysburg in the decisive battle of the American Civil War. The four hour depiction of the historical and personal events surrounding a tragic battle which features thousands of civil war re-enactors marching over the exact ground that the federal army and the army of North Virginia fought on. The defense of the Little Round Top and Pickett’s Charge are highlighted in the actual three day battle which is surrounded by the speeches of the commanding officers and the personal reflections of the fighting men.

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#7: Young Victoria (2009)

Summary from IMDb: Dominated by her possessive mother and her bullying consort, Conroy, since childhood, teen-aged Victoria refuses to allow them the power of acting as her regent in the last days of her uncle William IV’s rule. Her German cousin Albert is encouraged to court her for solely political motives, but, following her accession at age eighteen, finds he is falling for her and is dismayed at her reliance on trusty Prime Minister Melbourne. Victoria is impressed by Albert’s philanthropy, which is akin to her own desire to help her subjects. However, her loyalty to Melbourne, perceived as a self-seeker, almost causes a constitutional crisis, and it is Albert who helps restore her self-confidence. She proposes and they marry, Albert proving himself not only a devoted spouse, prepared to take an assassin’s bullet for her, but also an agent of much-needed reform, finally endorsed by an admiring Melbourne.

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#8 THE IRON LADY (2011)

Summary from IMDb: Following the works and days of Margaret Thatcher–from her humble beginnings as a Grantham grocer’s daughter to the lowest steps of the Conservative Party, and eventually, to the Prime Minister’s seat of the United Kingdom–an elderly and senile Margaret converses with the ghost of her dead husband, Denis Thatcher. Through a flurry of flashbacks and vivid memories, the ex-Prime Minister recounts the era of her bold eleven-year premiership, depicting major political and historical events, and revisiting key chapters in her life that polarised people during her authority. To some, she was a ruthless figure who ruled the land with an iron hand, while to others, she was a true heroine. Either way, Margaret Thatcher was Britain’s first female prime minister, and a political phenomenon who was often entangled in controversy.

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#9: Ride With The Devil (1999) 

Summary from IMDb: Jake Roedel and Jack Bull Chiles are friends in Missouri when the Civil War starts. Women and Blacks have few rights. Jack Bull’s dad is killed by Union soldiers, so the young men join the Bushwhackers, irregulars loyal to the South. One is a Black man, Daniel Holt, beholden to the man who bought his freedom. They skirmish then spend long hours hiding. Sue Lee, a young widow, brings them food. She and Jack Bull become lovers, and when he’s grievously wounded, Jake escorts her south to a safe farm. The Bushwhackers, led by men set on revenge, make a raid into Kansas. At nineteen, Jake is ill at ease with war. As his friends die one after another, he must decide where honor lies.

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#10: Gunpowder (2017)

In 1603, as England is engaged in war against Spain, tensions are high in domestic society due to brutal persecution of Catholics. Robert Catesby, a young Catholic nobleman who has recently lost both his wife and his father and, angry at his perception of punishment from society, conjures a literally explosive plot to kill King James I when he sits in the houses of Parliament. Catesby joins with a group of equally aggrieved men, including the infamous Guy Fawkes, to enact vengeance in a series of events that are still commemorated in present-day Britain. The three-part miniseries was originally presented on BBC in the U.K.

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#11LINCOLN (2012)

Summary from IMDb: As the American Civil War continues to rage, America’s president struggles with continuing carnage on the battlefield as he fights with many inside his own cabinet on the decision to emancipate the slaves. In 1865, as the American Civil War winds inexorably toward conclusion, U.S. president Abraham Lincoln endeavors to achieve passage of the landmark constitutional amendment which will forever ban slavery from the United States. However, his task is a race against time, for peace may come at any time, and if it comes before the amendment is passed, the returning southern states will stop it before it can become law. Lincoln must, by almost any means possible, obtain enough votes from a recalcitrant Congress before peace arrives and it is too late. Yet the president is torn, as an early peace would save thousands of lives. As the nation confronts its conscience over the freedom of its entire population, Lincoln faces his own crisis of conscience — end slavery or end the war.

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#12: JACKIE (2016)

Summary from IMDb: Following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy (Natalie Portman) fights through grief and trauma to regain her faith, console her children, and define her husband’s historic legacy. Jackie places us in her world during the days immediately following her husband’s assassination. Her world is completely shattered. Traumatized and reeling with grief, over the course of the next week she must confront the unimaginable: consoling their two young children, vacating the home she painstakingly restored, and planning her husband’s funeral. Jackie quickly realizes that the next seven days will determine how history will define her husband’s legacy, and how she will be remembered. Known for her extraordinary dignity and poise, here we see a portrait of the First Lady as she fights to establish her husband’s legacy and the world of “Camelot” that she created and loved so well.

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#13: THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD (2007)Summary from IMDb: Robert Ford (Casey Affleck), who’s idolized Jesse James since childhood, tries hard to join the reforming gang of the Missouri outlaw, but gradually becomes resentful of the bandit leader. Taking place in Missouri in the early 1880s, the film dramatizes the last seven months in the life of famed outlaw Jesse James (Brad Pitt), beginning with the Blue Cut train robbery of 1881 and culminating in his assassination at the hands of Robert Ford the following April. In the time between these two fateful events, the young and jealous Ford befriends the increasingly mistrustful outlaw, even as he plots his demise. Robert Ford seeks out Jesse James when the James gang is planning a train robbery in Blue Cut, Missouri, making petty, unsuccessful attempts to join the gang with the help of his brother Charley. The train turns out to be carrying only a fraction of the money originally thought.

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#14: The Duchess (2008) 

Summary from IMDb: Georgiana Spencer became Duchess of Devonshire on her marriage to the Duke in 1774, at the height of the Georgian period, a period of fashion, decadence, and political change. Spirited and adored by the public at large she quickly found her marriage to be a disappointment, defined by her duty to produce a male heir and the Duke’s philandering and callous indifference to her. She befriends Lady Bess but finds she is once again betrayed by her husband who wields his power with the three eventually living uncomfortably together. Against this background, and with the pressures of an unfaithful husband, strict social pressures and constant public scrutiny, Georgiana falls passionately in love with Charles Grey, a rising young Whig politician. However, despite his ongoing liaison with Lady Bess, the Duke refuses to allow her to continue the affair and threatens to take her children from her.

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#15: Best Of Enemies (2019) 

Summary from IMDb: The true story of the unlikely relationship between Ann Atwater, an outspoken civil rights activist, and C.P. Ellis, a local Ku Klux Klan leader. During the racially charged summer of 1971, Atwater and Ellis come together to co-chair a community summit on the desegregation of schools in Durham, N.C. The ensuing debate and battle soon lead to surprising revelations that change both of their lives forever.

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#16: THE KING’S SPEECH (2010)

Summary from IMDb: The story of King George VI, his impromptu ascension to the throne of the British Empire in 1936, and the speech therapist who helped the unsure monarch overcome his stammer. Britain’s Prince Albert (Colin Firth) must ascend the throne as King George VI, but he has a speech impediment. Knowing that the country needs her husband to be able to communicate effectively. Suffering from a stammer from the age of four or five, the young Prince Albert dreaded any public speaking engagement. History records that his speech at the closing of the 1925 Commonwealth exhibition in London was difficult for both him and everyone listening that day. He tried many different therapies over many years, but it was only when he met Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), a speech therapist, that he truly began to make progress. Logue did not have a medical degree, but had worked as an elocution coach in the theater and had worked with shell-shocked soldiers after World War I. Through a variety of techniques and much hard work, Albert learns to speak in such a way so as to make his impediment a minor problem and deliver a flawless speech heard around the world by radio when the U.K. declared war on Nazi Germany in 1939.

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#17: LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL (1997)

Summary from IMDb: Set in late 1930s Arezzo, Italy, Jewish man and poet, Guido Orefice (Roberto Benigni) uses cunning wit to win over an Italian schoolteacher, Dora (Nicoletta Braschi) who’s set to marry another man. Charming her with getting the timing perfect every time and whisking her away on a green horse ensures they soon live together happily in Guido’s uncle, Eliseo Orefice’s house. Bringing up their 5 year old boy, Giosué, the war continues without them noticing until one fateful day when the Germans arrest Guido and his son at the uncle’s house during preparation for Giosué’s birthday party, and transfer them to a concentraction camp. Dora demands to be taken too, thus Guido is devastated to see his non-Jewish wife board the train. Protecting his son from the vile truth, Guido tells Giosué that they are just on a big hoilday, and he turns the camp into a big game for Giosué, claiming that they must win 1000 points to win a real tank and leave. His elderly uncle, however, is on a different “team” and is lead towards the showers first. Despite not speaking a word of German, Guido steps forward and makes up the “Regole del Campo” from the German’s body language, claiming that tanks, scoreboards and games of Hide and Seek litter the camp, while cleverly stating that Giosué cannot cry, ask for his mother or declared he’s hungry, resulting in the loss of the “game”, in other words, death.

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#18: Titanic (1997) 

Summary from IMDb: James Cameron’s “Titanic” is an epic, action-packed romance set against the ill-fated maiden voyage of the R.M.S. Titanic; the pride and joy of the White Star Line and, at the time, the largest moving object ever built. She was the most luxurious liner of her era — the “ship of dreams” — which ultimately carried over 1,500 people to their death in the ice cold waters of the North Atlantic in the early hours of April 15, 1912.

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#19: A Royal Affair (2012) 

Summary from IMDb: In 1767, the British Princess Caroline is betrothed to the mad King Christian VII of Denmark, but her life with the erratic monarch in the oppressive country becomes an isolating misery. However, Christian soon gains a fast companion with the German Dr. Johann Struensee, a quietly idealistic man of the Enlightenment. As the only one who can influence the King, Struensee is able to begin sweeping enlightened reforms of Denmark through Christian even as Caroline falls for the doctor. However, their secret affair proves a tragic mistake that their conservative enemies use to their advantage in a conflict that threatens to claim more than just the lovers as their victims.

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#20: The Messenger: The Story Of Joan Of Arc (1997) 

Summary from IMDb: Mystic, maiden, martyr – whatever you choose to call her, it is difficult to dispute that Joan of Arc led a remarkably accomplished life for a peasant girl who never went to school … and never saw her 20th birthday. It all began in 1429, when a teenage girl from a remote village in France stood before the world and announced she would defeat the world’s greatest army and liberate her country.

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