I love historical films. I blame my dad for that. He raised me on a diet of westerns and World War Two movies, in between the sci-fi. It’s part of why I do what I do today, including writing scripts for Commando comics and articles for War History Online.
But there’s a bit of a problem with historical film-making. A lot of the time, it covers stories people already know well. Like superhero remakes, those stories are safer box office options, as the studios know that people will be interested. It’s great that we had a movie about Dunkirk, but that’s an incident that’s already gone down in legend. What about the important stories we forget?
That’s why I’m excited about a couple of upcoming films.
First, there’s Hurricane, the story of Polish pilots flying for the RAF during the Second World War. It’s a reminder that no nation ever stands alone, and therefore important to busting some jingoistic myths. Even without that, I’d want to see the story of men who crossed a continent to keep fighting against the Nazis, who faced prejudice and confusion in a strange land, and who were part of one of history’s greatest conflicts.
The second trailer makes it look a lot better than the first one did, which is a relief. Plus it’s got Iwan Rheon, who was fantastic in Misfits and Game of Thrones.
Then there’s Peterloo, an incredibly timely piece of film-making from Mike Leigh. It’s about the Peterloo Massacre of 1819, in which peaceful protestors were attacked and killed in Manchester.
The Peterloo Massacre has incredible symbolic importance as a reminder of the power of protest and how the powerful treat dissent. It highlights the connections between social, political, and economic factors in reinforcing existing power structures. And sadly most people aren’t aware of it even in the UK. At a time of growing inequality, protest, and political turmoil, it’s a story we could all do with learning again.
Historical films have power. They keep the past alive in our imaginations and so help us understand the present. I can’t wait to see these less familiar stories on the big screen.