Prof. David Campion

Wolsey's Hall at Hampton Court Palace, Surrey, England (1845)



SOME of the most enduring images of Tudor and Stuart Britain in the popular imagination of Americans have come from films. While some of these films are not entirely faithful to historical fact, many are excellent and effectively recreate the environment and compelling issues that key figures and common people alike faced at different moments in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century British history. And since films are the media through which much of the general public gain their impressions of history during the Tudor and Stuart periods, they are worthy of consideration by historians for that reason alone.

Below is a selection of films useful for complementing our study of Tudor & Stuart history and culture. Most of them can be obtained at Watzek Library. You can also find many of them on Netflix.

Some information courtesy of Internet Movie Database. Used with permission

Henry V (1944)
A Man for All Seasons (1966)
Anne of the Thousand Days (1969)
Mary, Queen of Scots (1971)
Black Adder II (1986)
Lady Jane (1986)
Henry V (1989)
Elizabeth: England's Virgin Queen (2002)
Elizabeth I: The Virgin Queen (2005)
Anonymous (2011)
Wolf Hall (2015)
Cromwell (1970)
Winstanley (1975)
By the Sword Divided (1983)
Restoration (1995)
Adanggaman (2000)
Stage Beauty (2004)
The Libertine (2005)
The New World (2005)


Director: Laurence Olivier, 1944

During the Second World War, when Britain stood alone, ravaged by air raids and fearing a German invasion, Sir Laurence Olivier delivered the famous St. Crispin's Day speech from Shakespeare's Henry V during a radio program to boost British morale. The Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, found the broadcast so inspiring that he asked Olivier to produce the play as a film for a mass audience. Olivier's adaptation of Henry V, which he directed and stars in, is widely considered the first Shakespeare film to be both artistically and commercially successful.

© Criterion


Director: Kenneth Branagh, 1989

Kenneth Branagh's brilliant film adaptation of Shakespeare's play retells the tale of the Lancastrian English king who led an army into France during the Hundred Years War. Along the way, young king Hal must struggle with the sinking morale of his troops and his own inner doubts. The film culminates at the bloody Battle of Agincourt in 1415. Considered by some to be the best ever screen adaptation of Shakespeare, though the 1944 Olivier version remains the most famous.



Director: Fred Zinnemann, 1966

A screen version of the 1960 play by Robert Bolt. Henry VIII seeks a divorce from his wife Catherine against the wishes of the Church and thus needs the support of the English legal establishment and members of his own court. Sir Thomas More, Henry’s Lord Chancellor and friend, must choose between compromising his principles or risking his life by defying the king's wishes. Brilliantly written and acted, this film won six Academy Awards and is considered by many to be among the greatest films ever. Sir Paul Scofield stars as More.

© Sony Pictures


Director: Charles Jarrott, 1969

Henry VIII is desperate to sire a male heir and preserve the Tudor succession. The well known events of the "King's Great Matter" are vividly presented as Henry seeks to rid himself of his first wife Catherine and marry young Anne Boleyn. The resulting political and religious crisis changed England forever. Compelling performances given of key characters, especially Henry played by the legendary Welsh actor Sir Richard Burton. Based on the 1948 play by Maxwell Anderson.

© MCA Home Video


Director: Peter Kosminsky, 2015

From the perspective of Thomas Cromwell, chief minister to Henry VIII, this series follows the complex machinations and back room dealings of the Henrician court. Cromwell, a pragmatic and talented power broker who rose from humble beginnings and with an enigmatic past, struggled to serve his king while dealing with deadly political intrigue, Henry’s tempestuous love life, and the religious upheavals of the English Reformation. A revision of earlier film portrayals of Cromwell as a one-dimensional villain. Based on the 2009 novel by Hilary Mantel.



Director: Trevor Nunn, 1986

The death of Henry VIII in 1547 plunges his kingdom into a chaotic succession dispute that is exacerbated when his sickly son Edward VI is on his deathbed six years later. Anxious to keep England Protestant, Edward's scheming minister Northumberland marries off his son to teen-aged Lady Jane Grey, who he places on the throne after Edward dies. Despite numerous liberties taken with historical fact, this film offers a riveting portrayal of Tudor politics and the manipulation of royal figures.

© Paramount


Narrator: David Starkey, 2002

This docudrama was produced as a miniseries for British television and written and narrated by David Starkey, a Cambridge historian and noted biographer of Elizabeth I. It offers an entertaining and insightful blend of dramatic re-creations and incisive commentary on the queen’s private life and historical legacy. It is vastly superior to the feature films Elizabeth (1998) and The Golden Age (2007) which, though more lavish and dramatic, are filled with historical fabrications.

© A&E Home Entertainment


Director: Charles Jarrott, 1971

A thoughtful period epic, though like many films about Tudor and Stuart royalty it often strays from historical accuracy in favor of dramatic effect. Nevertheless, the portrayal of key characters is well rendered and the scenery and costumes are stunning. Vanessa Redgrave stars as the beleaguered Scottish queen who must face the anti-Catholic prejudices and resentment of her fellow Scots, a turbulent love life, and the plotting of her fearful and heirless Protestant cousin Elizabeth.

© MCA Home Video


Director: Coky Giedroyc, 2005

Filmed against a backdrop of some of Britain's most beautiful houses and landscapes, this film explores the full sweep of Elizabeth's life: from her days of fear as a sequestered princess and potential victim of her half-sister's spite, through her relationships with Robert Dudley and William Cecil, her political maturation, triumph over the Spanish Armada, and finally old age and her last, enigmatic relationship with her young protégé, the Earl of Essex.



Director: Mandie Fletcher, 1986

The second season of the British sitcom, Black Adder, introduces Lord Edmund Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson), a descendant of Plantagenet royalty and a conniving courtier of Elizabeth I. Blackadder's attempts to become king by marrying the always available virgin queen are thwarted by the presence of other competitors. Meanwhile he offers dryly cynical and insightful observations about those around him and the values and mores of the Elizabethan Age.



Director: Roland Emmerich, 2011

This political thriller and costume drama is based on the controversial theory that it was in fact Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, who penned William Shakespeare's plays and not the Bard himself. The film is set against the backdrop of the Essex Rebellion and the final years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth. A compelling drama likely to polarize viewers, it captures well the spirit of the age but is filled with historical and literary inaccuracies.

© Columbia Pictures


Director: Terrence Malick, 2005

This visually stunning film is set amid the first encounter of English and indigenous North American cultures during the founding of the Jamestown settlement in Virginia in 1607. A unique interpretation of the classic tale of Pocahontas and her relationships with adventurer John Smith and aristocrat John Rolfe that take her from the untouched beauty of the North American wilderness to the center of high society in Stuart England.

© New Line Cinema


Director: Ken Hughes, 1970

Disgusted with the religious policies of King Charles I, an English squire and Puritan named Oliver Cromwell enters Parliament and, later, as a military commander and Lord Protector ascends to heights of absolute power. This is a well rendered, albeit uneven, film with many historical inaccuracies, but which nevertheless offers a compelling portrayal of the turmoil of the English Civil War and the key figures involved. Richard Harris stars as Cromwell and Sir Alec Guinness gives a brilliant performance as the insecure and aloof Charles I.

© Sony Pictures


Directors: Michael Custance and Brian Farnham, 1983

This BBC miniseries begins in 1649, two years after King Charles I and his followers have been defeated by the opposing Roundheads and as Oliver Cromwell, the country's new leader, has moved to center stage. The period from the aftermath of the English Civil War through the restoration of the Stuart monarchy is portrayed through the experiences of the Lacey family and their servants as the plot chronicles the lives of a family divided by their loyalties to King and Parliament.



Director: Kevin Brownlow, 1975

Gerrard Winstanley was the charismatic founder of a religious sect called the "Diggers" that rejected private property and in 1649 set out to form a commune outside of London and till the soil on the "common land". This film is not overly dramatic and is a bit amateurish, but the filmmakers' desire to make it as historically accurate as possible renders it an authentic, if understated, portrayal of this important figure in the English Revolution.

© Image Entertainment


Director: Michael Hoffman, 1995

An entertaining period piece about the rise, fall, and redemption of Robert Merivel, an aspiring young London physician. Merivel is invited to join the royal court of Charles II where he enjoys leisure, wealth, and romantic liaisons of someone well beyond his social position. His fall from Charles' favor leads him from self-indulgence back to his passion for medicine and a heroic desire to save his fellow Londoners during the plague outbreak of 1665 and Great Fire of 1666. Based on the 1989 novel by Rose Tremain.

© Miramax

Director: Roger Gnoan M'Bala, 2000

In West Africa during the late seventeenth century, King Adanggaman leads a war against neighboring tribes, ordering his soldiers to torch enemy villages and take captives to sell to European slave traders. Ossei, a strong-willed young man, sets out to rescue his mother when their village is raided. This Ivoirian film addresses a rarely acknowledged though controversial aspect of the history of slavery: the active role of Africans in supplying human cargo for the Atlantic slave trade.

© New Yorker Films


Director: Richard Eyre, 2004

After years of Puritan stringency, England's theatres reopen and Charles II rescinds the law allowing only male actors on public stages. The plot follows Ned Kynaston, an actor who has made a living playing female roles, and Maria, his costume dresser and herself an aspiring actress. An entertaining and well-acted story about the politics of Restoration theatre. King Charles, the Earl of Clarendon, Nell Gwynn, and Samuel Pepys all make appearances. Based loosely on events narrated in Pepys' diary.

© Lions Gate


Director: Lawrence Dunmore, 2005

This is the story of John Wilmot, the 2nd Earl of Rochester, a seventeenth-century English poet who famously drank and debauched his way to an early grave but managed to earn posthumous critical acclaim for his literary accomplishments. A dark and gritty view into the pomp and decadence of Restoration high society as well as the literary genius and rakish wit of Wilmot. Based on the 1994 play by Stephen Jeffreys.

© Miramax

Created by campion@lclark.edu | Updated December 2017