Prof. David Campion

James Gilray, William Pitt and Napoleon carving up the world, c.1800, © British Library



SOME of the most enduring images of eighteenth-century Britain and its empire in the popular imagination of Americans have come from films. Some of these films are of average quality and imperfect in their historical accuracy, but many are excellent and effectively recreate the environment and compelling issues that people living in Britain, Ireland, and the British Empire faced at different moments in their history. And since films are the media through which much of the general public gain their impressions of British culture and history, they are worthy of consideration by historians for that reason alone.

In recent years Britain has been at the leading edge of movie making and distribution worldwide. Many British and Irish films have received international recognition for their quality and innovation while Hollywood increasingly relies on British expertise in its own film production. The Government of Britain has even awarded substantial tax rebates to production companies that are able to make the case that their films are "culturally British." These rebates allow filmmakers to claim up to 16% of the cost of big-budget films and 20% of smaller ones. This government effort to advance British culture and national identity has encouraged American studios to take advantage of the discount by filming in Britain. Nowadays, many American movies are actually filmed at Pinewood Shepperton Studios outside of London. The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) supports and awards superior achievement in the industry. See also 100 Years of British Film and the British Film Institute (BFI).

Below is a selection of films useful for complementing our study of 18th-century British history and culture. Most of them can be obtained at Watzek Library.

Some information courtesy of Internet Movie Database. Used with permission

Tom Jones (1963)
Culloden (1964)
Barry Lyndon (1975)
Black Adder the Third (1987)
The Madness of King George (1994)
Rob Roy (1995)
Sense and Sensibility (1995)
Longitude (2000)
Amazing Grace (2006)
The Duchess (2008)
Clive of India (1935)
Waterloo (1970)
The Bounty (1984)
Last of the Mohicans (1992)
Adanggaman (2000)
Master and Commander (2003)
Mary Bryant (2005)
The Amazing Grace (2006)
The War that Made America (2006)
Turn (2014)


Director: Tony Richardson, 1963

This academy-award winning film is set in eighteenth-century England and follows the life of a foundling who is taken in and raised as the son of an English gentleman. In adulthood Tom becomes a likeable, devil-may-care chap, with an inability to resist the advances of any attractive lady. The film was based on the 1749 novel by Henry Fielding, but is as much a reflection of the hedonistic 1960s when it was released.


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: Michael Caton-Jones, 1995

This film takes place in Scotland in 1713, when Highland farmer and clan leader Rob Roy MacGregor is forced to go into debt to the duplicitous aristocrat Marquis of Montrose to help his clan survive a harsh winter. When Montrose's associate plots to exploit MacGregor and his family and take the money for himself, the rugged Highlander must take courageous action to preserve his integrity and honor. An engaging period piece with excellent acting and breathtaking scenery.


Director: Jeta Amata, 2006

The subject of this moving Nigerian film is the life and misdeeds of Captain John Newton, the infamous English slave trader who in later life repented, became an Anglican clergyman, and penned the lyrics of the popular hymn "Amazing Grace". The plots follows Newton while he was in West Africa and his interaction with one particular slave woman who forced him to see the humanity of his victims as well as his own.

© Nu Metro Productions


Director: Peter Watkins, 1964

This docudrama originally produced for British television reenacts the infamous Battle of Culloden in 1746 that pitted Jacobite rebels against the forces of the Hanoverian crown. An imaginative historical presentation in which the director/narrator interviews many of the battle's participants as if television cameras existed in that time. A 1960s anti-war film, though an unconventional one, that questions the nature of power, hierarchy, and obedience.

© New Yorker Films


Director: Michael Mann, 1992

This film is set during the Seven Years War in the frontier areas of New York west of the Hudson River. While French and British forces and their Indian allies fight for control over North America, the colonists struggle to defend their settlements and families. The plot follows "Hawkeye", a European settler raised by the dying tribe of Mohicans, and his interactions with the British and Indians. Based loosely on the 1826 book by James Fenimore Cooper.

© Twentieth Century Fox


Director: Richard Boleslawski, 1935

Ronald Colman stars as Robert Clive, a humble clerk in the East India Company, who is frustrated by his lack of advancement and transfers to the military arm of the Company, where he excels. Clive's leadership and gift for manipulation strengthened Britain's hold over India, allowed him to amass great personal wealth, and made him one of the first heroes of the British Empire.

© 20th Century Pictures


Directors: Ben Loeterman and Eric Stange, 2006

This docudrama miniseries tells the story of the Seven Years War that began along the western frontier of Britain's North American colonies and spread to Canada and ultimately around the world. The story follows George Washington, then a brash and ambitious young officer hoping to make his reputation in the army. It also focuses on the critical military importance and strategic diplomacy of Indian tribes in the conflict between the British and French for the expansion of their colonial empires.



Director: Stanley Kubrick, 1975

In a small village in eighteenth-century Ireland, Redmond Barry is a young farm boy in love with his cousin Nora. When she becomes engaged to a British captain, Barry challenges him to a duel and wins. He then flees to Dublin and, with no other alternative, assumes a false name ("Barry Lyndon") and joins the army to fight in the Seven Years War. An excellent period film that brings to life the privileged world of the Anglo-Irish Protestant ascendancy. Based loosely on the 1844 picaresque romance by William Thackeray.

© Warner Home Video


Creator: Craig Silverstein, 2014

This AMC television series is set in Suffolk Country, Long Island, during the early years of the American war for independence. Abraham Woodhull, a farmer from the town of Setauket, and his childhood friends form a spy ring in the service of General Washington’s rebels. They report on the movement of British forces while trying to avoid the suspicions of American loyalists in their own communities who are on the lookout for rebel spies and sympathizers.


Director: Peter Andrikidis, 2005

This miniseries tells the story, based on real events, of a young and destitute Cornwall woman convicted of theft and transported to the penal colony at Botany Bay in 1788. The hardships of the long sea journey and life in the penal colony are graphically depicted as is the indifference of British officials to the reckless behavior and desperation of the transported convicts. A harrowing portrayal of eighteenth-century English criminal justice as well as the earliest European settlement of Australia.

© Bridge Entertainment


Director: Ang Lee, 1995

When Mr. Dashwood dies, he must leave the bulk of his estate to the son by his first marriage, which leaves his second wife and three daughters in strained circumstances. They are taken in by a kindly cousin, but their lack of fortune affects the marriageability of both practical Elinor and romantic Marianne. Based on the 1811 novel by Jane Austen, this film provides an insightful view into the social relations and habits of Britain's landed gentry.

© Columbia/TriStar


Director: Charles Sturridge, 2000

This miniseries tells of the decades-long effort by eighteenth-century clockmaker John Harrison to solve the elusive problem of measuring longitude at sea. In 1714 Parliament had offered a generous reward to anyone who solved this problem, and Harrison devoted his life to finding the solution. Thousands of sailors perished at sea before Harrison's triumph changed history. A fascinating study of eighteenth-century British politics, overseas expansion, and clashing egos in the arenas of science and invention.

© A&E Home Entetainment


Director: Nicholas Hytner, 1994

This film tells the true story of King George III's battle with dementia in 1788 and the political crisis it caused. As the king was subjected to experimental treatments for insanity, Prime Minister William Pitt fought for his own political survival as he attempted to prevent Parliament from naming the King's son as regent. An excellent portrayal of the personality of George III and the political role of the Hanoverian monarchy in the eighteenth century. Based on the play by Alan Bennett.



Director: Michael Apted, 2006

An inspiring but highly romanticized portrayal of the effort by William Wilberforce to bring an end to the slave trade in Britain and its empire. As a young MPs, Wilberforce and his friend William Pitt the younger face daunting odds against the economic interests of the British sugar and slave trades and their influence in Parliament. The film captures well Wilberforce's tenacity and the power of his oratory and religious faith during the decades-long campaign to abolish slavery.

© Bristol Bay Productions


Director: Saul Dibb, 2008

This costume drama chronicles the tempestuous life of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. The duchess was a vibrant beauty and the center of fashion and gossip in English aristocratic society during her day. The film focuses on her unhappy marriage, her romantic liaisons, and her involvement in Whig politics. It also reveals the duties and limitations of aristocratic women's lives in the late eighteenth century. Based on the biography by Amanda Foreman.

© Paramount Vintage


Director: Peter Weir, 2003

This extremely authentic film is based on two of the novels from the popular series by Patrick O'Brian. The story follows the exploits of British naval hero Captain Jack Aubrey ("Lucky Jack") as he leads the crew of HMS Surprise around the tip of South America in pursuit of the French warship Acheron. The fast-paced story and attention to historical detail provide a compelling view of naval warfare in the age of Nelson.

© Fox Searchlight


Director: Mandie Fletcher, 1987

The third season of the British sitcom, Black Adder, takes place in the early 19th century during the Regency. A dimwitted and profligate George, Prince Regent of Wales, is aided by his cynical and conniving butler, Edmund Blackadder, a former aristocrat. While heaping dry insults upon all around him, Blackadder tries to use his proximity to the throne to enrich himself while navigating through the culture of patronage and corruption characteristic of the age.



Director: Sergei Bondarchuk, 1970

This lavish yet authentic Russian-Italian film recreates Napoleon Bonaparte's return from his first exile in Elba and subsequent campaign against an Allied army in Belgium, culminating in his final defeat at Waterloo in 1815. An ambitious attempt to bring to the screen the complexity and drama of one of the most important battles in British and European history. Excellent portrayals of the French emperor and his British adversary, the Duke of Wellington.

© Castaways Pictures

Created by campion@lclark.edu | Updated September 2017