Prof. David Campion

Des Voeux Road, Hong Kong, c.1920



SOME of the most enduring images of the British Empire in the popular imagination 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 different parts of the empire faced at various points in their history. And since films are the media through which much of the general public gain their impressions of the British Empire, they are worthy of consideration by historians for that reason alone.

Below is a selection of films useful for complementing our study of the history of the British Empire. Most of these can be obtained at Watzek Library. You can also find many of them on Netflix. In addition to this list, Colonial Film: Moving Images of the British Empire holds detailed information on over 6000 films showing images of life in the British colonies. Over 150 films are available for viewing online.

Some information courtesy of Internet Movie Database. Used with permission

The Bounty (1984)
The Last of the Mohicans (1992)
Master and Commander (2003)
The New World (2005)
Amazing Grace (2006)
The Amazing Grace (2006)
The War that Made America (2006)
Turn (2014)

Clive of India (1935)
Jhansi ki Rani (1952)
Shatranj ke Khilari (1977)
Junoon (1979)
The Deceivers (1988)
The Rising (2005)

The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935)
The Drum (1938)
Gunga Din (1939)
Kim (1950)
Northwest Frontier (1959)
The Man Who Would be King (1975)
The Far Pavilions (1984)

Black Narcissus (1947)
Bhowani Junction (1956)
The Long Duel (1967)
Conduct Unbecoming (1975)
Staying On (1979)
Heat and Dust (1982)
The Home and the World (1984)
A Passage to India (1984)
Cotton Mary (1999)
Lagaan (2001)
Before the Rains (2007)
Victoria & Abdul (2017)

Gandhi (1982)
The Jewel in the Crown (1984)
Mountbatten, The Last Viceroy (1986)
Earth (1998)
Jinnah (1998)
Train to Pakistan (1998)
The Legend of Bhagat Singh (2002)
Pinjar (2003)
Bose, The Forgotten Hero (2005)

Exodus (1960)
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
The Lighthorsemen (1987)
O Jerusalem (2006)
The Hour (2011)
Letters from Baghdad (2016)

The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
The World of Suzie Wong (1960)
Tai Pan (1986)
Empire of the Sun (1987)
Chinese Box (1997)
Yapian Zhanzheng (1997)
The Railway Man (2013)
Barry Lyndon (1975)
The Treaty (1992)
Michael Collins (1996)
The Last September (1999)
The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006)

Zulu (1964)
Zulu Dawn (1979)
Breaker Morant (1980)
The Making of the Mahatma (1996)
Rhodes (1996)
Wah Wah (2005)
A United Kingdom (2016)

Sanders of the River (1935)
The Four Feathers (1939)
Khartoum (1966)
Mister Johnson (1991)
Adanggaman (2000)

Something of Value (1957)
Guns at Batasi (1964)
The Flame Trees of Thika (1982)
Out of Africa (1985)
The Kitchen Toto (1988)
A Shadow on the Sun (1988)
White Mischief (1988)
Mountains of the Moon (1990)
Nowhere in Africa (2001)
The Last King of Scotland (2006)

Map of the Human Heart (1992)

Gallipoli (1981)
We of the Never Never (1982)
Utu (1983)
Burke & Wills (1986)
Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002)
The Tracker (2002)
Ned Kelly (2004)
Mary Bryant (2005)
River Queen (2005)
Kokoda (2006)
Van Diemen's Land (2009)
Beneath Hill 60 (2010)

Malta Story (1953)

Queimada (1969)
Small Island (2009)

An Ungentlemanly Act (1992)
Blessed by Fire (2005)

The Last Place on Earth (1985)
Shackleton (2002)


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 at the dawn of the British Empire.

© New Line Cinema

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: 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: 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


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: 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


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 mini-series tells the story, based on real events, of a young and destitute Cornwall woman convicted of theft and transported on the first fleet to the penal colony in Sydney Harbor 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: Roger Donaldson, 1984

This film retells the familiar story of the mutiny that occurred aboard HMS Bounty during its return voyage from Tahiti in 1789. The plot follows the breakdown of discipline and morale aboard the ship, the efforts of lead mutineer Fletcher Christian to get his men beyond the reach of British retribution, and the epic voyage of Captain Bligh to get his loyal crewmembers safely to East Timor in a tiny lifeboat.

© Goodtimes Home Video


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 the British 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: 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 sail.

© Fox Searchlight


Director: Nicholas Meyer, 1988

In 1825, Lt. William Savage, a reform-minded District Officer in the service of the East India Company, undertakes to rid his district of what the British viewed as the two greatest problems of Indian society: "Suttee" (widow immolation) and "Thuggee" (a secret cult of robbers and murderers). Savage's actions are eventually thwarted by his profit-minded Company superiors, but not before he attempts to infiltrate the cult and become one of the "deceivers." Based on the 1952 novel by John Masters.

© Warner Home Video


Director: Jonathan auf der Heide, 2009

This Australian thriller is based on the true story of Alexander Pearce, the country's most notorious convict. In 1822, Pearce and seven fellow convicts escaped from the Macquarie Harbour Penal Station at Sarah Island in Van Diemen's Land (present-day Tasmania). The plot chronicles the increasingly desperate struggle of the eight men to survive as they move deeper into the Tasmanian wilderness.

© Screen Australia


Director: Xie Jin, 1997

This Chinese epic tells the story of the 1840-41 war between Britain and the declining Qing dynasty that resulted in the forced opening of Chinese markets to the opium trade and the establishment of the British colony of Hong Kong. Yapian Zhanzheng received enthusiastic support from the Beijing authorities and was the most expensive Chinese film ever made at the time of production. It was released in 1997 to coincide with the handover of Hong Kong.

© Araba Films


Director: Daryl Duke, 1986

Dirk Struan and Tyler Brock, the heads of two rival British trading companies, establish themselves in Hong Kong after the British acquire that colony at the end of the first Opium War in the early 1840s. As Struan and Brock try to destroy each other in business and personal affairs they both work to build Hong Kong into the centerpiece of the British Empire in East Asia. A muddled and melodramatic film version of the 1966 novel by James Clavell.

© De Laurentiis Entertainment


Director: Gillo Pontecorvo, 1969

In the 1840s Sir William Walker (Marlon Brando), a cynical mercenary, instigates a slave revolt on the island of Queimada, a Portuguese colony, in order to weaken Britain’s rival in the Caribbean sugar trade. Years later, Walker returns to betray and overthrow the same rebels he once helped in order to facilitate the expansion of British sugar cultivation. This film was released in the US under the title Burn!



Director: George Stevens, 1939

This classic film, starring Cary Grant and Douglas Fairbanks jr, was one of the very first Hollywood depictions of India. Set in the nineteenth century, three British soldiers and a native waterbearer must stop a secret revival of the murderous "Thuggee" cult before it can spread across the land. The film is based very loosely on Rudyard Kipling's 1892 ballad of the same name (though it is more like The Three Musketeers) and is interesting for its stereotypes as much as for its story.

© RKO Pictures


Director: Satyajit Ray, 1977

In 1856, officials of the East India Company move to consolidate their hold over North India by annexing the wealthy kingdom of Awadh. The chief minister to the Nawab attempts to warn his ruler and local landlords of the impending danger but they ignore him and instead indulge their obsession with playing chess. The game becomes a metaphor for the larger game of politics played by the British as they maneuver to capture Awadh's king. Based on the 1924 short story by Premchand.

© Shemaroo


Director: Sohrab Modi, 1952

This epic film tells the true story of Lakshmi Bai, Rani of the small princely state of Jhansi in central India. The Rani of Jhansi struggled to save her state from British annexation and died in 1857 while personally leading her soldiers into battle. Her heroism, leadership, and sacrifice have been celebrated in folklore and repeatedly invoked by Indian nationalists. This was the first Indian film in Technicolor and one of the first to enjoy distribution in the US under the title The Tiger and the Flame.

© Geneon


Director: Ketan Mehta, 2005

This Bollywood epic is the first major film to focus on the 1857 Indian Rebellion—or "Mutiny" as it is usually referred to in British history. The story follows the rebel leader Mangal Pandey, an Indian sepoy in the service of the East India Company, and his friendship with a British officer. Pandey was a real figure but one about whom little is known. Filming began in 2003 and the opening scene was launched by Charles, Prince of Wales, during an official royal visit to India.

© Yash Raj Films


Director: Shyam Benegal, 1979

Set during the Uprising of 1857, this film focuses on three women of an Anglo-Indian family who take refuge from the rebels with a local moneylender to whom they have a substantial debt and who, thus, has a vested interest in their survival. When they are discovered, their lives are spared as the rebel leader, Javed, wishes to make the youngest woman, Ruth, his second wife. The plot is further complicated when British forces return seeking vengeance for the mutiny.

© Shemaroo


Director: Ashutosh Gowariker, 2001

In 1893, the people of a small village in colonial India hope that they will be excused from paying lagaan, the crippling land tax that the British have imposed. Instead, the capricious officer in charge challenges them to a game of cricket, a game totally unknown to them. If they win, they get their wish; if they lose, the increased tax burden will destroy their lives.

© Columbia/TriStar


Director: Bob Rafelson, 1990

This film traces the friendship between Victorian explorers Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke that broke down during their 1856 expedition to find the source of the Nile, a route that took them through East Africa from Zanzibar to the shores of Lake Victoria. Based on the 1982 biographical novel by William Harrison and the travel diaries of Burton and Speke.

© Artisan Entertainment


Director: Graeme Clifford, 1986

This Australian film retells the story of the fateful expedition in 1860 by explorers Robert O'Hara Burke and William John Wills to cross the continent of Australia. Their journey began in Melbourne in the south and ended the Gulf of Carpentaria in the north, a distance of around 1,750 miles. At that time most of inland Australia had not been explored by non-indigenous people and was completely unknown to the European settlers along the coasts.

© Greater Union Organisation


Director: Vincent Ward, 2005

A lavishly filmed and intimate story set in New Zealand in the 1860s during the war between British settlers and the Maori tribes resisting the colonization of their lands. At the furthest outpost, a young Irish woman's life is torn apart when her son is taken from her and brought upriver by his Maori grandfather. Unsure whether or not her son is even alive she continues her search for seven years and is eventually forced to choose sides in this war of empire.

© Twentieth Century Fox


Director: Henry Hathaway, 1935

The 41st Bengal Lancers are stationed on the Northwest Frontier of British India, guarding against Afghan invaders led by the wily Oxford-educated Mohammed Khan. Experienced, though insubordinate, Lt. McGregor (Gary Cooper) is joined by two younger officers through various adventures and hardships. This film is a noteworthy period piece from the 1930s but is less well known than Gunga Din, which was released a few years later and has become a cinema classic.

© Universal


Director: John Huston, 1975

This adaptation of the famous 1888 novella by Rudyard Kipling tells the story of Daniel Dravot and Peachy Carnehan, two ex-soldiers roaming through British India. They decide that the country is too small for them, so they trek beyond the Northwest frontier to "Kafiristan" in order to become kings in their own right. Kipling appears briefly as a character in his own fictional tale.

© Warner Home Video


Director: Victor Saville, 1950

This film, based on Rudyard Kipling's famous adventure novel from 1901, recreates the "Great Game" of spying and surveying in British India's Northwest frontier. The title character is a young British orphan who, like an Anglo-Indian Huck Finn, roams the bazaars and roads of his adoptive country surviving through theft, begging, and being a messenger and spy for the British.

© Warner Home Video


Director: Geoff Murphy, 1984

Loosely based on events from Te Kooti's War in New Zealand, this is the story of a Maori warrior, Te Wheke, and his desire for utu (vengeance: literally "blood for blood") against his former allies after the British army destroys his village and kills his uncle. The film is set in the 1870s and chronicles the Maori struggle to keep the land guaranteed to them by the Treaty of Waitangi from seizure by the Pahekas (white settlers).

© Kino Video


Director: Michael Anderson, 1975

The plot revolves arounds a scandal in a British regiment stationed in India in the 1870s. Lt. Drake is from a middle-class background and is eager to advance himself by making the right impression. Lt. Millington, the son of a general, is not keen on army life and desires to get out as soon as he possibly can. When the widow of the regiment's most honored hero is assaulted, Drake must defend Millington from the charges in an unusual court-martial. Based on the 1969 play by Barry England.

© Crown Films


Director: Peter Duffell, 1984

Based on the bestselling 1978 novel by M.M. Kaye, this mini-series is an epic of high adventure in colonial India revolving around the romance between Anjuli, a half-caste Indian princess, and Ash, a British officer raised in India. The Far Pavilions drew upon and helped perpetuate a popular sense of "Raj nostalgia" in the early 1980s. As such, it offers a lavish, entertaining, but highly romanticized vision of exotic India under British rule.

© Acorn Media


Director: Douglas Hickox, 1979

This epic recounts the Battle of Isandhlwana fought on 22 January 1879 in Natal, South Africa. In the course of the fighting about 1,200 British soldiers were massacred by a force of over 20,000 Zulu warriors and the regimental colors were lost. Isandhlwana was the first engagement of the Anglo-Zulu War and stands as one of the most shocking defeats in British military history. Zulu Dawn was written by Cy Enfield as a prequel to his more successful film Zulu released fifteen years earlier.

© Tango Entertainment


Director: Cy Endfield, 1964

In 1879 the British Army suffered one of its worst defeats when Zulu forces massacred 1,200 of its troops at Isandhlwana in South Africa. A short time after the main battle a Zulu force numbering in excess of 4,000 warriors advanced on a British supply post at "Rorke's Drift" guarded by 139 Welsh infantrymen. This film was made in the 1960s at a time when Britain's colonial control over Africa was rapidly disintegrating.



Director: Gregor Jordan, 2004

Based on the true story of Edward "Ned" Kelly, at one time the most wanted man in the British Empire. In 1870s Australia, young Ned is a bushranger living in poverty with his family of first-generation descendants of transported Irish convicts. His frequent trouble with the law and his resentment of colonial class prejudice lead him to form a gang of outlaws who redistribute their loot among the poor farming communities. Ned Kelly has become an Australian icon and is the subject of many earlier films.

© Universal


Director: Stephen Frears, 2017

In 1887, Abdul Karim, a young police clerk from Agra, is selected by the British colonial goverment to travel to London to present a gift to Queen Victoria on the occasion of her Golden Jubilee. Abdul strikes up an unlikely friendship with the "Empress of India" and stays on in Britain to become her servant and, at her request, her munshi (teacher) of Urdu and the Qur'an. When Victoria dies in 1901, Abdul returns to India. Based on the book by Shrabani Basu and Abdul's diary discovered in 2010.

© BBC Films


Director: Zoltan Korda, 1939

A British army officer who resigns his commission on the eve of his unit's embarkation on a mission against Sudanese rebels seeks to redeem his cowardice by secretly aiding his former comrades disguised as an Arab. When his unit is overwhelmed and captured by the rebels, the hero finds an opportunity to return the “feathers” of cowardice sent to him by his former comrades by freeing them.



Director: Basil Deardon, 1966

This Hollywood epic recounts the ill-fated struggle in 1885 of General Charles Gordon and his British-Egyptian regiment to hold the Sudanese city of Khartoum in the face of an attack by the forces of the Mahdi, a charismatic religious leader bent on the expulsion of the British. Gordon's Christian zeal and stubbornness meet their match against the messianic goal of the Mahdi to wage a holy war against the foreign infidels.



Director: Igor Auzins, 1982

This film is based on the 1909 memoir by pioneer woman Jeannie Gunn chronicling her years on a cattle station in the Australian outback and her struggle to raise a family in that harsh and unforgiving environment. An evocative recreation of an important period in Australian history and the tragic consequences of white immigration and settlement for the aboriginal people.

© Tango Entertainment


Director: David Drury, 1996

This lavish miniseries tells the story of Cecil Rhodes, the British entrepreneur and champion of empire who, in the late nineteenth century, became one of the wealthiest men in the world. The series chronicles Rhodes' arrival in South Africa as a teenager, his rise to power through the acquisition of a vast gold and diamond fortune, his colonial ambitions for the British Empire in Africa, and his influence in precipitating the Boer War.



Director: Bruce Beresford, 1980

The true story of three Australian army officers serving in the Bushveldt Carbiniers, a unit of the British forces fighting in the Boer War, who were court-martialed by the British South African High Command for alleged atrocities. To this day many Australians claim the men were scapegoats in an unpopular war. This courtroom drama reveals well the growing tensions between Britain and her imperial dominions. Based on the 1979 play by Australian Kenneth Ross.

© Fox Lorber


Director: J. Lee Thompson, 1959

This film takes place in 1905 in the Northwest mountain regions of India where a local Hindu raja allied to the British is battling rebel Muslim tribesmen. In order to get his son—the crown prince—and his governess to safety the raja entrusts them to the care of a British officer. The film is a typical Saturday morning cliffhanger, but the direction is quite good.

© RCI Home Video


Director: Satyajit Ray, 1984

In 1907, Nikhil—a wealthy yet enlightened and charitable Bengali landowner—encourages his wife Bimala to emerge from the traditional female seclusion of purdah and introduces her to his old friend Sandip, a radical leader in the Swadeshi movement. Bimala is deeply affected by Sandip's revolutionary fervor and experiences a profound political awakening that draws her out of her home and into the tumultuous world of Indian nationalism. Based on the 1916 novel by Rabindranath Tagore.

© Columbia/TriStar


Director: Shyam Benegal, 1996

The plot of this jointly produced Indian and South African film concentrates on Mohandas Gandhi's early years in South Africa, and the crucial events there that led to his later fame in India as "Mahatma". Close attention is given to the slow and complex development of Gandhi's political philosophy and his deep, but at times difficult, relationship with his wife Kasturbai. Based on the 1970 book The Apprenticeship of a Mahatma by Fatima Meer.

© Video Sound


Director: Ferdinand Fairfax, 1985

This miniseries recounts the tragic story of the Scott expedition's failed attempt in 1911 to be the first to reach the South Pole. Their arrival at the pole five weeks after Roald Amundsen's Norwegian team was demoralizing enough, but the return journey proved even worse. After his death, Capt. Robert Scott was lionized as an Edwardian hero but in recent years his leadership and personality have been questioned. This series, beautifully filmed in Greenland, offers a much less flattering portrayal of Scott than the glorified image in the 1948 film Scott of the Antarctic.

© Renegade Productions


Director: Roy Ward Baker, 1982

Elspeth and her unconventional parents decide to settle down in British East Africa and begin a coffee plantation. This is a time of discovery for Elspeth, as she encounters the incredible beauty and cruelty of nature, and new friendships with both Africans and British expatriates. Eventually, however, the excitement of her life is disrupted by the onset of the First World War and the changes it brings. Based on the 1959 memoir by Elspeth Huxley.

© HBO Films


Director: Charles Sturridge, 2002

This miniseries tells the story of Britain's great "Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition" of 1914 led by Sir Ernest Shackleton. The plot focuses primarily on Shackleton's epic struggle to lead his 28-man crew to safety after their expedition ship Endurance was crushed in pack ice. By the beginning of the twentieth century, polar exploration represented for Britain the last great frontier of imperial discovery. Filmed in Iceland and Greenland.

© A&E Home Entertainment


Director: Peter Weir, 1981

In 1915, Archy and Frank meet at a sprinting competition in Western Australia and decide to join the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (the "ANZACs"). A few months later they land at Gallipoli on the Turkish coast and participate in one of the most disastrous British campaigns of the First World War. This is one of the best film portrayals of the horrors of war and the waste of young lives. It also gives insight into a distinctly anti-British sense of Australian nationalism that arose after this war.

© Warner Home Video


Director: Sydney Pollack, 1985

The true story of Baroness Karen Blixen-Finecke, a Danish woman who relocated to the British East Africa Protectorate (Kenya) with her husband in 1914 to take charge of a large coffee plantation. Based on Blixen's 1937 autobiographical account written under the pen name "Isak Dineson." Out of Africa won seven Academy Awards in 1986, including Best Picture.

© Universal


Director: David Lean, 1962

This is a classic film about T.E. Lawrence, a young officer assigned to the British Foreign Office in Cairo during the First World War. Lawrence is given the task of riding into the Arabian Desert to unite the various Bedouin tribes against the Turkish forces (which are allied with Germany). The film is a highly romanticized portrayal of Lawrence's campaign and has been the subject of much controversy among historians and cultural critics. Based loosely on Lawrence's 1922 memoir Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

© Columbia/TriStar


Director: Neil Jordan, 1996

A biographical account of the IRA fighter and Irish statesman from the 1916 Easter Rising to his assassination in 1922. A vivid recreation of the Irish republican movement, the guerrilla campaign against British forces, and the Irish Civil War. The film is historically accurate, but the characterization of Collins, Harry Boland, and Eamon De Valera remains controversial.

© Warner Home Video


Directors: Sabine Krayenbühl and Zeva Oelbaum, 2016

The extraordinary story of Gertrude Bell, CBE (1868-1926), a British adventurer, archaeologist, Arabic linguist and diplomat who helped shape the modern Middle East, particularly Iraq, after the First World War. Bell was as influential as her colleague and friend, T.E. Lawrence, through remains less well known. This documentary, narrated by Tilda Swinton, chronicles Bell's journey into the uncharted Arabian desert and all-male halls of colonial power with never-before-seen archival footage of the region shot a century ago.

© Vitagraph Films


Director: Simon Wincer, 1987

Set in Palestine in 1917, this epic film tells the true story of how the 4th Australian Light Horse Brigade breached the Turkish defenses running from Gaza to Beersheba. The little-known “Battle of Beersheba” ended in one of the last successful cavalry charges in history and was a much-needed boost for British and imperial morale after the disastrous defeat at Gallipoli two years earlier. This lavish Australian film received little attention internationally but was extremely popular with home audiences.

© RKO Pictures


Director: Deborah Warner, 1999

Set in Co. Cork in 1920, this film revolves around the lives and romantic complications of an aristocratic Anglo-Irish family living on their estate in the midst of the Irish war for independence. A compelling look at the last days of the Protestant Ascendancy and of their own sense of Irishness being tested through the changing national climate of their country and an uncertain future. Based on the 1929 novel by Elizabeth Bowen.

© Lions Gate


Director: Jeremy Sims, 2010

The story of the 1st Australian Tunneling Company's effort to mine beneath a German bunker in the Ypres Salient at the start of the Battle of Messines in June 1917. Their extremely perilous mission was to detonate an enormous explosive charge to aid the advance of British troops. The screenplay is based on an account of the ordeal written by Capt. Oliver Woodward, the officer who led the mission.

© Paramount


Director: Ken Loach, 2006

In 1919, Irish volunteers wage a guerrilla campaign against the ruthless "Black and Tan" paramilitary squads arriving from Britain to block Ireland's bid for independence. Driven by a deep sense of duty and love of country, Damien abandons a promising career as a doctor and joins his brother, Teddy, in this dangerous and violent struggle. Their victory is followed in 1922 by the Irish Civil War that pits these same comrades against each other. The title comes from a famous Irish ballad. This film won the Palme d'Or at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival.

© Sixteen Films


Director: Jonathan Lewis, 1992

This TV movie, produced for RTÉ, focuses on the painstaking negotiations in late 1921 between the provisional government of the Irish Republic and representatives of the British Government under David Lloyd George. An intelligent and even-handed film about a controversial moment in Irish political history that ended the Anglo-Irish War but split the republican movement and led to the Irish Civil War.

© RTÉ Films


Director: David Lean, 1984

Tensions between Indians and the colonial British residents of the town of Chandrapore boil over when a visiting Englishwoman, Adela Quested, accuses a young Indian physician, Dr. Aziz, of rape during a tour of the local caverns. Based on E.M. Forster's 1924 novel, this film can be seen as a study of colonial relations, perceived differences between East and West, and the nature of memory and friendship.

© Columbia/TriStar


Director: Ken Annakin, 1967

Set in the 1920s, this film is based very loosely on the true exploits of the notorious Bhanta dacoit, Sultana, and the colonial police officer, Freddy Young, whose mission it was to capture him. Sultana (Yul Brynner) and Young (Trevor Howard) develop a strong respect for each other during their game of evasion and pursuit across the hills and plains of North India. However, the portrayal of Sultana as a nationalist rebel and Young as ambivalent toward British imperialism in India is historically inaccurate.

© Rank Organisation


Director: Bruce Beresford, 1991

Set in colonial Nigeria in 1923, this film tells the story of Harry Rudbeck, an ambitious magistrate who wants to build a road connecting his backwater post to the outside world. Struggling to find ways around colonial bureaucracy, he relies on his resourceful African clerk, Mr. Johnson. Yet Johnson is an oddity: an educated black man who does not really fit in with either his fellow Africans or the British. Based on the 1952 novel by Anglo-Irish writer Joyce Cary.

© United American Video


Zoltan Korda, 1938

Set in the Northwest Frontier, the plot revolves around an uprising against the British and their Indian allies. The film offers a gallery of imperial stereotypes: the gallant English officer and his devoted wife, the plucky Scottish drummer, the treacherous Indian rebel, and the obsequious loyal prince. Though popular with British audiences, The Drum caused protests in Madras and Bombay, where it was viewed—not unreasonably—as pro-British propaganda. Some filming was done in the princely state of Chitral, now the province of Khyber-Pakthunkhwa, Pakistan.

© United Artists


Tony Richardson, 1988

This television series depicts the remarkable life of Beryl Markham, a renowned aviatrix, author, and adventurer. Raised by her father in Kenya, young Beryl hunted with Masai tribesmen, bred racehorses, flew as a bush pilot, and repeatedly defied the constraining social and gender norms of the British colonial establishment. Based on Markham's 1942 memoir West with the Night.

© Starmaker Entertainment


Director: Rolf de Heer, 2002

In 1922 in the Australian Outback a colonial policeman and two deputies set out on horseback to track down and capture the aborigine accused of murdering a white woman. The posse relies upon the skills of an indigenous Australian tracker to help find the fugitive. The dynamic among the group offers a compelling view of racial attitudes among Australia's white population. The film is beautifully shot in the Arkaroola Sanctuary in South Australia's Flinders Ranges.

© Vertigo Productions


Director: Zoltan Korda, 1935

A British district officer in 1930s Nigeria governs his area strictly but justly and, with the aid of a loyal native chief, takes on local gunrunners and slavers. The chief was played by African-American actor and activist Paul Robeson who later became so disillusioned with the editing that he publically disowned the film and attempted, unsuccessfully, to buy back all the prints to prevent it from ever being shown. The film is based on the stories of Edgar Wallace.

© Criterion


Director: Santosh Sivan, 2007

Set in 1937 in the Malabar District of the Madras Presidency, this film focuses on an affair between an English spice plantation owner and his Indian housekeeper that ends tragically. The central character is T.K., a servant on the plantation, who discovers the affair and is torn by loyalty to his employer, village politics, and the rising tide of Indian nationalism in the waning years of the British Raj.

© Lions Gate


Director: Richard Attenborough, 1982

This epic film portrays the life of Mohandas K. Gandhi from his days as a young lawyer in South Africa to his death as the spiritual leader of the Indian nation shortly after independence. It also provides a vivid account of the Indian nationalist movement from its beginnings through the independence and partition of the Indian subcontinent. This critically-acclaimed film took decades to produce and won eight Academy Awards in 1983.

© Columbia/TriStar


Directors: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1947

This strange and haunting film focuses on a group of Anglican nuns who arrive in a remote location in the Himalayas to set up a school and clinic for the local residents. The fragmentation and collapse of their own community force them to abandon the mission. The film was released a few months before India’s independence and some critics speculate that the plot is an allegory about Britain’s retreat from India. Based on the 1939 novel by Margaret Rumer Godden.

© Criterion


Director: Caroline Link, 2001

In the late 1930s, a Jewish family, the Redlichs, reluctantly emigrate from Germany to British East Africa to manage a farm. At first, not all members of the family come to accept their new life in such an "uncivilized" society. However, with a return to Germany impossible given the persecution of Jews, the Redlichs must make the adjustment. They soon find themselves treated more humanely by Africans than they ever were in the supposedly civilized Europe from which they fled. Based on the 1995 autobiographical novel by Stefanie Zweig.

© Sony Pictures


Director: Raj Kumar Santoshi, 2002

This film portrays the controversial life and death of Bhagat Singh, the Punjabi revolutionary who took up arms against colonial rule in India. Condemned by the British as a terrorist and hailed by many Indians as a freedom fighter, Bhagat Singh was initially inspired by the Gandhian example of non-violent non-cooperation but later rejected it after growing frustrated at its apparent ineffectiveness.

© Tips Films Pvt. Ltd.


Director: Phillip Noyce, 2002

In 1905 the Australian government authorized the forcible removal of aboriginal children from their mothers' care and sent them hundreds of miles away to schools designed to stamp out their culture and train them for domestic service. This film tells the true story of three girls who in 1931 escaped and found their way home over a thousand miles of outback. These children were part of what have come to be known as the "stolen generations" and remains a dark chapter in Australian and imperial history.

© Miramax


Director: Michael Radford, 1988

Set in British East Africa (Kenya) during the 1940s, this film offers a fascinating study of the decadence and moral bankruptcy of life in "Happy Valley," a colonial enclave in the eastern highlands outside Nairobi. The plot revolves around a lovers' triangle that ends in murder, but it also highlights the arrogance, idleness, and debauchery of the colonial expatriates. Based on the 1987 novel by James Fox.

© Nelson Entertainment


Director: Steven Spielberg, 1987

Jamie Graham is an upper-class English schoolboy separated from his family after the Japanese Army invades the British sector of the international settlement in Shanghai in December 1941. Reduced to living on the street and fighting for food, he is eventually interned in a Japanese POW camp for British civilians. Amidst the sickness and food shortages in the camp, Jamie attempts to reconstruct his former life. Based on the 1984 autobiographical novel by J.G. Ballard.

© Warner Home Video


Director: Alister Grierson, 2006

In December 1941, Australia had already deployed most of its professional army, the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) to North Africa and Europe. When Singapore fell in 1942, the AIF lost another division. The only troops protecting Australia from a Japanese invasion were the untrained conscripts in New Guinea. These outnumbered men were rushed northward over the Owen Stanley Range—the infamous "Kokoda Track"—to fight the Japanese. This film tells the harrowing story of one patrol.

© Palace Films


Director: Brian Desmond Hurst, 1953

This film focuses on the heroic defense of Malta, the British Empire's vital fortress colony in the Mediterranean, during the Second World War. While the plot focuses on the exploits of a British reconnaissance pilot stationed on the island and his romance with a young Maltese woman, much attention is given to the courage of the Maltese people themselves in successfully withstanding one of the longest and most destructive bombardment campaigns of the war.



Director: David Lean, 1957

During the Second World War, British, Australian, Dutch and American POWs are given the task, by their Japanese captors, of building a railway bridge in the harsh Southeast Asian jungle. Led by Colonel Nicholson, a stereotypically reserved and stoical English officer, the prisoners score a moral victory over the Japanese by not only building the bridge, but running the whole show. Based on the 1952 novel by Pierre Boulle.

© Columbia/TriStar


Director: Shyam Benegal, 2005

This film focuses on the final years in the life of Subhas Chandra Bose, one of the most controversial figures in Indian nationalism. A rising star in the freedom movement, Bose fell out with Gandhi and was pushed to the margins of Congress politics. At the outbreak of war in 1939, he fled to Germany and later conspired with Japanese forces to lead an army of Indian soldiers against the British during the Burma campaign. Bose remains a hero to many Indians, especially in his native Bengal.

© Sahara Media


Director: Vincent Ward, 1992

This haunting film follows the life of Avik, an Inuit boy from Nunavut in the Canadian Arctic. The plot begins with Avik’s friendship in the 1930s with a British surveyor who brings him south to be treated for tuberculosis, to his first love with a Métis girl in Montréal, to his wartime service in the RCAF and his participation in the infamous firebombing of Dresden, to his return home and descent into alcoholism and depression.

© Polygram


Director: Jonathan Teplitzsky, 2013

The true story of Eric Lomax, a British soldier who becomes a POW of the Japanese after the fall of Singapore in February 1942. Forced to work building the infamous "death railway" in Southeast Asia, Lomax suffers gruesome torture at the hands of his Japanese captors. He survives the experience but is left deeply traumatized. Decades later he sets out to confront the man responsible for his ordeal. A moving film based on Lomax’s 1995 memoir.

© Lions Gate


Director: Christopher Morahan, 1984

This fourteen-part mini-series originally produced for Granada Television in Britain tells the story of a small group of Britons and Indians from the middle of the Second World War to the independence of India and Pakistan in 1947. The historical authenticity of the plot and complex characters provide an excellent glimpse into the psyche of the British in India during the final days of the "Raj." Based on Paul Scott's Raj Quartet novels published between 1965 and 1975.

© A&E Home Entertainment


Director: Tom Clegg, 1986

This TV mini-series traces the events and experiences of the last viceroy of India, Lord Louis Mountbatten, and his wife Lady Edwina. In early 1947, Mountbatten arrived in India to oversee the transfer of power to independent India and Pakistan. The film captures well the challenges, dilemmas, and tragedies involved in the British withdrawal and the partition of the Indian subcontinent.

© Bonneville Video


Director: Deepa Mehta, 1998

The movie opens in the city of Lahore in Punjab in 1947 before India and Pakistan became independent. Lahore is a cosmopolitan city, depicted by a group of working class friends from different religions. The rest of the movie chronicles the fate of this group and the maddening religious conflict that sweeps across Punjab as the partition of the two countries is decided and Lahore is given to Pakistan. Based on the 1988 semi-autobiographical novel The Ice Candy Man by Bapsi Sidhwa.

© New Yorker Films


Director: Pamela Rooks, 1998

Tensions run high in a Punjab village in the run-up to partition between independent India and Pakistan. Sikhs living in this border town have heard rumors of Muslims assaulting, killing, and raping other Sikhs and Hindus—many of whom are their friends and relatives. Enraged at the breakdown of civil order and eager for revenge, they plan their own attack upon a crowded train full of Muslims headed to Pakistan. Based on the 1956 novel by Khushwant Singh.

© Video Sound


Director: Chandra Prakash Dwivedi, 2003

Lajjo is a recently married Hindu woman abducted by Muslims during the chaos of partition and taken to Pakistan. There she is forced to become the second wife of an abusive and controlling alcoholic. Her determined sister-in-law, Puro, sets out to search for her, encouraged by her brother, but cautioned by her parents who would prefer not to lose another child. A compelling story that deals with abduction, a widespread and largely overlooked aspect of partition violence.

© Lucky Star Entertainment


Director: George Cukor, 1956

In the summer of 1947 the British are on the verge of finally leaving India. Among the few sorry to see them leave are the Anglo-Indians—half British and half Indian. They are going to miss the patronage of their white cousins, the job reservations, and the important status and positions they currently hold. This film revolves around Victoria, an Anglo-Indian woman and her relationships with British, Indian, and Anglo-Indian men. Based on the 1954 novel by John Masters.



Director: Jamil Dehlavi, 1998

Muhammad Ali Jinnah being judged in the afterlife is the premise of this controversial film about the founder of Pakistan. The story traces Jinnah's political development from champion of Hindu-Muslim unity to his demand for a separate Muslim state. The film was meant to revise the largely unflattering portrayal of Jinnah presented in earlier films such as Sir David Attenborough's Gandhi. Yet the casting of an Englishman (veteran English actor Sir Christopher Lee) in the title role was criticized by many Pakistanis.

© Dehlavi Films


Director: Otto Preminger, 1960

This Hollywood epic portrays the last days of the British mandate of Palestine and the birth of the state of Israel. The plot revolves around a group of Jewish war survivors whose refugee ship, Exodus, is diverted from Cyprus to Haifa. There they join a kibbutz and must reconcile themselves to their Arab neighbors as well as the more militant Jewish fighters. Meanwhile British authorities struggle to keep order and prepare to partition the country and withdraw. Based on the bestselling 1958 novel by Leon Uris.



Director: Elie Chouraqui, 2006

This film revolves around the friendship between two men, an Arab and a Jew, during the final days of Britain's Palestine mandate and leading up to the birth of the state of Israel. As British authorities in the mandate lose the will to stay and keep order Jews and Arabs fight for control of the holy city and to determine the fate of the region. Based on the bestselling 1972 book by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre.

© Les Films de l'Instant


Director: Amma Asante, 2016

In 1947, Seretse Khama, a law student in London and the crown prince of the Protectorate of Bechuanaland (present-day Botswana), meets and marries Ruth Williams, an English clerk. The marriage offends racial sensibilities in both families and threatens Khama's claim to the throne. The couple face enormous stress on their relationship and family life as they maneuver diplomatically with British colonial officials eager to placate the racism of neighboring South Africa while maintaining control over Bechuanaland's vast mineral resources.

© Pathé


Director: John Alexander, 2009

Born into a broken home and an impoverished life in colonial Jamaica, Hortense longs for a fulfilling life in England. During World War II the opportunity arises and a newly-married Hortense and her husband are soon on their way to the promised land of postwar Britain. The immigrant couple's dreams are soon tested by the harsh realities of racism and poverty in the heart of a declining empire. Based on the 2004 novel by Andrea Levy.

© Ruby Television for BBC


Director: Silvio Narizzano, 1979

Based on Paul Scott's Booker Prize-winning novel from 1977, this film tells the story of retired colonel Tusker Smalley and his wife Lucy who made the decision to "stay on" in India after the British withdrew in 1947 and as most of their friends returned home. Now retired, Tusker and Lucy are the only remaining British residents in a once-busy hill station. Problems arise when the Indian owner of their bungalow plans to change the one corner of India in which they hoped to preserve their Anglo-Indian life.

© HBO Films


Directors: Ismail Merchant and Madhur Jaffrey, 1999

In 1954, seven years after India has gained independence from Britain, many Indians still feel like second-class citizens in their own country, as the nation's sovereignty has not immediately erased the perception that the British are superior to Indians. An example is Cotton Mary, an Anglo-Indian nurse in the employment of the wife of a BBC correspondent. Mary claims she is the daughter of a British army officer (although she has no firm evidence) and views herself as more British than Indian.

© Universal


Directors: Harry Bradbeer, Coky Giedroyc, Jamie Payne, 2011

This British television series offers a behind-the-scenes drama about a TV news and current affairs program launched by the BBC in 1956 shortly before the Suez crisis. The series has received mixed reviews, but most critics have been impressed by the attention to historical detail. An evocative recreation of the reaction of metropolitan Britain to the Suez crisis, an event that acelerated the process of decolonization as Britain retreated from its empire.

© BBC Films


Director: Harry Hook, 1988

Mwangi is a Kikuyu boy whose preacher father is murdered by Mau Mau revolutionaries in 1950. Soon afterward he goes to work as a house servant for a colonial police officer, his wife, and young son. When the revolutionaries kidnap Mwangi and make him swear allegiance to their cause, a potentially explosive situation arises. A gripping story about one of the bloodiest episodes in the history of British decolonization and the birth of modern Kenya.

© Warner Home Video


Director: Richard Quine, 1960

An American architect arrives in Hong Kong and soon falls in love with a charming and seductive Wan Chai bargirl. The story is little more than a clichéd and idealized romance but the on-location filming and generous attention given to the setting provide a vivid glimpse into late 1950s Hong Kong, an important economic hub and cultural crossroads in Britain’s declining empire. Based on the 1957 novel by Richard Mason.

© Paramount


Director: Richard Brooks, 1957

Peter, a Kenya settler boy, and Kimani, a Kikuyu, are childhood friends. After his father is jailed for following tribal customs, Kimani joins the Mau Mau rebellion. Kimani believes in the cause, but does not agree with the indiscriminate killing of women, children, and those who will not join or support the rebels. Peter, even after the deaths of his little sister and brother by the Mau Mau, still believes that there is a chance for peaceful co-existence. Based on the 1955 novel by Robert C. Ruark.



Director: John Guillermin, 1964

Regimental Sergeant-Major Lauderdale is an old-school martinet assigned with other British NCOs and officers to a remote African outpost to train soldiers of a newly independent former colony (a thinly veiled Kenya). When a populist uprising overthrows the government, soldiers loyal to the new regime take over the barracks prompting a tense standoff with Lauderdale and his men. Released in 1964, at the height of decolonization, this film is a useful artifact of British feelings about the end of their empire.

© Twentieth Century Fox


Director: Richard E. Grant, 2005

Richard E. Grant's semi-autobiographical tale of his childhood in Swaziland in the 1960s during the last days of the British Empire in Africa. Grant relates the story of Ralph Compton, a twelve-year-old English boy whose parents' traumatic separation and family's disintegration reflect the end of British rule in the colony and the uncertain future for colonial expatriates after independence.

© Scion Films


Director: Kevin Macdonald, 2006

Nine years after Uganda gained its independence from Britain in 1962, a former private in the King's African Rifles named Idi Amin seized power. This film is a fictionalized version of the reign of Amin as seen through the eyes of Nicholas Garrigan, a young Scottish doctor who quite accidentally becomes the dictator's personal physician. A chilling portrait of Amin's erratic and murderous regime as well as the trauma of postcolonial Africa in the wake of British rule. Based on the 1998 novel by Giles Foden.

© Fox Searchlight


Director: James Ivory, 1982

Anne, an Englishwoman, is investigating the life of her great-aunt Olivia whose destiny had always been shrouded with scandal. The search leads back to the early 1920s, when Olivia, recently married, came to live with her civil servant husband in an Indian princely state. Slowly, Anne discovers, upon getting pregnant by an Indian local in the early '80s, that she and Olivia have more than a little in common. Based on the 1975 novel by Ruth Prawar Jhabvala.

© Home Vision Entertainment


Director: Stuart Urban, 1992

This film portrays the days and hours before and during Argentina's 1982 invasion of the Falkland Islands, a British dependency in the South Atlantic. As Argentine forces land on the eastern island and make their way towards the town of Stanley, a detachment of Royal Marines prepares to defend the governor, his family, and their fellow islanders from the invaders. Based on actual accounts (though with some inaccuracies) the film aired on British TV during the tenth anniversary of the Falklands War.

© BFS Entertainment


Director: Tristán Bauer, 2005

This Argentine film tells the story of the Falklands War through a series of flashbacks among veterans living with the scars of their country's "unwinnable" war. The plot takes the men back to their foxholes on the windswept and desolate Malvinas (Falklands) during the harrowing battles they fought with British forces sent to retake the islands. Victory in the Falklands revived Britain's pride in its former empire and was in some sense a redemption from the humiliation of the Suez crisis of 1956.

© Canal + España


Director: Wayne Wang, 1997

This film is set in Hong Kong during its final days as a British colony before the transfer of power in 1997. The story revolves around the ambiguous and troubled relationship between a British journalist and a young Chinese woman, but in many ways it reflects the long-term relationship between the colonial British and the Chinese residents of Hong Kong.

© Vidmark/Trimark

Created by campion@lclark.edu | Updated February 2018