Every so often, there appears on the horizon a figure of such revolutionary mindset that the world is never quite the same after their arrival. Those who challenge the status quo and embody the change they want to see in the world. As we say farewell to one such individual, Nelson Mandela, we take a look at cinema that has depicted the struggles of others who believe in making things better.
The interesting thing John (the editor) noted when we were putting this feature together, however, is that there are precious few biopics about some really important issues and individuals in history. Biopics about inspirational Native Americans and Suffragettes for instance are few and far between. However, here are the ten we’ve selected for you to delve into.
Amazing Grace The campaign against the slave trade that defined a large part of the British Empire, led by the very inspirational William Wilberforce, is a slice of history that you should definitely acquaint yourself with. Starring Ioan Gruffudd, the well-received biopic has been hailed as quintessential viewing about one of the most important struggles in British history.
Gandhi Even children who’ve yet to make history more than an acquaintance are able to recognise Mahatma Gandhi. One of the most famous political figures in human history, he is portrayed here by Sir Ben Kingsley and went on to win eight Academy Awards. A solid way to educate yourself on the life and political activism of the man India calls “father”.
Che Seen on at least one t-shirt in many of the tourist shops I’ve ever gone anywhere near in London, Che Guevara has one of the most famous faces in history, and yet few could tell you what he actually did. Luckily, there’s an epic two-parter directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring Benecio Del Toro for you to sink your brain into. Then you can happily catch out people who own that t-shirt (like me, as a young 'un).
Milk To be elected to public office as a gay man in the late Seventies is an incredible achievement. Harvey Milk was the individual in question, and Sean Penn’s portrayal of him in Milk is highly praised. The tale of Milk’s career is a powerful one, and without spoiling any of it (despite the fact it actually happened), it’s one I’d recommend looking into for a better insight int the challenges of being a gay politician in a time far less safe for LGBT public figures than today.
Invictus Of course, it seems inevitable that we come to a film that focuses on Mandela himself. Invictus is of course a go-to example, as Morgan Freeman steps up to portray Mandela during the 1995 Rugby World Cup, when the South African Springboks team, previously seen to represent white supremacy in a post-Apartheid nation, begin to warm the hearts of the public with their determination to reunite the two sides of the country through sporting victory. Are you watching it yet? Go and watch it. I’ll wait – I can even check times for The Long Walk to Freedom for you in the meantime, because I’m that nice.
Danton Now you’re done watching Invictus, let’s talk Danton. Georges Danton was one of the leaders of the French Revolution, and was such a powerful public speaker that at his own tribunal, those running the show were fearful his charisma would actually overpower the minds of the assembled masses. A formidable figure, portrayed here by Gérard Depardieu, the film covers his life from the midpoint of the Reign of Terror up until his untimely death. Stern stuff
Walesa: Man Of Hope The best leaders are usually the ones who have no actual desire to lead. Lech Wałęsa, an electrician working in Poland, soon finds himself in such a position after discovering that he has a talent for motivating the working population of Poland to push back against Communism, which soon spreads across Eastern Europe. Robert Więckiewicz takes the title role, here, and it’s interesting to see just how high Wałęsa ends up rising.
No Taking a slight detour into more office-based political drama, No is a film about advertising, but it’s a far cry from Mad Men. The title of the film refers to the name of the campaign designed to get Chilean general Augusto Pinochet out of office before he spends another eight years in power. Starring Gael García Bernal as René Saavedra, the ad creator approached to work on the campaign, this is a story that’ll appeal to those who want to see what role advertising can play in a political revolution.
Comrades Comrades excites me because it’s a film about a really important part of the lives of many people – trade unions. Organisations designed to protect workers from unfair conditions, and back in the nineteenth century, suggesting something like this meant you got arrested and deported to Australia. A sound tale of a group of labourers who stood up for something better and the 800,000 signatures requesting their release speaks volumes. A worthy watch, and if you fancy something similar, Made in Dagenham’s tale of the campaign against sexual discrimination that led to the passing of the Equal Pay act of 1970 is a smart choice.
Viva Zapata! This final flick is a fictionalised take on Emiliano Zapata, the Mexican Revolutionary who rebelled against the corrupt President Porfirio Díaz when his complaints about injustices were ignored. Zapata is still revered by Mexico even today, and is a symbol of the classic freedom fighter struggling against a corrupt regime. The film doesn’t mess around, either, with Marlon Brando in the title role, directed by the legendary Elia Karzan, of A Streetcar Named Desire and East of Eden fame.