It’s that time of year again where across the country students are sticking their heads in their books. Supposedly.
In between all the brain bashing you might want to relax with a film, so here’s a handy list of the ones to watch that might help with getting that all important information lodged in your head.

If you’re doing History AS and looking at 20th century America like I did last year there are plenty of films to help you out. Last year’s 12 Years a Slave will show you what black people were facing in the deep south in the 19th century, whilst Denzel Washington’s turn as Malcolm X will help you to understand the man that inspired a generation. Forrest Gump will give you an overview of all the most important historical events of 20th century America through the eyes of cinema’s most loved runner. The musical Hair from 1979 will get you in the hippy mood. There are plenty of Vietnam films, also handy when it comes to A2 Cold War history, in particular those of Oliver Stone – I’d recommend Platoon with Charlie Sheen and Willem Defoe.

For more specific events you need to make sure you see All The President’s Men, the William Goldman penned film with Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford, which documents closely the discovery of the Watergate break in.  Milk is a beautiful and informative look at the changes in gay rights, whilst Saturday Night Fever , the film that launched both the career of John Travolta and disco, will give you a glimpse of the pop culture that exploded into America in the 1970’s.

If you’re doing public health reform as the other half of your course, make sure you see (or read) some Dickens adaptations, such as David Lean’s 1946 version of Oliver Twist, to give you a feel for the poverty ever present in Victorian London.

If you’re doing History A2 and looking at the Cold War then you need to make sure you see Thirteen Days, the film all about what happened during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. For something light to give you the feel for international relations and nuclear war, see Best Picture winner Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. For an overarching Cold War feel, 2012’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy starring Gary Oldman will get you feeling suspicious of everyone. There are hundreds of films about 20th Century history, so if you have any more suggestions then let me know!

English Literature

It’s always handy to catch the film adaptation of any books you’re studying in English, and if it’s successful enough for you to be studying, chances are a film adaptation is out there somewhere. It will also allow you to see a director’s interpretation of the themes you will be looking at.

For AS I studied The Importance of Being Earnest, adapted into a 2002 film with Colin Firth and Reese Witherspoon, The Merchant of Venice, the film version of which has a very good Al Pacino as Shylock, The Road, whose film version starred Viggo Mortensen, and The Kite Runner, which became a very successful film in 2007.

For A2, the two books I personally chose to write about for my coursework were discovered because I watched their film counterparts, (The Hours and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) which goes to show just how intrinsically linked literature and the world of film is.

If you’re doing Doctor Faustus for A2, you might want to seek out the Globe’s film of their version with Arthur Darvill, which is handy in understanding how the balance between the comic and dark in the play should be staged. If, like me, you’re doing Wuthering Heights as well, my advice is to stay away from the highly edited and confused 2011 version and suggest you might want to go with either the Laurence Olivier fronted version from 1939 or the Tom Hardy one from 2009.


Seeing a play performed in film will never match what live theatre can bring to a piece but it’s worth seeing how different directors interpret what you’re studying.

If you’re studying The Shadow of a Gunman, like I did at AS last year, there’s a TV film adaptation which has the feel of a filmed play, starring Kenneth Branagh, and which you can find on Youtube.

Obviously these are only the subjects I’ve been doing so if you have any other suggestions of films that have helped you or subjects you want film suggestions for then let me know!


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