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Summertime Viewing: 5 Great Historical Dramas

Authored By: 
Ian Rusten, History Teacher

Summer, with its long, hot, unstructured days full of internships or jobs, trips to the museum, swimming, hikes, bike rides, books, television and films is right around the corner. What a great opportunity to watch some movies that capture key moments in American History! The following list highlights some of my favorite historical films that provide great insight into historical figures and present some inspiring life lessons.

1.     John Adams (2008 HBO miniseries): John Adams, on the surface is about the life of the second president of the United States, but through the prism of John Adam’s presidency, we are able to see the changes that took place during the nation’s infancy. Adams was a person willing to take an unpopular stance (as a young lawyer he defended the British soldiers after the Boston Massacre) and to fight for what he believed in. His policies and decisions set the foundation for the future of our nation.

2.     Lincoln: This 2012 Steven Spielberg film covers President Abraham Lincoln’s attempts to get the 13th Amendment passed by the House of Representatives in the year prior to his death. The movie highlights something that is frequently omitted from history classroom discussions—the behind-the-scenes politics, compromises and discussions that take place, often out of the public eye, in order to pass important legislation.

3.     Inherit the Wind: This 1960 Stanley Kramer film, based on a play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee, takes place in Tennessee in 1925. It is a fictionalized account of the Scopes “monkey” trial that centered on the teaching of evolution in schools. The film came out right after the McCarthy era and presents a powerful defense of intellectual freedom and the importance of allowing unpopular ideas to be freely expressed.

4.     Thirteen Days: This film (2000) depicts the tension and behind-the-scenes discussions that occurred during the 13 days of the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962), at the height of the Cold War, when the world came perilously close to nuclear Armageddon. The intense and contentious conversations that took place in the White House during this period highlight the difficult decision that President Kennedy faced—resort to violence and a possible nuclear war with the Soviet Union or attempt to resolve the conflict without violence.

5.     All the President’s Men: This 1976 drama based on the book by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward depicts the exhaustive investigation by the two Washington Post reporters into the Watergate burglary and the subsequent cover up by the Nixon administration that led to his downfall and ultimate resignation.