Films of the French Revolution

By Lisa Marie Griffith

I am about to begin writing some new lecture courses for next year including one that I am particularly looking forward to within my own period of interest, the eighteen century, and on revolutions in the transatlantic world. After my first year teaching I am still amazed at the response of students to films, documentaries and video footage which cover a topic or event on the course. With that in mind I am looking for a good concise and reasonably accurate film that covers some part of the French Revolution. I came across this Wikipedia entry that lists 28 films to do with the French Revolution (click here). I do not, however, have time to go through all 28 so I was hoping for some assistance. Could anyone suggest some good films or at least knock out the bad ones for me?

Just in case you’re curious the above image is by the English caricaturist George Cruickshank, its called ‘The Radical’s Arms’ and dates to 1819.

5 Responses to “Films of the French Revolution”

  1. Frank Says:

    Hi Lisa,

    The following articles may be of use to you:

    Using Film to Teach the History of the French Revolution

    Newman, E. L.


    1996, VOL 23, pages 148-151

    The French Revolution on Film: American and French Perspectives

    C Harison

    The History Teacher

    2005, VOL 38, ISSUE 3, pages 299-324

    I haven’t read Newman’s article but Harison’s is quite interesting. On the literary front, Hilary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety, which I read several years ago, would make an excellent film.

  2. Ultán Says:

    Hi Lisa,

    I haven’t seen that many of those films, but I can thoroughly recommend La Marseillaise (although the fact it’s in black and white with subtitles might put some students off). It’s a brilliant exposition of the pro-revolutionary view as it stood at the time of the Popular Front in France. I especially liked the fact it has two versions of Ca Ira. One where it’s the aristocrats who will be strung up, and in the other, the democrats.

    We were shown Danton when studying the Revolution at University. Not a film I liked that much myself, but a lot of people like it. Everyone hates Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette.

    This might be a bit off-centre for what you’re looking for, but the BBC did a documentary on the Terror a few years ago (Terror! Robespierre and the French Revolution). It had recreations based on the minutes of the Committee of Public Safety, as well as talking heads. The pro-Robespierre position was a bit light I thought, with only Zizek really representing it. They should have gotten an historian from France sympathetic to him if they couldn’t find a British one. Having Hilary Mantel on saying that Saint Just was a very naughty boy who needed a smack on his wrist and to be told to be quiet (or words to that effect) didn’t endear her to me too much. The recreations though were quite good I thought. The history channel also did a special on the Revolution or the Terror a few years ago. I think you can get them online.

    Good luck with the course.

  3. puesoccurrences Says:

    Frank and Ultan- many thanks for all of those suggestions.

    Ultan- La Marseillaise sounds wonderful. I have been meaning to join Laser dvd in Dublin for an incredibly long time but this has prompted me to do so! I will let you know how I get on with it.

    Frank- I read and thoroughly enjoyed a place of Greater Safety. I have passed my copy on to a few people too. As Mantell’s first novel it is very impressive (I have heard there is going to be a sequel to Wolf Hall). I would argue for it to be made into a tv series so that they don’t miss a lot of the detail of the book.


  4. Patrick Maume Says:

    I was in the BFI Shop on the southbank in London last week and they are selling DVDs of DW Griffith’s silent film set in the French Revolution, ORPHANS OF THE STORM. Unfortunately they are Region 1 (US) DVDs but if your institution has multi-region players it might be worth ordering one to see what it is like- the film was immensely popular in its day

  5. puesoccurrences Says:

    Patrick- I will keep an ear to the ground for anyone who might in that area and who can check for me…
    Ultan- I haven’t been able to track down La Marseillaise but I have wacthed Danton and enjoyed it. I think it will nicely compliment the course.

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