From the classic The Private Life of Henry VIII to more recent landmarks such as Elizabeth, the historical feature film has been a major genre of British national cinema. Historical films have won both popular and critical success and have scored at the box office over many decades. Films such as Henry V, Scott of the Antarctic, Zulu and Chariots of Fire represent some of the greatest achievements of British cinema, acclaimed for bringing inspiring stories of Britain's past to life. At the same time they have provoked controversy for taking liberties with the past, with the desire to provide narrative drama and epic spectacle taking precedence over strict adherence to historical accuracy. In this ground-breaking new study of the genre, James Chapman explores the ways in which the historical film has functioned as a vehicle for the representation of British national identity. Through a series of case studies, Chapman examines the production and reception histories of the key films, looking closely at the way they have tackled themes including class, gender, ethnicity, imperialism and militarism. The historical film, argues Chapman, acts as a vehicle for exploring changes in British society, mediating the past in response to the ideological and cultural circumstances of the present. Past and Present will be essential reading for students and teachers in film studies and history alike, and for all those interested in the social significance and cultural value of British cinema.
Past and Present
National Identity and the British Historical Film