Top Five Movies about the Civil War

Cold Mountain Civil War Movie
This is exactly no one’s idea of fun. But the Civil War made for some great films.

What makes a great American Civil War movie? The battles, the politics, the inhumanity of slavery, brother against brother, the great generals of both sides, the personal sides of war, families being torn apart, or all of the above?

The movies I’ve listed contain all or most of the issues listed above, and are in no particular order. Enjoy, for an excellent Civil War oriented binge watch (or re-watch) over your favorite American holidays.

Cold Mountain: (2003)
IMDb score: 7.2
Winner of 1 Oscar. Another 19 wins & 101 nominations
Starring: Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Renee Zellweger, and Natalie Portman.

Cold Mountain contains no extended battle scenes, but relies heavily on emotions and personal conflict.

Lincoln: (2012)
IMDb score: 7.4
Winner of two Oscars. Another 108 wins & 245 nominations.
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, James Spader, and Tommy Lee Jones.

Lincoln leans heavily on the politics of the war, especially in the decision to emancipate the slaves. Here’s our review of this A+ film.

Gettysburg: (1993)
IMDb score: 7.7
Jeff Daniels was nominated for Best Supporting Actor by the Chicago Film Critics Association Awards.

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times said of Gettysburg“This is a film that Civil War buffs will find indispensable, even if others might find it interminable.” I’ve seen the movie several times, and have personally walked the battlefields of Gettysburg, from Little Round Top to Pickett’s Charge. So I can enthusiastically recommend Gettysburgnot only for it’s historical accuracy but for also bringing the soldiers from both sides to life in a spectacular way.

Glory: (1989)
IMDb score: 7.9
Winner of three Oscars, Glory was Densel Washington’s first Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. Also, Glory received 14 other wins & another 18 nominations.

This was the first major motion picture to tell the story of black U.S. soldiers fighting for their freedom from slavery during the Civil War. Everything about this movie was done on a grand scale, including hiring Shelby Foote as a technical adviser.

Foote later became well known for his contributions to Ken Burns’ The Civil War, a nine episode documentary in 1990, which I highly, highly recommend.

 

The Conspirator: (2010)
IMDb score: 6.9
Directed by Robert Redford

The Conspirator is the story of Mary Surratt, the only female conspirator charged in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and the first woman to be executed by the U.S. Federal Government. This alone is enough to make the list, but also for the uniqueness of the crime. Great movie.

Movie Review – Lincoln – An A+ Presidential Biography

Movie Review – They Shall Not Grow Old

Movie Review – A Private War

 

 

 

How to Binge Watch Downton Abbey Before The Movie

Downtown abbey estate
A complete melodrama buffet, plus tea.

I’m doing a 6-season rewatch of UK period drama Downtown Abbey — and Mary Mother of God — I’ve forgotten how melodramatic this show was. There are entire storylines I fast-forward past as I trudge along. (I refuse to pay any more attention the overwrought Anna/Mr. Bates storyline than I absolutely have to.)

All The Downton You Can Eat

What’s nice is you can stream all the episodes free online if you have Amazon Prime. It’s up on PBS.com too, or you can pay for viewing it on several subscription platforms. Very convenient: if you start soon you can binge the 52 episodes of Downton Abbey before the official movie/revival lands in theaters this September.

Note: it’s not called Down”town” Abbey — you must mind your Ps and Qs while watching this upstairs/downstairs show about Lord Grantham, his (entirely female) family, and the scheming servants who run the great estate. Granted, not all of them are scheming, but those are the fun ones to watch. The nicer maids and footmen fade into the ornate backgrounds, as a good servant must. 😉

downton abbey lord grantham and family
Voyeuristic, neurotic fussiness in grand surroundings.

What’s Worth Watching, What to Ignore

Actually, I enjoy the genteel honor esteemed butler Mr. Carson and Head of Household Mrs. Hughes wield — with some insightful, laser-like observations over their younger, fractious downstairs staff. These wiser, older holdovers from a simpler era, who love being “in the service”, are the best part of the show. As are the intrigues of the deliciously barbed tongue of the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith), on whose bad side you do NOT want to get.

Scratch that. You don’t want to get into it with squabbling sisters Mary and Edith either. [Cat fighting screeches ensue.]

In spite of a tremendous amount of paternalist and condescending Nobless Obligue on the part of the gentry, you kind of fall into the rhythm of the lives and loves (and sometimes deaths) happening under the roof of the grand abbey. Whether you are Team Upstairs or Team Downstairs, binging Downton Abbey is like eating bon bons. You know it’s not nutritious, but you can’t stop.

servants of Downton abbey
Team Downstairs

You learn to ignore the character cliches in this show too, or you’ll never make it through. At least everything else associated with the Julian Fellowes opus is top shelf: settings, costuming, music, props, and film style. Weighty events like the sinking of the Titanic, World War 1 , and the Spanish Flu Epidemic are as present and real to these characters as 911 was in America. Will the women get the vote? When will inheritance laws change?

We know how things turned out, but the fun is in being there, watching these people live through such tumultuous times. Even the small touches, like Butler Carson learning to use the brand new telephone, is delightful.

The Importance of Titles in Downton Abbey

You also learn a few things about servants. Did you know the Butler is so far above every other employee in “service” that they all must stand at attention when he walks into the servants’ mess? He’s as far above them as the Lord of the Estate is above him.

It looks like this: Butler > Head of Household > Underbutler > Lord’s Valet > the Ladies’ Maids > First Footman > Second Footman > Housemaids > Skullery Maids. The Cook and Assistant Cook have their own category, as does the Chauffeur and the children’s Nanny. We don’t meet the Grooms or the “Hall Boys” (I think that’s what they’re called).

Honestly, this is all fascinating and hard to figure out. Also, some get called by their first names, some by their surnames, and it’s a badge of rank to get a last name designation.

Don’t ask me why any of this makes sense. There’s a whole weedy garden’s worth of laws for referring to the upstairs Lords and Ladies as well, depending on who you are in relationship to them. Apparently it’s a grievous offense to get it wrong. Thank goodness we have Butler Carson to let everyone know what’s appropriate.

lady mary and lady edith in downton abbey
Team Upstairs

Here’s the trailer to the upcoming Downton Abbey movie (Which looks like it slips right in where things left off)

A surprising amount of original characters are back in the sidesaddle again. And yes: from the looks of the trailer there’s a smack down between UMBRIDGE VS MCGONAGALL. (Be still my geeky harry Potter-loving heart!)

Movie Review – Mary Queen of Scots

Quiz – Queen Elizabeth l and Mary Queen of Scots

5 Differences between the Old and New Mary Poppins

 

 

A Real History – Mary Queen of Scots vs Queen Elizabeth I Timeline (And it’s NOT like we saw in the movies)

historical painting of the real mary queen of scots
Off with her head! (Ouch; too soon?)

Okay, let’s address the elephant in the room: did Queen Elizabeth and Mary Queen of Scots ever meet face to face?

No. No, they didn’t!

And whose fault was that? The blame falls squarely on the shoulders of Elizabeth. Take a look at the following timeline, and maybe you’ll see what I saw: Mary had a charmed childhood. Elizabeth was for the most part treated like ‘the redheaded stepchild’.  So who do  you think grew up with a chip on her shoulder?

Let’s take a stroll through history.


The Queens’ Timelines, a comparison:

1533: Princess Elizabeth is born to Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.

1536: Anne Boleyn, the mother of Elizabeth, is executed for treason.

1537: Elizabeth’s half brother, Prince Edward, is born.

1542: Elizabeth’s stepmother, Catherine Howard, is beheaded for treason.

1542: Mary Queen of Scots is born; her father dies six days later,making her Queen of Scots.

1543: Mary is crowned Queen of Scots at 9 months old.

1547: Henry VIII dies and the prince becomes King Edward VI.

1548: Mary of Scots sets sails for France and arrives six days later.

1553: King Edward VI dies, and Elizabeth’s half sister, Mary becomes Queen.

1554: Queen Mary Tudor I has Elizabeth thrown into The Tower of London for three months on charges of treason.

1555: Elizabeth is freed from The Tower of London.

1558: Queen Mary I dies, and the Princess Elizabeth becomes Queen Elizabeth I.

1558: The Dauphin, Francis, and Mary Queen of Scots, are married in Notre Dame Cathedral.

1559: The coronation of Queen Elizabeth I.

1559: King Henri II of France dies; Francis and Mary become King and Queen of France.

1560: Mary of Guise, the mother of Mary Queen of Scots, dies.

1560: King Francis II, husband of Mary Queen of Scots, dies from an ear infection, and Mary loses the French crown she had only worn for less than two years.

1561: Mary Queen of Scots arrives back in Scotland.

1562: Mary tours her native Scotland, beginning at Linlithgow Palace, the place of her birth and ending in Edinburgh.

1562: Elizabeth is seriously ill with Small Pox.

1565: Mary Queen of Scots marries her cousin, Lord Henry Darnley.

1566: David Rizzio is murdered in front of the heavily pregnant Queen
Mary.

1566: Mary gives birth to the future King of Scotland and England.

1567: Mary Queen of Scots is force to abdicate the Scottish Throne in favor of her son, the future James VI of Scotland.

1568: Mary Queen of Scots is imprisoned in England after fleeing Scotland.

1570: Queen Elizabeth is excommunicated from the Catholic Church.

1571: The Ridolfi Plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth, and replace her with the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots is discovered. As a result, Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, is executed.

1580: Pope Gregory XIII states if anyone decided to assassinate Queen Elizabeth, he would assure them they did not commit a sin.

1586:The Babington Plot, a plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth and put Mary Queen of Scots on the Throne of England, is discovered. This led to the execution of the Scottish Queen.

1587:Mary Queen of Scots is executed for treason, by order of her cousin and fellow monarch, Queen Elizabeth I.

1603: Queen Elizabeth dies and King James VI of Scotland becomes James I, King of England.

1612:James I of England/James VI of Scotland, son of Mary Queen of Scots, has her body removed from Peterborough Cathedral to Westminster Abbey, to lie in the Henry VII Chapel at the opposite end of Queen Elizabeth I of England.


What can we take away from the above timeline of both queens?

Here are my thoughts on the subject: We can see Mary had a glorious upbringing in the glittering world of the French Court, while Elizabeth was used as a pawn in establishing the line of succession.

First, she was a princess; then she was a bastard. Next, she had the unenviable role as ‘the second’, much like today’s ‘middle child’ who gets all the hand-me-downs. Then, she was tossed into The Tower of London by her half-sister, Queen Mary I, and if the queen had it her way, Elizabeth would have found herself headless on Tower Hill (keeping company with her long-since-dead mother, Anne Boleyn). With all this in mind, is it any wonder Elizabeth would grow up suspicious of just about everyone?

The fact that Mary Queen of Scots married three times, and Elizabeth never married, I think, speaks volumes.

Through knowing her mother was executed by her father, Elizabeth learned marriage can be a dangerous undertaking. Husbands do kill wives. And furthermore, I don’t think Elizabeth wanted children, who may have had to endure the trials and tribulations of a prince or princess as she had endured.

Plus, children can and do kill their parents. Example: Lyle and Eric Menendez.

Mary, on the other hand, married three times. Her first marriage to the Dauphin, Francis of France, by all accounts was happy, but short-lived. Since her first marriage had gone so well, the fact that her husband died a year and a half later notwithstanding, she supposed the next marriage would also be blessed with happiness.

It wasn’t. When the second husband died, Mary once again walked down the aisle with the nefarious Bothwell. Some say she was coerced, or downright kidnapped by this bad boy; I don’t know. I wasn’t there. The point is, Mary took the trip down the aisle three times; Elizabeth never took that trip. I think this exemplifies the two totally different mindsets of the queens.

So in the end, the two rival queens may not have met in life, but who knows what happened when the lights went out in Westminster Abbey?


If you enjoyed this post, share it with a friend who honestly believes the two queens did meet, then let me know and we’ll both have a good laugh. 🙂

Fact verses Fiction – Mary Queen Of Scots

Movie Review – Mary Queen of Scots

Quiz – Queen Elizabeth l and Mary Queen of Scots

Quiz – Queen Elizabeth I