10 Historical Events That Should Be in Cinema | Sarah Stook

There tends to be a lot of historical movies and TV shows about the same events. There are so many about Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, certain WW2 battles, the Vietnam War, Winston Churchill and so on. There are many historical events that are deserving of an epic. Here are ten of them.

1. Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864)

Hong Xiuquan was an ordinary man who failed the imperial civil service exams four times. After a mental breakdown, Hong converted to Christianity and started to believe that he was the brother of Jesus Christ. He called himself ‘the Heavenly King’ and created the strict theocratic Taiping Heavenly Kingdom in southeast China. For fourteen years, he clashed with the government. It only ended with Hong’s death on the 1st June 1864.

The bloodiest civil war in history, the Taiping Rebellion saw at least 25 million people lose their lives. Whilst it isn’t quite the number of WW2, remember that this was just one country. Remember that its leader was a mentally unwell man who hallucinated his ideas. That alone is fascinating. Hong was not a soldier or a politician or a man of wealth.

With bloody battle scenes, intrigue, war, religion and a cult, it’s perfect for the screen. Hong is a fascinating character- a man who inspired deep loyalty and brutality in equal measures. His sister was a female warrior who co-commanded his forces. Added to that is the government’s opposition as well as foreign intervention. It’d be a fascinating story of continental China.

2. Simo Häyhä/The White Death (1939-1940)

We have many stories of ordinary people who became badasses. None of them, however, were quite as effective as a Finnish farmer named Simo Häyhä. Häyhä had joined the volunteer Civil Guards and done his year of National service, accumulating many awards for his skills with a gun. In 1939, the Soviet Union invaded Finland in what was known as the Winter War. Häyhä was called up.

Over only 100 days, Häyhä scored the highest number of sniper kills at over 500 men killed. He did this without a scope or a spotter. Häyhä dressed all in white, kept snow in his mouth to mask his breathing and hid for days with his rations. The Russians send death squads to kill him specifically. Häyhä was only slowed down when a Russian sniper got him with an explosive bullet. Half of his face was blown off and he was believed to be dead, but The White Death survived. He woke up on the same day that the conflict ended. Häyhä wished to fight in the next part of the war but was not allowed. He lived the rest of his life as a partner and a hunter. Häyhä remained modest until the end, preferring to stay out of the limelight and saying that he had to do his job to defend Finland.

The work of The White Death has all of the hallmarks of a great action film- a cool protagonist, some mad skills and battle against a greater enemy being just a few. Häyhä’s patriotism and modesty make him a model for many. Even with half of his face blown off he wanted to fight.

3. The Anarchy (1138-1153)

Henry I had a lot of children- over twenty in fact. The problem was that nearly all were illegitimate. Fortunately he had his legitimate son William. Unfortunately for him, William died aged 17 in the White Ship Disaster. Henry then decided to do something pretty remarkable- he chose his daughter Matilda as his heir. The barons weren’t too happy about this- they hated her husband Geoffrey of Anjou, but it was mainly because she was a woman. When Henry died, Matilda’s cousin Stephen decided he had a claim to the throne.

For over a decade, Matilda and Stephen fought for the throne. It was essentially a stalemate for most of the conflict, as neither party could establish real dominance in England. Matilda was often back in Normandy and both sides had close calls. The English nobility really didn’t want to get involved- they didn’t want Matilda but they didn’t particularly want Stephen either. Peace negotiations were helped by the death of Stephen’s son Eustace. It was eventually decided that Stephen should be king, but Matilda’s son Henry would be his heir. Stephen died a year later and Henry would become Henry II.

I’m an advocate for learning about our country’s history and The Anarchy is such a spectacular period to learn about. It would be a fantastic miniseries with such a great range of characters. There are plenty of action scenes that can be mixed with a strong story.

4. Olga of Kiev (set in 945-946)

In 945, Igor of Kiev, ruler of the Kievan Rus’, was brutally murdered by his Drevlian enemies. His wife Olga was left a widowed mother of a young son. The Drevlians then had the nerve to approach Olga and request she marry their leader, Prince Mal. Olga responded by having them buried alive. She then invited 5000 of them to come to a funeral. After getting them drunk, Olga had them all killed.

One year later, Olga had each house from the Drevlian city of Iskorosten contribute birds to help the peace process. Her soldiers tied sulfur to the birds. Once the birds returned to roost, they set the city on fire. The city burned to the ground and those who weren’t killed were captured. The Drevlian then bent the knee. For the rest of her reign, Olga set about building Kievan Rus up and spreading Christianity. She was unable to see Christianity spread in her lifetime, but her grandson Vladimir would succeed at it. Olga is a saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Was she a bit ruthless? Sure, but history is full of ruthless people. War isn’t pretty. Olga of Kiev’s revenge would make a fantastic movie. Olga was loyal to her husband, her country and her people. She also outsmarted the enemy on multiple occasions.

5. Hannibal (set from about 221 BC- 181 BC)

One of the greatest generals in history, Hannibal lived one hell of a life. At 26, he became Commander-in-Chief of Carthage. He became a huge thorn in the side of Rome and absolutely decimated them in several battles. His most famous victory was that of Cannae, when an outnumbered Carthage hammered the Roman forces. 80% of Rome’s soldiers in that battle were killed, compared to only 11% of Carthage’s. Things did start to go south for Carthage after this and Hannibal was eventually defeated at the Battle of Zama.

Hannibal then got into politics. He became famed for his anti-corruption policies and dislike of raising taxes. Hannibal was forced into exile after a few years due to Roman attempts to get him extradited to them. He was betrayed by his enemies and soon died. Some believe he died of a fever, but most maintain he killed himself to prevent Rome from getting to kill him first.

All I want to say on this is that the sight of elephants crossing the Alps on screen would be epic.

6. The Lives of Queen Victoria’s Children

Queen Victoria had nine children, all of whom lived to adulthood- pretty remarkable for the era. Each of them lived fascinating lives- some were happy, others were not. Their important marriages led Queen Victoria to be known as ‘The Grandmother of Europe.’ Through them, her descendants include Kaiser Wilhelm II, Harald V of Norway, Tsarina Alix, Carol II of Romania and Felipe of Spain.

It’d be great if each child got an episode about them. We can see how Princess Alice became a huge advocate for nursing, how Princess Victoria took part in politics and how Prince Arthur became Governor General of Canada. None of them had the happiness of their mother, but their lives are just as interesting.

7. Cadaver Synod (897)

Times were turbulent in Rome in the 9th Century. Pope Formosus spent nearly five years as Pontiff before dying of a stroke. His immediate successor died after only two weeks on the job. The next Pope, Stephen VI, wasn’t a huge fan of Formosus. He decided to dig Formosus back up, dress him in his papal clothes and have him out under trial. A deacon was brought out to act as his spokesperson. An earthquake struck halfway through, which some saw as a sign from God. Formosus was retrospectively stripped of his title and was thrown in the River Tiber.

The citizens got angry and had Stephen overthrown and strangled. Stephen’s successor Romanus had Stephen’s papacy annulled, but Romanus himself was overthrown after a year. The next Pope lasted twenty days but managed to get Formosus’ body out of the Tiber. It was only the next Pope, John IX, that saw Formosus buried properly.

This would be great as a Death of Stalin type of comedy. It’s dark and dramatic and chaotic. If it wasn’t history, you’d think it would be too unrealistic.

8. The life of Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919)

Theodore Roosevelt was America’s only Chad President. It’s hard to condense into a paragraph just why his life deserves to be made into a movie or series. Here are just some examples:

●       Got shot, knew that he wasn’t dying so continued with his 90 minute speech

●       Captured some thieves and spent two days on the river bringing them back to land. He read Tolstoy aloud to keep himself awake

●       Punched a guy who pointed a gun at him

●       Told a man who wanted to assassinate him to just get on with it

●       Patrolled the streets of New York to ensure police were doing their job

●       Led the Rough Riders down San Juan Hill

●       Climbed the Matterhorn for fun

●       Got blinded in one eye when boxing so took up judo

●       Stabbed a cougar to death

I rest my case.

9. Juan Pujol García (set 1939-1945)

A Spaniard, Juan Pujol García found himself utterly despising both fascism and communism during the Spanish Civil War. He particularly hated Nazism. When WW2 broke out, García decided he wanted to help out. He approached both the American and British to offer his services, but they rejected him. García then went to the Germans and pretended he was a Nazi sympathiser. They told him to get to London and create a network.

García went straight to Lisbon instead but made it look like he’d come from London. He created a network of fake spies in England, so many in fact that the Germans stopped recruiting. García was a talented forger who managed to make convincing documents. He also convinced the Germans that several agents had died in the job and got them to pay pensions for fictional wives. García had managed to get with the British by this point. He would send true things to Germany to keep up the charade. García told the Germans that the Allies would be landing in a different part of France to their true landing point of Normandy. He then sent the true documents so that they’d arrive after the D-Day Landings. García received both an Iron Cross and an MBE.

A true spy doing it for the right reasons. It’s another case of truth being stranger than fiction. Plus, García got away with it. The stones on that guy.

10. Queen Consorts Who Aren’t Henry VIII’s Wives

We know the stories of Henry VIII’s six wives, but what about the other Queens? There have been many consorts over the years and many of them deserve a moment in the spotlight. Examples include:

●       Eleanor of Aquitaine and Isabella of France both successfully overthrew their husbands

●       Queen Charlotte cared for both her mentally ill husband and thirteen living children

●       Eleanor of Castile joined her husband in the Crusades.

●       Matilda of Flanders capably ruled Normandy for her husband

●       Matilda of Boulogne commanded troops for her husband’s claim to the throne

●       Queen Adelaide gave most of her income to charity

The consorts have been women of faith, charity and war. They’ve made their husbands and those men owe their kingship to their wives. We’re rightfully fascinated by Catherine of Aragon and the other Henry VIII wives, but it’s time for the others to get some time in the sun.

Photo Credit.

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