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Movies for Teaching Medieval History

  • September 25, 2020
  • By Donielle
Movies for Teaching Medieval History

Here we are in our second year of our 4 year history cycle. You know I enjoy a good movie, and all the more if it has educational value. Movie night is never mindless dribble if I can help it. No amount of hot popcorn can compensate for wasting two hours of my life. I have found several movies that add real value to what we are learning in history this year – from the fall of the Roman empire to the Renaissance. Here are a couple you might want to add to your lesson plans. I recommend these medieval history movies for middle and high school students. Use Common Sense Media to preview historical dramas before you show anything to your kids.

1. A Man for All Seasons

The story of Sir Thomas More, the man sainted by the Catholic church for standing up to Henry VIII for what believed was right and losing his head for it. It is a great adaptation of a play written about the dramatic story of this honorable man.

2. Luther

Joseph Fiennes plays Martin Luther, the man who stood up to corruption in the Church and started the Reformation. It is well done with Alfred G. Molina artfully playing Father Tetzel, the wily Church fundraiser.

3. Henry V

Any medieval history study is incomplete without some Shakespeare on the syllabus. His works are meant to been seen. After all, Shakespeare wrote plays, not books. My favorite of his historical plays is set in during the War of the Roses and features the Battle of Agincourt. Kenneth Branagh and Lawrence Olivier both do an amazing job bringing “a little touch of Harry in the Night”. If you can’t decide, watch both and compare.

4. The Adventures of Robin Hood

There are many versions the Lincoln green clad hero to choose from. The Disney animated is beloved for a reason. Don’t let childhood go by without viewing it. If you want something more mature, the most family friendly is Errol Flynn’s version. It is all fun without violence. If you read Howard Pyle’s collection of Robin Hood stories, then watch this version first.

As a history buff and a lawyer, I kind of have a crush on the Magna Charta, so I like Russell Crowe’s Robin Hood. It is for high schoolers and older with the violence you would expect in a war movie.

5. Hamlet

It all comes back to Shakespeare, as it should. There are three cinematic versions to choose from. For fun, get on YouTube and watch Hamlet’s famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy in all three versions: Lawrence Olivier, Kenneth Branagh, or Mel Gibson as Hamlet. My students unanimously voted Mel as their favorite. Kenneth’s version of the movie does have a graphic scene, so be forewarned.

More medieval history movies

There are other fun choices for medieval history movies, like the animated The Sword and the Stone if you are reading Arthurian legends, like the collection by Howard Pyle. A very Robin Hood-like medieval character is the title one in Ivanhoe, based on the book of the same name. If you are reading Canterbury Tales, take note the the movie, A Knight’s Tale is based on a story from the book.

A Lion in Winter has a 1968 and a 2003 version, based on a play depicting Henry II and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine in the 1100s. I haven’t seen it yet, but Becket covers the same king and time period, focusing on his relationship with Thomas Becket.

Finally, we have enjoyed the colorful (made in 2000), three part series, Arabian Nights that dramatizes Scheherazade and a number of the memorable tales she tells to save her life. I hope you find some educational fun as you make your living room into a movie theater. Try my ancient history movie list or my early American history movie list for more theatrical learning!

By Donielle, September 25, 2020
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