I’ve been looking up early American course syllabi recently to see if I’m on track with my ideas for teaching a colonial course this fall. Not long ago I ran across a website with teaching resources, including a list of films dealing with early American history.
For reasons I’ve never understood, the Revolution hasn’t fared well on the silver screen. There are a few period films that I enjoy watching. 1776 remains a personal favorite of mine, because it helps restore some of the suspense and urgency that two and a half centuries have worn away from the debate over independence. I’ve also got to confess that I’m a fan of The Patriot. It’s a compelling story told well, and it focuses on the critical war in the South, even if it plays fast and loose with the facts. A&E’s made-for-TV films The Crossing and Benedict Arnold: A Queston of Honor also deserve an honorable mention. I haven’t seen HBO’s Adams miniseries yet, but I’ve heard some great feedback. Still, the Revolutionary War can’t match the Civil War or WWII in terms of number and quality of film adaptations.
This hasn’t always been the case. As the filmography at the above website shows, the Revolutionary War was a pretty popular subject during the infancy of moving pictures. From the early 1900’s to the 1920’s, filmmakers were turning out Revolutionary War stories at a surprisingly high rate. Similar projects often appeared close to the same time: Paul Revere and Nathan Hale were both popular subjects in the 1910’s, and Francis Marion got his own film in 1911 and again in 1914.
It’s clear that moviemakers were interested in the Revolution from the first days of putting stories on film. It’s also clear that interest in making Revolutionary War films didn’t keep up with this initial burst of enthusiasm.
There are a lot of stories from the War of Independence I’d like to see on the screen, but it doesn’t look like it’s happening anytime soon. Countingdown.com lists quite a few WWII movies in the works, but I couldn’t find any Revolutionary War-related projects in any genre. Maybe the current Founding Fathers craze will bring more filmmakers around.