European Historical Films

We are asking the nations of Europe between whom rivers of blood have flowed to forget the feuds of a thousand years.”

Winston Churchill, 1948.

Churchill asked to forget, others urge to remember. We should remember the past to build a better future. All European countries brought to the big screen the stories and atrocities of the last century. The exercise of putting together a list of historical films enables us to appreciate fully the lessons of the past and compare how distinctive historical events took a prominent place in the history of each European country. The following list, based on the historical films relating events from the last century, will show you that, in some country, World War II was the major focus, while others took the independence war, the division of the Balkans or the rise of totalitarian regimes as their main highlight.


April Captains
Capitães de Abril, dir. Maria de Medeiros
7,1/10 IMDB – Trailer

April Captains tells the story of the Carnation Revolution, the military coup that overthrew the fascist dictatorship in Portugal on April 25th 1974. The name “Carnation Revolution” relates to the fact that no shots were fired during this event. When the population started descending the streets to celebrate the end of the war in the colonies, carnation flowers were put on the guns’ ends and on the uniforms.


Pan’s Labyrinth
El laberinto del fauno, dir. Guillermo del Toro
8,2/10 IMDB – Trailer

Pan’s Labyrinth takes place in Spain in May–June 1944, five years after the Spanish Civil War, during the early Francoist period. The narrative of the film interweaves this real world with a fantasy world centered around an overgrown abandoned labyrinth and a mysterious faun creature, with which the main character, Ofelia, interacts.


Days of Glory
Indigènes, dir. Rachid Bouchareb
7,1/10 IMDB – Trailer

1943. The young North Africans had never stepped foot on French soil but because France was at war, Saïd, Abdelkader, Messaoud and Yassir enlisted in the French Army, along with 130,000 other “indigenous soldiers,” to liberate the “fatherland” from the Nazi enemy. These heroes that history forgot won battles in Italy, Provence and the Vosges before finding themselves alone to defend an Alsatian village against a German battalion…


The Wind That Shakes the Barley
dir. Ken Loach
7,5/10 IMDB – Trailer

This historical drama tells the story of two County Cork brothers, Damien O’Donovan and Teddy O’Donovan, who join the Irish Republican Army to fight for Irish independence from the United Kingdom. It takes its title from the songThe Wind That Shakes the Barley”.

United Kingdom

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
dir. Mark Herman
7,8/10 IMDB – Trailer

Set during World War II, this is history as seen by the innocent eyes of Bruno, the eight-year-old son of the commandant at a concentration camp, whose forbidden friendship with a Jewish boy on the other side of the camp fence has startling and unexpected consequences.


Man of War
Max Manus, dir. Joachim Rønning, Espen Sandberg
7,5/10 IMDB – Trailer

This is the true story about one of the most brilliant saboteurs during World War II and his battle to overcome his inner demons. The film is based on Max Manus’s own books Det vil helst gå godt and Det blir alvor, as well as other accounts and historical documentation.


Everlasting Moments
Maria Larssons eviga ögonblick, dir. Jan Troell
7,5/10 IMDB – Trailer

In a time of social change and unrest, war and poverty, a young working class woman, Maria, wins a camera in a lottery. The decision to keep it will alter her whole life…


Tears of April
Käsky, dir. Aku Louhimies
6,4/10 IMDB – Trailer

The film, based on a popular novel by Leena Lander, is set in April 1918, at the end of the Finnish Civil War, when Red and White soldiers were fighting each other, much like their neighbors to the east in Russia. There were many female soldiers fighting for the Red army, and the film begins with a platoon of women being captured by the savage White army…


Flame & Citron
Flammen & Citronen, dir. Ole Christian Madsen
7,3/10 IMDB – Trailer

Set in between 1943 and 1944, the film is loosely based on actual events involving two of the most active fighters in the Holger Danske resistance group during World War II – Bent Faurschou-Hviid (known as Flammen) and Jørgen Haagen Schmith (known as Citron), who both died toward the end of the war. As the two friends assassinate high-ranking Nazis and their Danish collaborators, they also find themselves in deadly duels with treacherous handlers, competing resistance groups, and a femme fatale.


Black Book
Zwartboek, Dir. Paul Verhoeven
7,8/10 IMDB – Trailer

In the Nazi-occupied Netherlands during World War II, a Jewish singer infiltrates the regional Gestapo headquarters for the Dutch resistance. At the time of release, it was the most expensive Dutch film ever made, and also the Netherlands’ most commercially successful, with that country’s highest box office gross of 2006.


Gaston’s War
dir. Robbe De Hert
6,2/10 IMDB – Trailer

Many decades after the Second World War, a Belgian resistance fighter, Gaston Vandermeerssche, tries to discover who betrayed them to the Nazis. The film is based on a novel by Allan Mayer.


Twin Sisters
De Tweeling, dir. Ben Sombogaart
7,5/10 IMDB – Trailer

After the deaths of their parents, inseparable twin sisters, Anna and Lotte Bamberg, are crudely separated at the age of six. Anna remains in Germany, growing up in relatively harsh circumstances on the farm of her uncle Heinrich and his wife Martha. The sickly Lotte is given a loving home in the Netherlands by distant relations, the Rockanjes.


Der Untergang, dir. Oliver Hirschbiegen
8,3/10 IMDB – Trailer

The excellent German/Italian/Austrian movie Der Untergang depicts the final ten days of Adolf Hitler’s life in his Berlin bunker and Nazi Germany in 1945. Knowing that the treatment of the Third Reich was still a sensitive subject among many Germans, the film broke one of the last remaining taboos and became thus a reference.


North Face
Nordwand, dir. Philipp Stölzl
7,4/10 IMDB – Trailer

The films recounts an attempt to climb the Eiger in 1936 via the north face by two competing climbing teams: German climbers from Berchtesgaden, known as the location of Hitler’s home throughout the decade and  Austrians who are portrayed as hoping for a Nazi-led incorporation of Austria into Germany.


Life Is Beautiful
La vita è bella, dir. Roberto Benigni
8,6/10 IMDB – Trailer

Life is Beautiful is a 1997 Italian film which tells the story of a Jewish Italian, Guido Orefice, who makes the best of his fertile imagination to help his family survive during their internment in a Nazi concentration camp.


The Counterfeiters
Die Fälscher, dir. Stefan Ruzowitzky
7,6/10 IMDB – Trailer

This film tells the true story of prisoners in a concentration camp who were forced to counterfeit fake dollar bills and pound notes in an attempt to weaken the economy of the allies during World War II.


dir. Václav Marhoul
6,0/10 IMDB – Trailer

Jiří and Jan, two Czech soldiers, are battling alongside the allied forces in Tobruk, Libya during World War II. Their naive ideas about heroism will soon be rawly confronted with the hell of the African desert, complicated relationships in their unit and the ubiquitous threat of death…


Broken Promise
Nedodrzaný slub, dir. Jirí Chlumský
7,0/10 IMDB – Trailer

Martin is a young Czechoslovakian. But he’s also Jewish. It’s 1940 and Nazi Germany has already taken a foothold in his country. Soon all his family is sent to an extermination camp. None will return. But Martin is very lucky and he’s also an outstanding footballer who quickly becomes the darling of the camp.


The Pianist
dir. Roman Polanski
8,5/10 IMDB – Trailer

A highly gifted Jewish pianist living in Poland during the Nazi occupation narrowly escapes deportation to a concentration camp. However, having taken refuge, he finds it just as hard to live for the next few years eluding capture whilst squatting in the ruins of the Warsaw ghetto.


Forest of the Gods
Dievų miškas, dir. Algimantas Puipa
7,8/10 IMDB – Trailer

This is the story of an artist  who is imprisoned by two brutal regimes: the Nazis and the Soviets. After miraculously surviving imprisonment in a Nazi concentration camp, he writes the memoirs of his life, which become the target of the Soviet censors. The so-called “freedom” of Communism becomes just as oppressive as the German concentration camp.


Three to Dance
Dancis pa trim, dir. Arvid Krievs
7,3/10 IMDB – Trailer

Four Latvian legionnaires are sentenced to death for deserting the German army. A Latvian girl heads to the German headquarters to try to free her beloved. In the few hours remaining before the execution, a love triangle plays out between the girl, a German officer and the prisoner…


Red Mercury
Punane Elavhõbe, dir. Andres Puustusmaa
6,2/10 IMDB – Trailer

This historical film is about Estonian mafia, non-existing laws and underground brutality in the 90’s. The main characters are three thugs who aren’t special at all, mainly only stealing car stereos. One day, they hear they can get rich by buying red mercury in Russia and selling it at a high price.


Fortress of War 
Brestskaya krepost, dir. Aleksandr Kott
7,5/10 IMDB – Trailer

A war drama set during the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, in which Russian troops held on to a border stronghold for nine days. It recounts the events surrounding the Defense of Brest Fortress against invading Wehrmacht forces in the opening stages of Operation Barbarossa, Nazi Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II.


The Undefeated
Нескорений, dir. Oles Yanchuk
4,7/10 IMDB – Trailer

The Undefeated is the true story of General Roman Shukhevych (Gregory Hlady) a genteel family man forced by brutal circumstances and his own sense of honor and duty to lead the fight to deliver his people from the savageries of both the Nazis and Soviets.


dir. Costa-Gavras
7,3/10 IMDB – Trailer

The French-Romanian film Amen. examines the links between the Vatican and Nazi Germany. The central character is Kurt Gerstein, a Waffen-SS officer employed in the SS Hygiene Institute, designing programs for the purification of water and the destruction of vermin. He is shocked to learn that the process he has developed to eradicate typhus is now being used for killing Jews in extermination camps.


Children Of Glory
Szabadság, Szerelem, dir. Krisztina Goda
7,1/10 IMDB – Trailer

Children of Glory commemorates Hungary’s Revolution of 1956 and the Blood in the Water match. Taking place in Budapest and at the Melbourne Olympic Games in October and November of that year, the film takes viewers into the passion and sadness of one of the most dramatic popular revolts of the twentieth century.


Silent Sonata
Circus Fantasticus, dir. Janez Burger
7,2/10 IMDB – Trailer

A man stays alone with his children in a half demolished house in the middle of a desolate field. His wife has just been killed by a grenade in a military battle. He is expecting a new attack. Instead a wandering caravan called Circus Fantasticus stops by the house. They bring along the dying director of the circus.


The Blacks
Crnci, dir. Goran Dević and Zvonimir Jurić
6,3/10 IMDB – Trailer

The truce has been recently signed and the squad known as The Blacks needs to be disbanded from war operations. Ivo, the squad commander, plans a mission to retrieve the bodies of three of his men from the forest. The surviving members of the squad move into action and find that the enemy they have been searching for is where they least expect

Bosnia and Herzegovina

No Man’s Land
Ničija zemlja, dir. Danis Tanović
8,0/10 IMDB – Trailer

Two wounded soldiers, a Bosniak and a Bosnian Serb are caught between their lines in the no man’s land, in a struggle for survival. The two soldiers confront each other in a trench, where they wait for dark. They trade insults and even find some common ground. Confounding the situation is another wounded Bosniak soldier who wakes from unconsciousness.


St. George Shoots the Dragon
Свети Георгије убива аждаху, dir. Srđan Dragojević
6,5/10 IMDB – Trailer

The film starts with the Kingdom of Serbia battling the remaining Turkish occupiers during the First Balkan War in 1912 and ends with the outbreak of World War I in 1914 and the crucial Battle of Cer, the first allied victory in World War I. It is largely set in and around a small village by the Sava river at Serbia’s border with Austria-Hungary.

North Macedonia

The Great Water
Γолемата Вода, dir. Ivo Trajkov
7,1/10 IMDB – Trailer

The film is about the difficult transition in North Macedonia after World War II. A Macedonian politician has a heart attack and while he is being wheeled into a hospital and examined and wired, he has memory flashbacks to his childhood in 1945. He is brought to the ‘orphanage’ where orphans are children of the enemies of the new regime. There he learns how to adjust to the role of obedient brainwashing.


Time of the Comet
Koha e Kometës, dir. Fatmir Koçi
7,1/10 IMDB – Trailer

The film takes place in 1914 when William of Wied was enthroned Prince of Albania, and the country was occupied by all the neighbouring countries. Shestan, a young idealist villager forms a band and travels the country trying to find enemy troops to fight. During his journeys he comes across many opposing factions like the Ottoman loyalist band of Kus Baba and meets Agnes, whose father wants her to become a Catholic nun and falls in love with her.


Journey to Jerusalem
Пътуване към Йерусалим, dir. Ivan Nitchev
7,0/10 IMDB – Trailer

Two German-Jewish children flee Nazi Germany in the early 1940s and try to escape to Palestine via Bulgaria. When their uncle dies during the journey, they are taken in by a troupe of travelling performers.


The Weeping Meadow 
To livadi pou dakryzei, dir. Theodoros Angelopoulos
7,8/10 IMDB – Trailer

This is the first film of Theo Angelopoulos’ trilogy. The story starts in 1919 with some greek refugees from Odessa arriving somewhere near Thessaloniki. Among these people are two small kids, Alexis and Eleni. Eleni is an orphan and she is also taken care by Alexis’ family. The refugees build a small village somewhere near a river and we watch as the kids grow up and fall in love. But difficult times of dictatorship and war are coming.


My Father and My Son 
Babam ve Oğlum, dir. Çağan Irmak
8,7/10 IMDB – Trailer

My Father and My Son is a film about a family torn apart by the 1980 Turkish coup d’état. Sadik is one of the rebellious youth who has been politically active as a university student and became a left-wing journalist in the 70’s, despite his father’s expectations of him becoming an agricultural engineer and taking control of their family farm in an Aegean village. On the dawn of September 12, 1980, when a merciless military coup hits the country, they cannot find access to any hospital or a doctor and his wife dies while giving birth to their only child, Deniz.

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