33 Historical Films Every Freemason Should See
I’m that nerd that has a running list of every one of the best films to understand the history of the western world. Some day, I’ll rewatch them all from beginning to end. But in the meantime, something that I’ve noticed is that a lot of ignorance exists around the time period between the fall of the Roman Empire and the founding of the United States for many American Freemasons.
In order to understand the role American Freemasonry plays in history, I feel like every Freemason in America should at least watch the following 33 historical films, series, and documentaries…
- Agora – Starring Rachel Weiss. Set in Alexandria, Egypt, this film covers the rise of Christianity, the destruction of the Library of Alexandria, and the decline of the study of the liberal arts and sciences.
- The Last Legion – Depicts the legionary formation of early British kingdoms from the ashes of the Roman Empire.
- King Arthur – This is the dramatic retelling of the Arthur legend, following the most historically plausible inspiration of events. A Roman legionnaire named Artorius stays behind after the Roman retreat out of Briton in order to defend the natives from the invading Saxons.
- Arthur (In Search of Myths and Legends) – This documentary essentially identifies three historical individuals who are the most likely inspirations for the stories of King Arthur and Camelot, which have become a defining narrative for the English people. Freemasonry as it is formed today can trace some of its roots to the chivalric organization born out of Arthurian legend, adopted into the British monarchy and later infused into Freemasonry as we know it.
- Charlemagne (mini-series) – Alright, so it’s not great production quality… or casting… and the script feels forced. However, there isn’t much out there on the first emperor of the Holy Roman empire, which is unfortunate because on Christmas Day 800, he was crowned Emperor of Europe and created much of the orders of chivalry that inspired a good portion of the organizational structure later adopted into Freemasonry. In particular, knights, barons, earls and dukes were given hereditary military titles and ranks to ensure perpetual readiness to defend against Viking invaders.
- Vikings (Series) – This series is great for those Game of Thrones lovers out there. This particular story ties the historical events of the Viking invaders of England (beginning in 793) and France (845). While the main character, Ragnar Lothbrok, is a historical character, his exploits have been muddied by legendary embellishments, so he probably gets credit for more than he ought. The series identifies Rollo, as his brother. I love this, because thanks to ancestry.com, I know that Rollo was one of my ancestors. He conquered northern France, then converted to Christianity and was given the title of Duke of Normandy after changing his people’s name from Norsemen to Norman after their conversion.
- The Last Kingdom – This slightly more historically accurate conclusion to the Viking invasions of England features the rise of Alfred the Great, originally from Wessex. It was Alfred who was able to defend the island by importing stonemasons from Paris (which, in Gallic literally means “the builders”). Alfred is also discussed in the Legend of York, a foundational primary source of the origins of Freemasonry, according to Mackey.
- Monarchy (documentary series) Series 1: Episodes 1, 2, 3, 4 – Alright, so we’ve avoided documentaries up to this point, but it’s history and there is no way around it. This one establishes the history of England as dictated by the kings, and contextualizes the events that led up to a united England by the Norman Conquest under William The Conqueror. This series essentially gets you caught up on what happened between 950 and 1100.
- Pillars of the Earth (mini-series) – Now we enter the Ridley Scott grouping. If I were a betting man, I would say he is a Freemason due to much of the subject matter he chooses to film, and how he goes about doing it. This series is derived from Ken Follet’s body of work in historical fiction, and follows the parallel lives of kings, clergy and stonemasons who all have vested interests in the construction of a cathedral in England. This film documents in detail the life of operative masons, and contextualizes what that means on a very practical, and human level. Follet is a strong storyteller, which comes through in Ridley’s portrayal.
- Kingdom of Heaven – This is another Ridley Scott film with a dynamite cast, and an even better script — I recommend watching the Director’s Cut. The story follows the bastard son of a French knight, who is recruited by his father to come to the Holy Land and become a baron. He becomes a key player in the conflict between the Christian kingdom in Jerusalem during the Crusades and the Philosopher King of Egypt (and eventual conqueror of Jerusalem), Saladin. I’ll be honest, Saladin is my favorite character in this film, and despite the fact he only has a few lines, I was inspired to buy and read everything I could about him after seeing this film.
- Robin Hood – Ridley, yet again. This film picks up a few short years after Kingdom of Heaven, which ends with King Richard (yes, the Lionheart) on his way to to try to retake Jerusalem (unsuccessfully) from Saladin. The story begins with the return and untimely demise of the king and and how that threw Robin of Loxley (a.k.a. Robin of the Hood) into the conflict with King John, which eventually lead to the creation of the Magna Carta. Something to note is that that Ridley goes out of his way to draw the connection between Magna Carta and the masons by way of Robin Hood’s father.
- Ironclad – Finally, a film by a different director. After the signing of the Magna Carta, several knights were assigned to enforce it upon King John — most of which were Templars. This story follows the battle that became the demise of King John, a drawn-out siege of a keep in Southeast England, fortified by Thomas Marshal. The one thing that bugs me with this film is that the filmmakers essentially merged the lives of the real Marshal and another of my ancestors, Robert de Ros, who was charged with defending the north of England. Unlike de Ros, Marshal wasn’t actually made a member of the Knights Templar until long after his military career as an honor that ensured his burial in Temple Church in London.
- Monarchy (documentary series) Series 1: Episode 5 – Alright let’s face it, this is just to give some context to Braveheart.
- Braveheart – While there is plenty this is wrong with this world favorite from the prime of Mel Gibson’s ascent up the rollercoaster of favor, such as the fact that he wore a kilt, or hooked up with a princess who in real life would have been like 8 years old and living in France, the social political events are pretty accurate. …Oh yeah, and there is the Battle of Stirling Bridge, which the filmed without a bridge, which is confusing.
- Monarchy (documentary series) Series 1: Episods 6 – Continuing the thread!
- Henry V – A Shakespearean classic during the 100 Years War and the English conquest of the French. The 100 Years War began with invention of the longbow, and ended with the invention of the cannon. The result was the permanent cultural and political split between the higher courts of England and France and the formation of a uniquely English identity.
- Joan of Arc – The French side of the story of Henry V. Every script is different though, so don’t expect Shakespeare.
- Monarchy (documentary series) Series 2: Episodes 1, 2 – The Wars of the Roses may have come to the minds of history buffs while watching season one of Game of Thrones. The basic story is that there was a power vacuum and cousins fought for the throne. Ultimately, it settled with Henry VIII’s dad winning and marrying the princess of the rival party, which leads us to the next mini-series.
- The Tudors (mini-series) – Arguably one of the most entertaining and well-produced series on this list. We’ve all heard about the most scandalous and bombastick king in England, but few films document not only the events he catalyzed, which separated Protestant from Catholic, but also the personal struggles that greatly impacted his decisions and ultimately, the course of the English empire.
- Borgia (mini-series) – Much of the history of Europe is dictated by Rome, including many of the events that led to divisions of countries and even the religion itself. The Borgia family rose to power during the 15th century, as immigrants from Spain. Their lives tell the story of the inner workings of the Vatican and its impact on the affairs of all of Europe.
- Monarchy (documentary series) Series 2: Episode 3 – In order to understand the succession of the three Tudor children to the throne, eventually culminating with Queen Elizabeth I, the stories of the political backdrop, paired with the life stories of both Edward and Mary are fundamentally necessary.
- Elizabeth – Arguably the greatest queen in European history, Elizabeth reveals the story of how Elizabeth I became queen and eventually restacked her advisors and crafted her persona into the Virgin Queen.
- Elizabeth: Golden Age – The sequel to Elizabeth, this is the story of the middle years of her reign and defense of England against the Spanish and other outside forces. These events ushered in the Golden Age of England where the country become the dominate seafaring nation.
- Anonymous – Many theories exist about whether or not the works of WIlliam Shakespeare were actually written by the individual to whom we currently credit the works. This story suggests that the plays were written by someone with a far greater education and experience with Europe and travel, by imagining that the Earl of Oxford, who many believe actually wrote the works of Shakespeare, is indeed the author.
- Monarchy (documentary series) Series 2: Episode 4 – After Elizabeth’s death without an heir, the throne passed to her nephew, James Stuart of Scotland. The logistics of that succession are important, because two kingdoms were joined, thus creating the United Kingdom we know today.
- To Kill A King – This is arguably the most important historic film for Freemasonry because the framework we recognize as Freemasonry began to emerge during the events of this time. It is set against the backdrop of the English Civil War, which was waged by Parliament, representing the people, against their king, Charles I. Charles lost and was beheaded. Going king-less didn’t end up working out for the British people, but it did set events in motion that would give rise for the English enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution.
- Monarchy (documentary series) Series 2: Episode 5 – This one is really just an elaboration on “To Kill A King”. I recommend watching this over the movie “Cromwell”, although Alec Guinness did play a great Charles I in that movie. After all, he looks just like him!
- Monarchy (documentary series) Series 3: Episode 1 – “The Return of the King”, otherwise known as The Restoration, was the English invasion by the beheaded king’s son, Charles II. After he was back on the throne at the age of 30, he reinstituted many of the old orders of knighthood and chivalry, as well as many innovations such as the royal society, and many say Freemasonry, itself.
- The Restoration – The events that surround the restoration of the British Monarchy are not only the decadence of King Charles II’s lavish parties, but they also featured great strides of science. Additionally, there were setbacks such as the Great Fire of London and another outbreak of the plague, which reshaped not only the social landscape of London, but also the physical landscape to make way for the city we now recognize.
- The Last King (mini-series) – While this does overlap with “The Restoration”, it gives a more detailed look at the friends and circles of Charles II. This society provided the groundwork for the height of the British Empire and the great advancements of the Scientific Revolution, and were made possible by the dismissal of Parliament and insider trading between England, France and the Netherlands.
- The Patriot – I’ve wanted to hate Mel Gibson for as long as I can, but love him or hate him, his movies have now ended up on this list, twice. While his character in “The Patriot” is fictional, the events and script aren’t half bad for an overview of the experience of a leader in the American Revolution.
- John Adams (mini-series) – As far as a historical perspective of the American Revolution, there really isn’t any better set of films than this series. It follows the career of the 2nd President of the United States from the representation of British soldiers in court, to ambassador to France and England, and finally, to the Presidency. Oh, right! Also, an influential architect of the Declaration of Independence and the United States’ Constitution.
- Lafayette: The Lost Hero (documentary) – Probably the best note to leave with Freemasons would be the story of Lafayette. At just 17 years old, he was the richest man in France that was not in line for the throne. Lafayette met Benjamin Franklin at a Lodge, bought his own army and navy and sailed to support the American Revolution, becoming something like a son to George Washington.
Featured photo source: Wikipedia Commons