The 90th Academy Awards ceremony will start very, very soon. The miniseries on “movies for diplomats” is, meanwhile, being finished here. Let’s look back at final episode of the history of “Best Picture” laureates that are to some extent attached to international relations. Students, experts and of course diplomats should surely watch them. Part I and Part II of the miniseries are also available.
- “The English Patient” 1996 – a British laureate of 9 Academy Awards (it defeated “Fargo” of the Coen brothers!), a war drama with a world-class cast: Ralph Fiennes, Kristin Scott Thomas, Colin Firth, Juliette Binoche, Willem Dafoe, Jürgen Prochnow and others. It features a tragic love story between a Hungarian cartographer, Count László de Almásy and Katharine Clifton who were surveying Egypt and Libya in late 1930s in a larger group representing the Royal Geographical Society. De Almásy recalls the story whilst his stay at the hospital after the Nazi Germans had shot him down over Sahara. Hence, World War II and its African stage are a background to his memoir.
- “Slumdog Millionaire” 2008 – this British production was directed by Danny Boyle and won 8 Oscars. Although it is not directly interlinked with international relations, it fully deserves its place in this miniseries. First of all, it tells the story of non-Western characters and that does not happen very often when Best Movie category is concerned (and it tells it so well). Whoever went to the slums in India (I did…) will agree that their story has to be told. Second of all, it touches upon a global pop-cultural phenomenon of a TV show “Who wants to be a millionaire?”. Last but not least, it is based on a book written by Indian career diplomat, Vikas Swarup, who served in Turkey, USA, Ethiopia, the UK, South Africa and Japan (wow!).
- “The Hurt Locker” 2009 – Kathryn Bigelow was awarded an Oscar for this movie as the first woman (and she won in two categories – Best Movie and Best Director). The Academy seems to like war movies and stories about troubled soldiers. The major plot of the movie is set in Iraq, in a bomb squad led by a very risk-prone sergeant. Lives of the soldiers are jeopardised on a daily basis, by both “ordinary” war circumstances and by the soldiers themselves as they struggle psychologically and get addicted to stress at the same time. As it shows the war very realistically, it sends a clear anti-war message and to some extent corresponds with the “Apocalypse Now” of Francis Ford Coppola.
- “The King’s Speech” 2010 – Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter, directed by Tom Hooper, tell the story of King George VI struggling with and eventually overcoming stammer. The plot is set during World War II when the monarch tries to encourage his people, via radio broadcasts, to fight and resist Nazi Germans. Stammer is a source of major complexes of King George VI, who does not think he is the right man in the right place (he became king only because his brother abdicated) but at the same truly wants to deliver. It is also a wonderful story of a friendship between the doctor and the patient and a picture of London from not so long ago.
- “Argo” 2012 – a thriller based on a true story presented in Tony Mendez’s (former CIA officer) book “The Master of Disguise”, presents the escape of 6 American diplomats from Tehran torn by revolution in 1979. American embassy was invaded by revolutionary forces and some of its officials were taken hostage. Some others got away and found shelter in the residence of the Canadian ambassador. CIA wants to get them out of Tehran. The plan of the getaway is audacious as diplomats are supposed to flee as a part of a fictitious cast of a fictitious science-fiction movie.
“Dunkirk” – Christopher Nolan (who made also “The Dark Knight” and “Inception”) directed an epic war movie covering the evacuation of the British, French and Belgian forces from Dunkirk in France to the UK in May/June 1940 after they find themselves cut off and surrounded by the German Army. With Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy and Mark Rylance in the cast, composed of three different, but somehow overlapping time perspectives (as well as perspectives of land, air and sea), this film was destined to become a blockbuster. The movie focuses on the willingness to survive at all costs. It is not an all-silent movie, but there were certainly not too many lined to learn by the actors. The music, written by Hans Zimmer, makes this opus complete.
“Darkest Hour” – Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill is already at least promising. Add Kristin Scott Thomas as Clementine Churchill and you have an unforgettable duo. The action is set in 1940 when the Neville Chamberlain’s cabinet falls and Winston Churchill is appointed the new prime minister. In this new role Churchill is challenged by a pressure either to start negotiations with Hitler or to start a deadly fight against him. It is not a typical war movie or a political spectacle or a UK history lesson – it is rather a psychological portrait of Winston Churchill in the most difficult time of his career and life, short after the time on the margins of politics, short before a glory of the country’s saviour.
“The Post” – another epic production of Steven Spielberg devoted to values dear to American hearts – this time freedom of speech and freedom of the media. Not directly linked with international relations, but with the Western political paradigm. With Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks in leading roles it tells the story of Katharine Graham and Ben Bradlee of “Washington Post” and their rivalry with “The New York Times” over the publication of top secret documents on Vietnam War (this topic will inspire American moviemakers forever). The independence of the press and a risk of high treason accusation are at stake. The plot is set shortly before the Watergate scandal – the movie may be perceived as a prelude to the latter. Janusz Kaminski is again the director of photography.