To mark the release of Satyagraha and 50 years since Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, Joe Gill picks the top protest movies of all time.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
A free-spirited convict claiming to be insane ends up in a mental asylum. Jack Nicholson is matchless in the role of the anarchic rebel jester McMurphy, never giving up ’till the last against the implacable tyrant Nurse Ratched. Director Milos Forman came from Stalinist Czechoslavakia and injected a real sense of the maddening reality of confinement.
In the era of many flabby sword and sandal epics, Spartacus stood out for the intelligence of the script. It’s a powerful depiction of a group of slaves who rise up and almost overcome the might of the Roman Empire. Directed by a 30-year-old Stanley Kubrick, he marshalls the outstanding cast for a stirring classic.
It nearly bankrupted the German studio that funded this futuristic vision of the class divide, but you can see where the money was spent. The towering city of idle rich and downtrodden workers was said to be inspired by director Fritz Lang’s first glimpse of the Manhattan skyline. Even 90 years later on, its influence on pop culture and graphic design can still be felt.
A sweeping biopic of India’s independence leader, this was a career-defining role for Ben Kingsley. Director Sir Richard Attenborough is a master of the dramatic crowd scene, as we follow Mahatma Gandhi’s evolution from a crusading lawyer in South Africa to the man who took on the British in India and won.
There are certain literary works that are so iconic that any adaptation is likely to disappoint, and Orwell’s dystopian novel is one of them. But the drab, rubble strewn look of the film perfectly captures the grim spirit of the author’s depiction of totalitarianism, using what is basically post-war Britain. John Hurt brings some of George Orwell himself to the role as Winston Smith, while Richard Burton’s booming voice as Big Brother.
The Battle of Algiers (1966)
Director Gillo Pontecorvo brings a documentary realism to the Algerian independence battle between the FLN and French colonial authorities. The story is told in flashback by a captured thief turned guerilla and is a searing portrayal of the Algerian war that earned the film a ban in France. In fact, both sides are portrayed with a cool objectivity, which is part of the film’s raw power.
The Gospel According to St Matthew (1964)
There has never been a Biblical depiction on screen like Passolini’s Gospel, which depicts Jesus as a revolutionary leader of the downtrodden peasants of Judea, all played by non-actors. The famous Gospel actually forms the script, and you will gasp at its power from the mouth of Enrique Irazoqui as Christ.
Born on the Fourth of July (1991)
Oliver Stone directed this biopic of real-life Vietnam war veteran Ron Kovic, who was paralysed in combat and returned home disillusioned. Tom Cruise has never given as much as an actor. From the depths of depravity and despair, he becomes a spokesman for a generation who want to end the war. Not everyone in America agreed with its anti-war message.