Tips on Writing a Film Review for a History Course

The following is a handout I developed for my classes, and I thought it might have applicability to people searching the Internet for writing advice.

1. Understanding the genre of a film review.

A film review is much more than a summary of the plot of the film. Rather than a simple synopsis, a film review is a critical essay that evaluates historical cinematography. The purpose of a film review is to demonstrate critical thinking about the films you watch. You will be writing an articulate analysis of the film, discussing its strengths and weaknesses.

2. Choosing a historical film to review.

Select a film on a subject about which you have existing knowledge (unless, of course, you are assigned a specific film). If you lack knowledge on a given subject, instead pick a topic that intrigues you, because you will likely have to conduct some research in order to be able to judge the effectiveness of the director in capturing the history of the topic. If you have been assigned a film by the instructor, you may need to read up on the topic to make sure you have at least a working knowledge of the subject.

3. Actually writing the film review.

Think of your film review as a series of paragraphs. Each paragraph should represent a specific theme of your overall review. Begin your film review by discussing the subject matter of the film. Discuss the director’s scope in covering the topic, as well as any relevant qualifications. You will need to do some additional research to explore what other films the director has created. Assess if the film is created for a general audience, for a small group of film buffs, or for a narrow audience of people interested in the topic.

In your next paragraph, present the main points that the director makes in the film. What is the director saying about the subject and why did the director make this film (besides to make money)? Are the reasons for the film explicitly stated, or does the viewer have to dig to find the meaning behind the film? Do you think the director’s interpretations are sound? Does the film offer anything innovative, such as challenging perspectives or new insights?

Next develop several paragraphs that examine the implicit arguments in the film, using examples to support your arguments. Are there factual or historical errors in the film? Does the director omit or ignore important topics? Does the film seem biased, and in what ways? Do the director’s biases get in the way of telling the story?

Place the film in some sort of historical context. What other films exist on this subject? Does the director of the film you are reviewing seem to accept or reject other interpretations about the topic? Does the film offer new evidence, examine a topic from a new direction, or provide a new interpretation of the topic? Are the director’s assumptions about the history reasonable? How does the film compare with the knowledge that you have on the topic?

Evaluate the quality of the filmmaking, the performance of the actors, and/or the usefulness of the film as an educational medium. Are the characters believable? Does the dialogue seem appropriate for the time and setting of the film? You may have enjoyed the film, but you might offer some criticism as to how it could be improved. Make note of the directing style, camera angles and other visual aspects of the film, and briefly discuss some of the technical details of the film, such as the main actors, the studio or production companies, running time, and audience rating.