Film (and TV) is a highly effective medium for the expression of cultural history. In some respects the narrative and analytic qualities of film exceed the capability of expository prose in evoking complex and subtle aspects of twentieth century culture.
The following film and TV list includes works which are representative of cultural motifs at a particular moment as well as consciously contrived historical recreations of past cultural themes. While the list is far from exhaustive, viewing all these films would mean a substantial education in the main currents of twentieth century culture from 1900 to the present.
This 1937 Hollywood film, from a Rudyard Kipling poem, is not just a sentimental story about the nineteenth century British Raj. In itself it represents the ethos of imperialism and makes you wonder about American or at least Hollywood culture in the Age of Roosevelt. This film is so patronizingly racist it has to be seen to be believe. On the issues of imperialism and racism, the 1930's mentality is much closer, this film demonstrates, to the Victorians than to us.
David Lean directed this 1947 film from Dickens' novel and if anything, improved upon it. The film subtly shows the meaning of getting ahead in Victorian society, and the tensions and anxieties it involved.
Tony Richardson wanted his 1968 film to be a definitive critique of Victorian militarism and imperialism. He tried so hard the film was unsuccessful commercially and exhibits a hesitant, uncertain quality that was bound to confuse and annoy the mass audience (they much preferred the more simple-minded Hollywood version of the same incident, a companion piece to Gunga Din). What remains valuable in Richardson's film is the effort to get inside the minds of Victorian soldiers and show that behind their splendid uniforms, they were individuals--by no means were they all alike.