Top 10 Films In Which Anthony Hopkins Plays Historical Figures

Mark Fraser takes a look at the great Sir Anthony Hopkins, focusing on the acclaimed actor’s work in the roles of some well known and some not-so-well known historical figures

Welshman Tony Hopkins has portrayed so many real life figures in his 45-year screen career that a number of these roles have been excluded from this list because they appear in shows made for television. These include Adolf Hitler (The Bunker, 1981), Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (Victory at Entebbe – a TV movie which was theatrically released to international audiences circa 1976/77) and English author Charles Dickens (The Inimitable Mr Dickens, 1970). Mark Fraser looks at the Oscar™-winning actor’s top 10 cinematic performances when it comes to playing .

10. A Bridge Too Far (Richard Attenborough, 1977)

bridge-too-far_anthony-hopkinsIn this star studded World War II true story extravaganza, Hopkins plays lieutenant colonel John Frost (1912–1993), the English airborne officer who actually enjoyed a modicum of success in Operation Market Garden, when the allies attempted to seize a number of bridges from the Germans in the Netherlands during the second half of 1944. Frost, who eventually finished his military career in 1968 as a major general, was one of the first members of the British parachute regiment and served in both the European and African theatres of war before being captured by the Nazis at Arnhem after briefly taking the bridge.

9. Young Winston (Richard Attenborough, 1972)

young-Winston_anthony-hopkinsHopkins portrays one time Tory English Prime Minister David Lloyd George (1863-1945) in this biopic about the early life of the late Winston Churchill. Like Churchill, DLG was a wartime PM, leading a coalition government from 1916-22 during a period that covered the World War I allied victory (he later led the country’s Liberal Party from 1926 to 1931). And, like Hopkins, George was born in Wales – something which may help explain why the actor was keen to reprise his role as DLG in both the 1973 TV movie Lloyd George and the television mini-series The Edwardians (also 1973). Since then, Hopkins and Attenborough have made four films together – the above-mentioned A Bridge Too Far, Magic (1978), Chaplin (1992 – another biopic, in which the actor has a fictionalised role) and Shadowlands (1993).

8. The Lion in Winter (Anthony Harvey, 1968)

lion-in-winter_anthony-hopkinsThe 28-year-old Hopkins made his screen debut in this Oscar™-winning movie playing Prince Richard the Lionheart (1157–1199) – the future King Richard I of England (who reigned from 1189 to 1199) – opposite Peter O’Toole (as King Henry II) and Katherine Hepburn (Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine). While the events depicted in the script are fictitious, the real Richard enjoyed a most eventful life, also ruling other jurisdictions as the dukes of Normandy, Aquitaine and Gascony. Furthermore, like Frost in A Bridge Too Far, he was recognised for his military savvy, having taken command of his own army at the age of 16 and later playing a key role in the Third Crusade against the Muslims.

7. The World’s Fastest Indian (Roger Donaldson, 2005)

Inspire you into sport, Top 10 Films, World's Fastest Indian,New Zealander Burt Munro (1899-1978) was a motorcycle enthusiast who, during August 1967, set the land speed world record for an under 1000cc machine at the Bonneville Flats in Utah. Hopkins portrays Munro as something of an innocent abroad when he leaves his home country to embark on his quest, during which time he discovers that chasing his dream in the land of opportunity is not as straight forward as an adventurous Kiwi might expect. A likeable role in a pseudo road movie that is competently made by a NZ-born director, who originally visited the topic back in 1971 when he produced a short documentary on the man.

*Editor’s note: The World’s Fastest Indian is well-loved on Top 10 Films. Check out Top 10 Inspirational Sports Films & the Top 25 Films To Make You Happy for more on this incredible film

6. Surviving Picasso (James Ivory, 1996)

surviving-picasso_anthony-hopkinsIt’s arguable that Hopkins was perhaps a wee bit miscast in this yarn about one of the 20th Century’s greatest artists. And this is not because of the actor’s age or build – rather, it’s due to the fact he doesn’t really look or sound Spanish. Pablo Ruiz Picasso (1881-1973) was a painter, sculptor and engraver who – along with Georges Braque – created Cubism. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s screenplay, which is loosely based on a biography by Arianna (The Huffington Post) Huffington, portrays Picasso as something of a selfish bastard. At least this is one part of the characterisation that Hopkins gets right.

5. The Bounty (Roger Donaldson, 1984)

bounty_anthony-hopkinsThe HMS Bounty mutiny had already been the subject of four films by the time Hopkins and Donaldson tackled this version, which also starred Mel Gibson as Fletcher Christian. Unlike Lewis Milestone’s 1962 Mutiny on the Bounty, in which Trevor Howard played Bligh (1754-1817), this ship’s captain is not so much a bullying tyrant as an honourable officer (admittedly imbued with the Hopkins-esque fuse) who ends up facing circumstances that grow well beyond his control.

4. Amistad (Steven Spielberg, 1997)

amistad_anthony-hopkinsThis was Hopkins second portrayal of a US president following his Oscar™-nominated performance in Nixon (see below). All in all he does a pretty good job as John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), the sixth American president and son of its second (John Adams), who was “an outstanding champion of the-anti slavery cause in the house of representatives during the last 16 years of his long life” (Encyclopaedia Britannica). I suspect even Gore Vidal might have enjoyed the Welshman in this.

See also: Top 10 Steven Spielberg Films

3. The Elephant Man (David Lynch, 1980)

elephant-man-hopkinsWhile John Hurt pretty much received all of the critical kudos for his role as the hideously disfigured Joseph “John” Merrick in this black and white masterwork by David Lynch, Hopkins was absolutely terrific as the quietly spoken, impeccably mannered English surgeon Sir Frederick Treves (1853-1923), who sheds a tear when he first sees the London East End freak show attraction. In real life Treves was not only handy with a knife (he’s reported to have conducted the first appendectomy in England during June 1888); he also served in the South African Boer War and wrote a number of books – including The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscences (1923), on which the film’s script is partly based.

2. Nixon (Oliver Stone, 1996)

Anthony-Hopkins_nixonOne of the big surprises of this movie is the fact it is somewhat sympathetic towards US president Richard Nixon (1913-1994), who was guilty of so many wrong doings that he didn’t really deserve any sympathy at all. (Certainly Hunter S Thompson felt that way when, in a 1994 obit that appeared in Rolling Stone, he said if the right people had been in charge of Nixon’s funeral “his casket would have been launched into one of those open-sewage canals that empty into the ocean just south of Los Angeles” and his body “should have been burned in a trash bin”.) As with the Picasso film, once again Hopkins seems a tad miscast (it was reported that Tom Hanks had been approached to play Nixon, which would have been very interesting), but that’s only because of his stocky build and the shape of his head. Otherwise it’s a smashing performance full of fantastic moments in one of Hollywood’s richest releases of the 1990s.

See also: Top 10 Oliver Stone Films

1. Hitchcock (Sacha Gervasi, 2012)

Hitchcock_anthony-hopkinsWhat other way is there to finish a top 10 ten film list when an option is a movie about one of the greatest Hollywood directors ever to have lived? As Englishman Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980) Hopkins plays a character that is arguably as complex (albeit nowhere near as evil) as Nixon. And, as in the majority of his films, the Welshman makes a mighty fine meal of it!

See also: Top 10 Alfred Hitchcock Films

Written and compiled by Mark Fraser.

About the Author
Mark is a film journalist, screenwriter and former production assistant from Western Australia.

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  1. Evan Crean Reply

    An eclectic mix of historical films here. The only ones I’ve seen on it are A Lion in Winter and Hitchcock. Don’t remember Hopkins too well in the former, but in the latter he was entertaining even if the movie itself was meandering.

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