Scarlett O'Hara in GONE WITH THE WIND

From Antebellum to Modern Times

Best Historical Southern Films BIRTH OF A NATION
American silent star Dorothy Gish in

This was the first epic battle scene film to be made and was directed by the famous D. W. Griffith. (He directed many acclaimed films.) From the many first hand accounts from people that lived in the Civil War era- this movie is factually correct from the view of the southern man. This movie has been criticized for ‘racist’ overtones by some modern day viewers.
The one defining ‘Southern Belle’ moment in this film is when the character Flora is pursued by a now free former slave Gus- who proposes marriage. Gus is very direct and persistent- and she runs from him and ends in the forest. She ends up by a cliff- trapped- and she knows if he reaches her- she will be sexually assaulted and forever ruined. (as there is no one to protect her.) So, Flora chooses to kill herself and keep her honor. This was the thought process then by women, to remain pure before marriage. Race played no part in her decision, but modern day critics like to point this out as ‘proof of racism’ when they do not know the history of moral society back then. This is a great silent film which depicts the South the way it was, and it wasn’t always nice. But, who are we to judge back then?

Best Historical Southern Films THE LITTLE COLONEL
Shirley Temple in THE LITTLE COLONEL

This heartwarming story features Shirley Temple and great actor Lionel Barrymore. Southern belle Elizabeth marries a Northerner and moves away- and her father Colonel Lloyd disapproves. Elizabeth moves back near her old home with her daughter Lloyd (Shirley Temple) while her husband remains West for a while longer. Lloyd then finally gets to know her grandfather Colonel Lloyd. Southern themes and the way of life are depicted beautifully.

Best Historical Southern Films JEZEBEL
Bette Davis in JEZEBEL

JEZEBEL (1938)
The famous William Wyler directed this film starring Bette Davis. This is the only film other than GONE WITH THE WIND that really depicts ‘Southern Belles’ in the 19th century accurately. Strong willed Julie (Bette Davis) makes choices that bring her sorrow and in the end she tries to atone for her mistakes. What stood out for me costume wise in this film- was her beautiful white dress. Superb acting and one of my all time favorite films.

Best Historical Southern Films GONE WITH THE WIND
Fred Crane, George Reeves, and Vivien Leigh in

David O. Selznick directed this great movie featuring great actors Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh. This is the most well-known southern film and received ten Academy Awards. This film features the sometimes rebellious Scarlett and it depicts southern society well. (Note: The book GONE WITH THE WIND by Margaret Mitchell is better than the actual movie.)

Best Historical Southern Films CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF
Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor in CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF

This film is based on the Tennessee Williams play with the same name starring Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman. The setting is a Mississippi plantation where the married characters Brick and Maggie live with her father Big Daddy. In the movie we see the South changing- as it did with time. In this more modern society, there are still certain ‘society rules’ but features more ‘freedom’ of women due to liberation. Another important aspect of this film is it shows how greed and jealousy can ruin relationships. Excellent film- but I would not recommend for under 18 years of age because of adult marital issues.

Best Historical Southern Films NORTH AND SOUTH
Actor Patrick Swayze and Actress Lesley-Anne Down in NORTH AND SOUTH (1985)

NORTH AND SOUTH – Television Mini-Series (1985, 1986, 1994)
The mini-series starring Patrick Swayze and others known stars deals with the battles and turmoil of the soldiers as well as scenes with life as a ‘Southern Belle.’ The women’s costumes are beautiful as well. I do not recall seeing the last BOOK III installment in 1994. But, I did see BOOK I and BOOK II television movies. Compared to other films about this time period- I felt it “too commercialized” and not as authentic as previous films mentioned on this page. But, it is worth a watch and was an interesting mini-series. (NORTH AND SOUTH was filmed at Greenwood Plantation in St. Francisville, Louisiana – pictures are on my Southern Plantations Page)

Best Historical Southern Films STEEL MAGNOLIAS
Tom Skerritt and Julia Roberts in STEEL MAGNOLIAS

Growing up in the South in a well-respected proper family, this film was true to how it still is today in some aspects. The film stars Julia Roberts and Sally Fields in a story of a southern wedding and life afterwards. You could say the character Shelby is a modern-day Southern Belle. The events surrounding the wedding and customs are correct. Even the beauty parlor scenes are very factual about the ‘socializations’ that occur there. This is the only mainstream film I know to date that has portrayed the Southern way of living accurately in this modern age.

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