Back To School: A Cinematic Primer

Be it phys-ed or astrophysics, here are eight movies to prepare you for class

With summer coming to an end, it’s time to get ready for autumn, which for many of us means back to school. For history buffs, two films this fall recapture the past in stunning cinematic glory. The movie Downton Abbey—opening in theaters September 20—brings back the Crawley family and their estate as they prepare for a visit from the King and Queen of England in 1927. For fans of the TV series, the film happens 15 momentous years after we first encounter the Crawleys in 1912, shortly after the Titanic goes down. For director Michael Engler, “British history has a particular set of literary, visual, cultural heritage that still resonates for people, and is still beautiful.” In Kasi LemmonsHarriet—in theaters November 1—Cynthia Erivo is Harriet Tubman, the legendary woman who escaped slavery and saved the lives of many other enslaved people by bringing them North through the Underground Railroad.

With history covered, we’re spotlighting some other subjects you might want to brush up on before the school year starts. From an out-of-this-world physics lesson to over-the-top dramatics, these movies prove that learning can be fun-demental.

Get tickets to see Downton Abbey today.

The official trailer for Downton Abbey

English Literature | Pride & Prejudice

Since being published in 1813, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen’s novel of manners and marriage in 18th century England, has become a hallmark of English literature. Virginia Woolf singled out Austen as “the most perfect artist among women, the writer whose books are immortal.” For those unfamiliar with her most famous novel, Joe Wright’s adaptation Pride & Prejudicewith Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet and Matthew Macfadyen as the first aloof, then irresistible Mr. Darcy—provides a great start. The San Francisco Chronicle notes, “For the uninitiated, I can't imagine a better introduction to this classic.”

Get Pride & Prejudice now on iTunes or at Amazon.

A romantic scene from Pride & Prejudice with Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen

Astrophysics | The Theory of Everything

In James Marsh’s The Theory of EverythingEddie Redmayne won an Academy Award® for his portrayal of legendary theoretical astrophysicist Stephen Hawking. While much of the story focuses on the personal—his fight with ALS and his marriage to Jane Hawking (played by Felicity Jones)—it also explores Hawking’s unquenchable thirst for scientific inquiry. Professor David Kaplan of John Hopkins University marvels at how the film captures the physicist’s unique mix of intellect and imagination as someone who can “rigorously prove things…but can also speculate wildly.” This passion for science makes the movie one of one of BookMyShow’s “5 Films Every Physics Student Must Watch.”

Get The Theory of Everything now on iTunes or at Amazon.

The official trailer for The Theory of Everything

French | Swimming Pool

With Swimming Pool, French director François Ozon created an English-language mystery with just enough of his mother tongue to keep you très intéresséCharlotte Rampling plays Sarah Morton, a British crime novelist who takes a vacation in the South of France, hoping to clear her writer’s block. The unexpected appearance of a young French woman, Julie (Ludivine Sagnier), provides the buttoned-down writer enough inspiration and interruption to get her creative juices flowing. Test your own French as you try, like Sarah, to decipher what Julie whispers en français to others around the house. But be warned, the mystery, like the French dialogue, will slip, as Entertainment Weekly notes, “through our hands like cool water, shimmery and light-dappled, leaving behind the pleasures of summer heat and goose bumps.”

Get Swimming Pool now on iTunes or at Amazon

Charlotte Rampling and Ludivine Sagnier in the official trailer for Swimming Pool

Political Science | Darkest Hour 

There may be no better tutorial on the power of language and political action than watching Winston Churchill (played by Gary Oldman in an Academy Award®-winning performance) steer a nation from despair to hope in Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour. In May of 1940, England feels all but defeated. Their army has been pushed to the ocean's edge by an unstoppable German force that has already conquered nearly all of Europe. The prime minister Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) has lost the confidence of the government. And many within Churchill’s own party want to seek appeasement with Hitler. In such dire circumstances, Churchill must not only negotiate the perilous waters of English politics, but also inspire both King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn) and the British people to believe in the possibility of a victorious future. If Darkest Hour is “a history lesson” on political maneuvering, “it’s one that plays,” as suggests, “like a tightly wound, pulse-pounding thriller.”

Get Darkest Hour now on iTunes or at Amazon.

Gary Oldman inspires a nation as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour's official trailer

Drama | Hamlet 2

For theater geeks, Andrew Fleming’s Hamlet 2 is, as Entertainment Weekly describes it, “a high school musical that would make John Waters proud.” When failed actor Dana Marschz (Steve Coogan) comes to Tucson, Arizona, to work as a high school drama teacher, he feels his professional life is over. Things go from bad to worse when he's told the drama department is being discontinued. Refusing to give up on his rag-tag team of thesbians, Marschz writes and stages a musical sequel to Shakespeare’s great tragedy, a delirously demented production with such jaw-dropping numbers as “Rock Me Sexy Jesus.” For director Fleming, Marschz' insanity is actually inspiring: “There's always this one teacher in your high school who is crazy and wildly unconventional” and ends up “affecting you more than the teachers who are totally together.”

Get Hamlet 2 now on iTunes or at Amazon.

Steve Coogan inspires dramatic youth in Hamlet 2's official trailer.

Gym | Race

Race, Stephen Hopkins’ biopic of Olympic powerhouse Jesse Owens (Stephan James), will give everyone a bit more juice as they tie up their sneakers for gym class. Owens took the world by storm at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, winning four gold medals and exploding the racial myths extolled by his Nazi hosts. The movie, however, doesn’t shy away from exposing the cruel reality that America’s greatest athlete had to return to the indignities of a segregated society back home. In stepping into Owens’ shoes, James discovered a man, however, motivated not by politics or patriotism, but by athletic excellence. “It just boiled down to his love for running,” explains James. “He wasn’t going to let anybody tell him what he should and shouldn’t do. He was going to run for himself.”

Get Race now on iTunes or at Amazon.

Stephan James runs as Jesse Owen in Race's official trailer.

Sign up for the Focus Insider newsletter to be first in line for free advance screenings, world premiere travel packages, weekend set visits, and so much more!

Follow Focus Features on InstagramFacebook, and Twitter.