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Why The Post director Steven Spielberg is the master of the historical drama

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Steven Spielberg, legendary film director and Hollywood institution, has not one but two films released in the first three months of this year.

The first is factual drama The Post, which centres on The Washington Post’s publisher Kay Graham (Meryl Streep). Graham, along with her editor, Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), was involved in publishing The Pentagon Papers, documents that revealed a shocking US government cover-up regarding the Vietnam War. Spielberg will then follow up with nostalgia-inflected virtual reality adventure Ready Player One, released on 30th March.

For now we’re focusing on The Post: released on 19th January it’s poised to be a politically charged nail-biter – in other words, Spielberg’s forte. Read on to discover why Spielberg is the master of the historical drama.


He depicts real-life events as accurately as possible

Munich (2005), the account of the Munich Olympics massacre in 1972. Saving Private Ryan (1998), which begins with the World War II storming of the Normandy beaches in 1944. Schindler's List (1993), based on the story of Oskar Schindler who saved scores of Jews from Nazi tyranny during the Holocaust. 

In all of the above classics (and many more we haven’t mentioned) Steven Spielberg presents hard-hitting stories in a manner that’s accessible to a wide audience. Spielberg’s reputation for veracity is famous: the starkly handheld camerawork during the opening of Saving Private Ryan is meant to emulate the viewpoint of a war documentarian, stripping out any sense of heroism in the process.

Even if certain elements are fictionalised to add to the narrative (as in the climactic "I could have done more" sequence from Schindler’s List), Spielberg’s sincerity as a filmmaker is never in doubt.


He attracts the best actors to portray historic icons

Everyone in Hollywood wants to work with Spielberg. Three time Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis portrayed Abraham Lincoln, Oscar nominee Liam Neeson embodied Oskar Schindler and now awards-feted Meryl Streep is playing Kay Graham, the USA's first female news publisher, in The Post.

By casting the greatest actors, ones skilled enough at getting beneath the skin of real people, Spielberg is able to do real justice to such legendary figures. These distinguished stars mean that the film can be accessible for all types of audiences too.

Just take the presence of Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee in The Post. Viewers love Hanks, widely renowned as the nicest guy in Hollywood, and his ability to convey basic decency makes the story’s complex themes more entertaining and watchable.


His historical epics are loved by critics and awards bodies

Even though they don’t always win Spielberg’s films have received a great deal of awards recognition. Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan both won Spielberg a Best Director Oscar, while ten of his films have been nominated for Best Picture.

The Post is already making its mark during this year's award season with Hanks and Streep both nominated for Golden Globes, and the film itself is a contender for Best Drama. Whether accolades are important to you or not, their prominence during award season proves that Spielberg’s dramas are culturally important and highly regarded.


His characters are the key

Those depicted in Spielberg’s films are more often than not fully fleshed out, complete with a deep backstory that helps connect with viewers.

Take James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) from 2015's Bridge of Spies, who must endeavour to save a US spy detained in Cold War-era Berlin. A wholesome American lawyer, he must use his essential goodness and savvy legal brain to help navigate a city he’s unfamiliar with.

Then there’s Celie (Whoopi Goldberg) from 1985's The Color Purple. While a fictional character (as depicted in Alice Walker’s novel), she’s drawn from black women’s experiences during America’s turbulent early 20th century period, and is a fine example of how much attention Spielberg pays to character.

No matter what the backdrop, whether it’s war, America’s segregated deep south or something else entirely, it’s the characters that make Spielberg’s films memorable.



The Post is set to follow in the footsteps of Spielberg's masterpieces, taking us deep inside the workings of The Washington Post and introducing us to the fiercely committed, tenacious journalists who exposed a conspiracy that rocked America to its core. Be sure to catch it in Cineworld from 19th January.


Nadine Shambrook is an Unlimited card holder who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.