These real-life heroes inspire us all in ways great and small.
On October 19, 2003 — 15 years ago yesterday — Mother Teresa was officially beatified. The Nobel Peace Prize winner died six years earlier, but her influence not only in the Catholic Church, but around the world, had not dissipated. Even today, her name is a byword for compassion, dedication and lifelong sacrifice.
It’s not too surprising that Teresa inspired two movies after her death, and both are available online. You can watch the three-hour
Mother Teresa, a 2003 made-for-television movie starring Olivia Hussey (best known as Juliet from 1968’s Romeo and Juliet) with an Amazon Prime account. The Letters, starring Juliet Stevenson and released in 2015, is a powerful, more layered look at Mother Teresa’s life and ministry. It’s based in part on her personal correspondence, some of which speaks with raw honesty about her doubts and the silence of God. But those letters do nothing to dim the film’s picture of an inspiring woman. (Fun fact: I talked with the director William Riead when the movie was released. You can read it here.) That film is available to stream on Netflix.
But as remarkable as Mother Teresa was, others have dedicated themselves to worthy causes, sacrificing a good chunk of their lives for a better, brighter cause. And many of their stories have found their way to the screen. Here’s a look at some of them.
Amazing Grace (2006, PG) FourBoys Films | Fair Use
This film offers a bit of a twofer. The movie is really the story of William Wilberforce (played by Ioan Gruffudd), the famed British politician who, after a dramatic religious conversion, dedicated almost the remainder of his days to eradicating the slave trade. In every new session of Parliament, Wilberforce introduces a motion to that effect, earning him ridicule and hatred from his fellow parliamentarians. But through some clever back-door legislation and dogged determination, Wilberforce eventually succeeds — 20 years after the fight began. Who else to watch for? “Amazing Grace” composer John Newton, played by Alfred Finney. We see him sweeping a church floor, dressed in sackcloth — visible penance, we learn, for his years as a slave trader. He repented of his past and dedicated the rest of his life to God and helping Wilberforce eradicate the slave trade.
Amazing Grace is a competent film featuring some moving performances (including that of a rather young Benedict Cumberbatch). It’s available to rent on several streaming outlets for $2.99. Gandhi (1982, PG) Columbia Pictures | Fair Use
This film, starring Sir Ben Kingsley as the Indian statesman, won pretty much all the awards upon its release, including eight Oscars. It deserved them. In Kingsley’s capable hands, we see Gandhi transform from a young, impeccably dressed lawyer into a sage dressed not unlike the poorest Indians were — showing in his dress his solidarity with the country’s masses. He fought for and won independence from Britain without raising a fist, and he spent the rest of his days fighting religious unrest in a newly free India — eventually giving his life for the country he loved so much. You can rent Gandhi on Vudu for $2.99
Manjhi – The Mountain Man (2015, not rated)
While Gandhi dressed like an impoverished Indian, Manjhi really was. He might’ve lived an unremarkable, fairly anonymous life had his pregnant wife not fallen while trying to cross a long, treacherous mountain pass. She gave birth but died in the effort because the pass made it impossible to get to the hospital on time. A grieving Manjhi decided to do something about that pass — carving a shorter route through the mountain by hand and hammer. “When I started hammering the hill, people called me a lunatic,” the real Manjhi later admitted, “but that steeled my resolve.” For 22 years, Manjhi worked, finally carving out a roadway about as long as a football field — but that cut the pass down from about 50 miles to two. While Netflix had this film on its docket until relatively recently, you can still find a copy of the full movie
Selma (2014, PG-13) Paramount Pictures | Fair Use
Martin Luther King Jr. probably doesn’t need much of an introduction here, but this Academy Award Best Picture nominee is one of the best depictions of the Civil Rights leader in moviedom. The film focuses on King’s 1965 voting rights marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama — peaceful protests that turned violent at first but ultimately galvanized the Civil Rights Movement. Anchored by a moving performance by David Oyelowo, the movie gives us a flawed but principled King, one whose faith informed and motivated him to dedicate his life to making the country a better place. You can rent
Selma on several video platforms, including Amazon Prime and YouTube, beginning at $2.99. Schindler’s List (1993, R) Universal Pictures | Fair Use
Steven Spielberg’s magnum opus (it won eight Oscars, including ones for Best Picture and Best Director) is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year — which makes this a great time to revisit this difficult classic. Oskar Schindler’s dedication to a higher cause was perhaps shorter than some on this list: After all, the German businessman went from Nazi collaborator to the savior of thousands of Jews during just the span of World War II. Still, Schindler (played by Liam Neeson) spent pretty much his entire fortune in saving the day’s least fortunate, sacrificing his shallower but more comfortable dreams in pursuit of a better, higher goal. It’s available through Netflix right now, or you could rent it from a variety of streaming services beginning at $2.99.
Read more: Mother Teresa prayed this inspirational prayer on a daily basis