Diplomacy and all of its associated procedures are frequently depicted in films about international politics. As a result, the following list seeks to condense the most intriguing, inspirational, but also critical films about diplomats, diplomatic operations, and overt and covert discussions into 10 selections. The list is not intended to represent any political viewpoint. In the alternative, it aims to educate, inspire, discuss the benefits and drawbacks of diplomacy, and introduce different diplomacy techniques.

10 diplomacy movies

  1. 13 Days

The film’ Thirteen Days’ depicts the most perilous episode in modern times: the Cuban Missile Crisis and associated nuclear diplomacy. In 1962, President John F. Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev were face to face, contemplating decisions that could perhaps have ended in the death of 100 million people. President Kennedy crafted a proposal which included a public bargain (the US offering to not attack Cuba in exchange for Russia withdrawing its missiles), a hidden ultimatum (threatening to strike Cuba if Khrushchev refused to accept the offer in 24 hours), and a hidden incentive (to withdraw U.S. missiles in Turkey after crisis resolution)

The film brings to life the reality that, as unbelievable as it may seem, the encounter might have resulted in a nuclear war. But the idea of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) for both countries made the diplomatic approach more preferable. The movie reflects the different types of diplomacy, such as Shopkeeper diplomacy where bargaining is involved, preventative and gunboat diplomacy with deterrence, secret diplomacy with hidden clauses and open diplomacy through public deals.

2. Iron Lady

The film “The Iron Lady” is a biographical depiction of the life of the former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Although the majority of the film is devoted to visualizing personal and professional life with all its social and feminist ideas concerning the internal affairs of Britain, there is some part dedicated to the events of the Falkland War and Cold War.

The British Prime minister, when faced with the duty of defending the Falkland Islands, contemplates different paths of retaining the islands. The film portrays the interaction between the prime minister and her advisors who calculate the military approach but not before attempting to adopt the diplomatic approach. The U.S. secretary of State offers the prime minister to adopt an appeasement policy but is rejected by PM Thatcher. The Balance of Power model is indicated when the U.S and Peruvian governments offer to mediate and resolve the conflict between Britain and Argentina. Therefore, the viewers can see the progress of the conflict resolution shift from diplomacy to aggression in this movie. There is also the portrayal of diplomatic events between nation leaders which is necessary for the success of diplomatic relations through agreements, treaties, among others.

3. Arrival

In the fictional work, the US military hires Louise Banks to speak with extra-terrestrial visitors when alien ships dock in China, Russia, the United States, and nine other sites around the planet. Initially, world governments worked together to figure out why the aliens were visiting. However, as discontent and uncertainty rise, the fragile international cooperation threatens to devolve into full-fledged confrontation. The film delves into the complexities of language and game theory in international collaborations when the information sharing is not transparent and the communications between nations are strained towards the end.

The movie has international theories embedded not only in the interactions between nations but also in the viewpoint of the aliens. The protagonist eventually discovers that even the aliens regard diplomacy as a “non-zero-sum game,” similar to liberalism, which maintains that international collaboration leads to reciprocal gains. Constructivism, the belief that distinctions arise from socially created standards such as language, is also shown in the film. There is a depiction of soft power diplomacy that can be observed when there is the understanding that China influences four other nations through its relations.

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4. Diplomacy

“Diplomacy” succeeds in capturing the attention of its audience. The film depicts an interaction between the Wehrmacht’s commanding officer in Paris, General Dietrich von Choltitz, and a neutral Swedish diplomat, Raoul Nordling, in the early hours of August 25, 1944, just before and after sunrise. The Swede has managed to sneak into the office of the German with the objective of persuading him to not blow-up Paris, a city that both of them share a love for. On rational, artistic, historical, and personal factors, Nordling’s ideas appeal to the general public. The diplomat also invokes the rules of engagement that would normally prohibit such a morally reprehensible act. The majority of the film revolves around the two men debating inside a room. Although there isn’t much of a difference between their views. Choltitz and Nordling got along smoothly. And, even though he considers Choltitz’s logic repulsive, Nordling is courteous, i.e. diplomatic, with his opposition, who he addresses with respect.

The film is an effort to show the impact of diplomacy and peaceful methods of conflict resolution on the rivals and the benefit it provides to both parties by avoiding active combat or destruction. The interaction between the characters provides insights into the arena of diplomacy, which has many negotiations, compromises, uncertainty and consequences. The ultimate goal of the diplomatic effort is peaceful co-existence rather than a conflict in hopes of peace.

5. The Diplomat

The Diplomat recounts the extraordinary biography of American Ambassador Richard Holbrooke’s life and achievements, spanning fifty years of American foreign policy-beginning with Vietnam and to Afghanistan. The documentary, presented from the viewpoint of his son David, shows you behind the curtains of high-stakes diplomacy, wherein peace is pursued and conflicts are concluded. Holbrooke was first deployed to Vietnam as a junior foreign service officer and had seen closely what had gone awry. President Clinton appoints him thirty years later to bring an end to yet another crisis, the raging Bosnian war in Europe. This achievement, although it brings him renown, fails to secure the role of Secretary of State, he had hoped for. Following this, he is assigned to resolve the Afghanistan conflict but is faced with several obstacles and eventual death.

The documentary offers an insight into the efforts of diplomats and their involvement with the governments and leaders of nations. Diplomacy shines in its brightest form as we view the resolution of conflicts towards peace and cooperation. It depicts the bureaucratic processes along with the difficulties associated with diplomacy.

6. Bridge of Spies

The historical drama film is set during the Cold War and follows a lawyer, James B. Donovan, who is tasked with negotiating the release of a U.S. pilot, Francis Gary Powers, in trade for Rudolf Abel, a Soviet KGB agent de Although the Bridge of Spies is based on true occurrences, it deviates from the historical narrative in some aspects. Even though the plot’s central theme is espionage and exfiltration, this film’s secondary plot is diplomatic and cultural conflict. The core of Cold War diplomacy was the conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union, but a variety of diplomatic activities, particularly covert and unauthorized initiatives, endured. In the film, the fact that high-level negotiations between the Soviet Union and the United States would have convoluted the two countries’ Cold War relations has been addressed by non-official negotiations. The diplomatic elements in this event are shopkeeper style and a hybrid government-civil diplomacy.

7. Darkest Hour

The movie explores the events of May 1940, when British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain resigned and was succeeded by Winston Churchill. It reflects the journey of Churchill as he must decide if the state should make peace with Adolf Hitler and aspire to sovereignty or to defy the tyrannical rule of Nazi Germany, even though the entire island might perish in the attempt.

The dilemma of diplomacy versus defence is explored in the movie as we see the government divided between advocating diplomacy for a peace treaty and others hope to engage in war against Germany as a conflict resolution method. When we apply a rational approach to the conflict, it’s reasonable that leadership would prefer to expend every diplomatic option before actually going to war. However, in retrospect, one can apply the Just-War theory to the situation and argue that there is a good that can be achieved by going to war, one that is beyond national interests. Regardless of how “just” a conflict may be, our leaders would do well to contemplate the gravity of their actions and the cost of their population.

8. Shaking Hands with the Devil

Roger Spottiswoode’s film Shake Hands with the Devil is a Canadian military drama. The film is based on the book by Canadian Lieutenant-General Romeo Dallaire on the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. The United Nations appointed Dallaire to monitor Rwanda’s journey to peace. The movie explores the factors that contributed to the collapse of Dallaire’s peacekeeping operation, the UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR). The UNAMIR has gotten a lot of media coverage for its involvement in failing to stop the Rwandan genocide and breakout of conflict owing to the limits of its rules of engagement. As a result, the operation is considered a huge defeat for the United Nations, and the U.N. Peacekeeping status was affected. The parties in Rwanda did not agree to participate in the peace-making process. Furthermore, the UN’s and international system’s bureaucratic character, as well as important countries’ delay and lack of commitment, aggravated the issue.

The movie portrays diplomacy as engaged by international organisations as opposed to diplomacy between nations. The movie showcases the failure of collaborative efforts in diplomacy which led to its and therefore highlights the foundation of diplomacy as cooperation.

9. In the Loop

The movie “In the Loop” by Armando Iannucci is a political satire about the debates associated with the U.S and Britain’s joint in declaring war in the middle east. A statement from a British Minister leads to questions and debates about war or diplomacy for achieving peace. The ambiguity in his statements makes him a tool for both the hawks and the doves in the US State Department, where support for a conflict in “the Middle East” is growing. The British and U.S officials are engaged in a set of debates and discussions involving the minister. The movie satirically portrays political dialogues behind the planning of war or military action.

The movie highlights bilateral relations between the U.S. and Britain while depicting the multi-state operations that occur around the world. The diplomatic elements are the collaborations between nations when it involves a third party along with the ever-present debates on diplomacy versus attack for conflict resolution.

10. The French Minister

The French Minister is a fast-paced, satirical comedy about diplomacy and international affairs. The drama is based on Abel Lanzac’s award-winning novel based on his time as a speechwriter for Dominique de Villepin, a professional diplomat who later served as France’s foreign minister and then Prime Minister. It is a partially fictional comedy about France’sMinistry of Foreign Affairs in the lead-up to America’s invasion of Iraq, with Iraq replaced by the imaginary country of Lousdemistan. The film is centred around the speechwriter, which lacks a traditional plot framework, instead welcomes the spectator into the realm of diplomacy and bureaucracy in a circular rather than sequential manner.

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The movie, although satirical, helps in understanding European power diplomacy and the responsibilities associated with it. As diplomatic interactions are high-stake, the words of the officials hold high value and that is comedically portrayed in the movie. Showcasing the scenes behind important political events helps in understanding the world of international relations better and the added comedic elements keep it from turning grave.

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Ruthu is a student of Symbiosis School for Liberal Arts, pursuing interdisciplinary studies in international relations, political science and sociology. She is passionate about current affairs, public policies, sustainable development, human rights and quality education. She aspires to have a career in research and academia that allow observation of social reality by combining her subjects and passions in writing.