Hi, it’s me again, hoping I did as good a job being Cara yesterday as Cara did being Diane. 🙂 Today, the actual anniversary of the battle, I’m going to talk about documentaries and films of Waterloo you might want to watch for research and/or to commemorate the event.
Like many of you, I like visuals. When reading about battles, I find myself frequently flipping to the maps as I try to visualize who attacked from which direction, etc… So I got onto Netflix and ordered the documentary 1815: THE BATTLE OF WATERLOO. At only about an hour long, it is limited in its coverage but it does provide basic descriptions of the roles of infantry, cavalry and artillery, some football-play-style depictions of the movements of armies with arrows and such, and footage from the 1970 epic film below to provide some pretty realistic scenes of cavalry charges, etc… If you want to understand the battle but have trouble picturing what is happening just from text, this is a good starting place.
Next I watched the 1970 epic, WATERLOO, directed by Sergei Bondarchuk, with Rod Steiger playing Napoleon and Christopher Plummer as Wellington. It was a box office flop; I suspect that it was not enough of a documentary for military history buffs and not enough of a drama for general audiences. Being as I enjoy a mix of both, I thought it quite good. The main characters were well-cast (yes, Christopher Plummer did bring up memories of Captain von Trapp but the Captain and the Duke do have a lot in common). I am not enough of an expert to comment on the accuracy of the battle scenes, but the scale was convincing. 20,000 men from a Russian army division were used to portray the massed armies. Cavalry and artillery were both depicted on a grand scale. Aerial shots are helpful to anyone who might have difficulty picturing infantry squares. Overall, I recommend it.
(One warning. The version I rented was produced in China and the subtitles were written by someone with little knowledge of English and less of the battle. “Quatre Bras” becomes “Catilba”, “Picton” becomes “Prekton” and in one memorable line of dialogue, Bonaparte says that Wellington has “bred to death.” And you can’t even turn the subtitles off. If you rent this version, I recommend sticking something across the bottom of the screen so you won’t be distracted by the sheer awfulness.)
As for SHARPE’S WATERLOO, well, I love Richard Sharpe and I love Sean Bean as Richard Sharpe, but this film is painfully unconvincing as a depiction of Waterloo. Throughout the series, battle scenes suffered from being low budget and this one is worse than the others. Although much of the action is centered around the defense of the farmhouse of La Haye Sainte, which can be depicted with a more modest cast, there are still many scenes that suffer from a sheer inadequacy of scale. If you enjoy the series and its characters, by all means catch this film. Just don’t expect it to give you a real flavor of the battle.
Have any of you seen these movies and if so, what did you think? If you’ve seen other films or documentaries of Waterloo, please share!