The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968) – Tony Richardson

The events leading up to British involvment in the Crimean war are the focus of The Charge of the Light Brigadd the final recommendatiin from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book following my screening of Lawrence of Arabia. Based in part on the historical text, The Reason Why by Cecil Woodham-Smith.

Featuring performances by John Gielgud, Vanessa Redgrave, Trevor Howard and David Hemmings, the film while basing itself in a number of facts is also a product of its time, the late 60s, and is a solid anti-war treatise. There are shots at class structure, the glorification of the military and British Imperialism, all while taking a swipe at the stiff British upper lip.

Gielgud is Lord Raglan,and turns in a wonderful performance as a man who loves the service, and his station, hiding his crudeness and classism behind attempts at wit. And there are some great moments featuring the training of the brigade, and some of the things the men went through…

Hemmings is Captain Nolan, one of the best horse men in the brigade, but because he served in India and did not buy his position Raglan sneers at him. Nolan, of course, isn’t all British hero, as he pursues his friend’s new wife, Clarissa (Redgrave).

The film features some fanrastic animation based on the artistic style of Victorian newspapers, which helps chart where the action is proceeding as well as making sure to note to the audience that rhe media plays its part in war as well. And in this case may have edged the Empire along.
Raglan has his own issues with his peers and is a bit of a gloryhound, refusing to work with others and strutting like a peacock as he leads his men. It is almost a comedy of errors that allows the brigade to snatch a victory, and its troubling to think of how close to fact this story may be.

The film ends up being entertaining while maming a solid and poignant commentary on the nature of war. As Nolan surveys the wreckage after the first battle, it’s a jawdropping scene of bodies drenched in blood layering the landscape while scavengers seek out trophies amongst the dead. 

This is yet another one of those films that I was unfamiliar with. I recognized some of the images from it, because we had carried the film in a number of the video stores I’d worked in. I was unaware of the subject matter or how it was told, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover how much I enjoyed it.

Also of note was a very rousing score by John Addison,  someone I hadn’t heard of before. 

The recommendations from the Great Movies book for Lawrence were all top-notch and ones that I had never seen befofe. This book has served me very well, and there’s still a ways to go.

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