So yesterday, for my Eastern Question class, I watched the 1968 version of Charge of the Light Brigade with Trevor Howard, Vanessa Redgrave and host of other actors. It was…interesting. For those who do not know, the Eastern Question concerns the decline and eventual fall of the Ottoman Empire and the reaction of the Western Powers to it. It’s an interesting topic.
As to the movie, I wish there was some sane way to put into to writing just how much I laughed and laughed and laughed at the opening credits. ROFLMFAO does not seem very…scholarly. Talk about setting the tone. I’m willing to bet that THIS movie was the impetus behind the animated Monty Python’s opening sequences. The animated sleeping lion of England is looked towards by the French eagles and German…cockerel (?) as the Russian bear beats down Turkey. The Lion awakens, roars and dons his helmet for war! Following this are images related to the strength and prosperity of the United Kingdom and finally ends with an image of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert towering over an island that is in a sea of commerce proudly stating AGRICULTURE! INDUSTRY! COMMERCE! ART! SCIENCE! TRADE! – and in my mind, you say all those loudly while imitating Winston Churchill and you get a good idea what the initial impression is. I think it is safe to say that this movie is somewhat anglocentric… maybe…just a little. The animated Britannia raising her skirts to unleash the might of the British Empire on the Cossack horde is just glorious. To be honest, the animations were my favorite part of the movie. One could write an entire essay on the opening sequence and transition animations of this picture itself, never mind the rest of the movie!
One of the main characters, an anti-hero type named Capt. Louis Edward Nolan says at the very beginning; “England is looking well.” In doing so, Capt. Nolan sums up the entire theme of the movie. One has to wonder at the rosy outlook of Lucas.Especially when steps down to the scenes of the common man living in the dark, dank streets. “Recruits in England are mostly wobbly and bad formed.” says an old Master Sergeant…who also absolutely must be the source for the Monty Python Master Sergeant! The contrasts between the lives of officer and enlisted are stark, much more so than today. The scene with the sergeant teaching drill to the new recruits brought back memories, having committed the same crimes upon soldiers and sailors myself and experienced much the same problems, it’s astounding to me how a grown man may forget his right from his left under pressure unless properly trained.
However, as the first sixty-one minutes explores the politics of the regiment and establishes just how wonderful and terrible life in England is depending on one’s class the movie starts to lose me a little. I am afraid that after twenty minutes I had taken the position of “GET ON WITH IT!” The whole point it seems was to establish that Cardigan and most upper class officers were bloody fools. Cardigan is even called an “empty headed muff of a brother-in-law” by Lord Lucan when Lucan is told that he would be commanding Lord Cardigan. Cardigan was no less displeased. The British do take cursing to a utterly new level. Apparently, in real life, Lucan and Cardigan were brother’s-in-law and disliked each other with a passion.
I missed the character’s name, Lord Raglan I think, one of the higher ups states; “This war, our passage to India, the honor, the reputation of England is threatened!” He then calls Turkey; “The poor, brave, weak little, sick little Turkey.” Compares Turkey to a young lady who throws her hands up in surrender at being pushed. This is followed by a chorus of “poor little turkey in animation that is so Monty Pythonesque that I couldn’t help but laugh at it. That is not to say it was bad, it was great…but it was so over the top by today’s standards. This scene, this one scene, illustrates what was likely the British attitude towards Turkey at this time. But wasn’t that the British attitude towards…well… everyone?
Watching the battle scenes, I could not help but think; “those poor damned fools.” What a terrible way to fight a war. I know that comes from my experience as a soldier and a sailor in modern times. The whole idea of lining up and walking into enemy fire, uphill no less, just strikes me as murderous. Is it any wonder that Cardigan thinks that men have to be made more afraid of the punishment for not fighting? You could not get me to do it for love nor money.
I would like to say that only the Brits could take such a cock-up and turn it into patriotic victory, however… The Alamo, Camerone Day for the French Foreign Legion…etc.
It’s an interesting movie, but it shows more about British society and British military society than it does any real military action.