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A chronicle of events that led to the British involvement in the Crimean War against Russia and which led to the siege of Sevastopol and the fierce Battle of Balaclava on October 25, 1854 which climaxed with the heroic, but near-disastrous calvary charge made by the British Light Brigade against a Russian artillery battery in a small valley which resulted in the near-destruction of the brigade due to error of judgement and rash planning on part by the inept British commanders. Written by
The character called Featherstonehaugh (played by Corin Redgrave) has his name pronounced more or less as it is written, with four syllables. An upper-class Englishman of the mid-19th century (or, indeed, today) would pronounce it "Fanshawe". See more »
This movie was made in 1968 but I never got the impression from watching it that it was anti war. The movie was made entirely with British actors and a British director and the Brits never had an antiwar movement (because their government gave up its militarism after Suez in 1955). The movie depicts the British army as it existed in 1850. This was a period when one gained advancement in the army by money or title. It was a largely decadent and unprofessional army and the movie I think characterizes it rather well. In fact, Nolan wrote a book complaining about the need to professionalize the army but it took the near disastrous Crimean War to affect any serious changes (it too the British Navy another generation or more to make similar changes). At the time, there was a debate about the effectiveness of cavalry with some believing that no defensive position could withstand the full force of a disciplined cavalry charge--a left over from the Napoleonic Wars--while others thought a charge into artillery was near suicidal. Nolan's roll in the battle remains controversial and whether he delivered inaccurate verbal orders to Acrdigan to charge to prove the effectiveness of cavalry even against artillery or warn the brigade away has not been established because Nolan was killed.
As for the Crimean War, it also depicts the drum beat to war accurately and the implication that most of the dying was done by commoners and much of the death was caused by disease. It was an ugly war. What isn't shown is that the condition of the Russian army was far worse. The poor Russian peasant soldiers were sent to fight with smoothbore Napeolonic Era muskets with an effective range of perhaps 100 meters while the British and the French was new rifled muskets with a range of over 300 meters. In some battles very small forces of British held off huge numbers of Russians killing hundreds.
The Battle of Balaclave is generally depicted accurately. It was a calamity of errors. Capt Nolan actually lost his head during the charge and witnesses indicate that his horse continued running with corpse in the saddle for some distance before the body collapsed. The charge was initiated by the heavy Brigade led by Lord Lucan. There was a rivalry between Lucan and Lord Cardigan (brothers in law) and both brigades initially made the charge but the Heavies did not enter the Valley of Death. The Light Brigade continued into the Valley and were decimated but not wiped out. In fact they were supported by the French cavalry the Chasseurs d'Afrique and the Russian positions were in fact overrun. I think the charge as depicted in this movie is one of the most exciting I have ever seen captured in the cinema.
The so called Valley of Death has changed considerably since the 1850s. By 1994, it was entirely planted in vineyards and the only way to gain some sense of the battle is to find the famous Tractir Bridge over the Tchernaya River and follow the lines of hills. As for the town of Balaclava...I have a photograph of the town in 1854 with the British fleet anchored in the harbor. I took a photograph of this village in 1994 from just about the same angle as the 1854 image and then compared the two. The place is completely unchanged with even the stone buildings remaining. Of course, the village today is the base of the Ukranian Black Sea fleet and there is a not so secret submarine base cared into the limestone cliffs inside the harbor.
We may think that the Crimean War is ancient history but the people of Crimea do not. They have sort of a living museum called the Panaorma. This is a museum devoted to the siege of Sevastopol. There is a circular path and the visitor is engulfed by the on going battles on both sides of the path. One may wander the hills above Sevastopol and many of the rifle pits and trenches from the war remain (they were reused by the Russians during the unsuccessful defense of the city in 1942). It is a wonderful museum and it exemplifies the Russian attitude that history is alive and they don't forget their past.
This is a historically accurate movie. It moves a little slow at times and it has some amusing cartoonish graphics (almost reminiscent of Monty Python graphics). All the major players obviously have a great deal of fun with their rolls.
Anecdotes: Tony Richardson's two children, Nastasha and Joely are in the film as well is his sister in law Vanessa Redgrave. I think I have these relationships correct. Anyway, they are all related.
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