Eight-hour epic based on the book of the same name by Leo Tolstoy. Two main story-lines are complex and intertwined. One is the love story of young Countess Natasha Rostova and Count Pierre... See full summary »
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After defeating France and imprisoning Napoleon on Elba, ending two decades of war, Europe is shocked to find Napoleon has escaped and has caused the French Army to defect from the King back to him. The best of the British generals, the Duke of Wellington, beat Napolean's best generals in Spain and Portugal, but has never faced Napoleon. Wellington stands between Napoleon with a makeshift Anglo-Allied army and the Prussians. A Napoleon victory will plunge Europe back into a long term war. An allied victory could bring long term peace to Europe. The two meet at Waterloo where the fate of Europe will be decided. Written by
John Vogel <email@example.com>
Though third billed in the film's credits and on movie posters and promo materials, actor Orson Welles only appears in the picture very briefly. See more »
Mountains can be seen in the background during the battle. There are no mountains in this part of Belgium. See more »
What's he doing? What's Ney doing? What's happening? Can't I leave the field for a minute? What's he doing there? How can a man go forward with the cavalry without infantry support? What's the matter with you?
See more »
This film is simply a master-stroke. It depicts one of the greatest military victories in British history and, from the point of view of the French, one of the most disastrous. This battle put an end to the monstrous (but impressive) career of the 'Great Thief of Europe', Napoleon Bonaparte.
Firstly, as an Briton, I must count the Duke of Wellington as one of my heroes but I should also say that I am a great admirer of the Emperor. Although I stand in awe of his achievements, however, as a patriot, I can't say I regret that he was eventually defeated. Nevertheless, this doesn't stop me from admiring him.
This film is probably the best film ever made that so vividly depicts the unique relationship between these two exceptional characters: Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington and Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of the French, who, between them, were the greatest military minds of that era (along with the great naval genius Rear-Admiral Horatio, Viscount Nelson, who beat the French at Trafalgar, but was tragically killed in the Battle).
The film has an amazing international cast, which includes Rod Steiger, Christopher Plummer, Virginia McKenna, Jack Hawkins, Dan O'Herlihy and the legendary Orson Welles as King Louis XVIII.
Steiger plays the Emperor and the film starts with one of his most loyal generals, Marshal Michel Ney, Duc d'Elchingen (O'Herlihy), forcing him to abdicate the French throne. Steiger's portrayal of Bonaparte is electric and he plays the Emperor almost like a tragi-hero. A military genius who lays waste to most of Europe but cannot overcome his own inner-demons. Steiger's portrayal, unlike most depictions of Napoleon, shows both the Emperor's military and political fervour as well as his anxiety, insecurity and mental anguish. The director is mindful of the fact that, although Napoleon was embarking on the definitave military campaign of his life, he was mentally exhausted and destroyed by the absence of his beloved son, who was 'captive' in Austria with his mother. Although occasionally a little too zelous, on the whole, Steiger's performance lights up the screen, giving the viewer a vivid sense of Napoleon's imperfections, his tantrums and eccentricities.
Christopher Plummer takes on the role of one of Britain's great heroes. Once again, Sergei Bondarchuk has made no effort to romanticise or excessively glorify the 'Iron Duke'. Plummer's performance is beautifully underacted and Plummer chooses to show both Wellington's massive ego and his sharp and witty sense of humour. Like Napoleon, and most English aritocrats, Wellington was also an eccentric (this is most excellently demonstrated by the Duke's response to the discovery that a man from the Enniskillen, whom he "flogged more than the rest of the army put together", had stolen a pig - promoting him to corporal). Plummer makes no attempt to sugar-coat Wellington or hide some of the Field Marhsal's less attractive character traits and prejudices, one of his first utterances in the film being "scum! Beggars and scoundrels the lot of them. Gin is the spirit of their patriotism" (to the Duchess of Richmond, in reference to his own men).
Bondarchuk takes the risky but highly effective gamble of packing the script full of actual quotes attributed to the great men themselves. This could easily have been a disaster but pays off beautifully. Even though they never meet, the Emperor and the Iron Duke almost seem to have a bizarre rapour, Napoleon saying of Wellington "this man has two qualities I admire: courage and, above all, caution" and Wellington saying of Napoleon "by God, this man does war honour". It also reveals a curious phenomenon that existed between Napoleon and Wellington in that Napoleon publicly derided Wellington's skill as a commander but in private admired him a great deal, whereas Wellington always publicly expressed admiration for Napoleon but in private confided that he thought the Emperor a bad strategist and a clumsy military leader.
Bondarchuk performs a master-stroke of directing. The cinematography is amazing and highly effective, combining clever, well-chosen close-ups with audacious panoramic views of the battlefield. Thrown into this the great performances by Steiger and Plummer and an amazing supporting cast, including the great Jack Hawkins (sadly, due to his having throat cancer, rather badly dubbed) as the curmudgeonly General Sir Thomas Picton, Dan O'Herlihy as the charismatic Marshal Ney and Virginia McKenna as the snobbish closet-Bonapartist Duchess of Richmond, and the result is magic!
The battle scenes are exceptional (although perhaps not quite bloody enough to give an accurate depiction of the horror and carnage of warfare at that time). Bondarchuk wastes no time using poetic licence, dumbing down or filling every scene with stupid romantic flummery - the characterisation is limited to the two great commanders and those closest around them at the time. Only Ney and Soult and Uxbridge, Ponsonby and Picton are developed much beyond simply who they were.
The film should also be congratulated on its historical accuracy. One or two minor inaccuracies aside, the film is extremely faithful, especially in terms of the battle itself and the military strategy involved. Sadly, in recent times, especially in America, the Hollywood machine seems all to happy to totally re-write history (e.g., "Saving Private Ryan" and "Braveheart"). Anyone looking for another "Titanic" or "Ryan" will not be interested in this film. If you just like watching films that bypass historical fact and depict the U.S.A. single-handedly saving the world then may I recommend "U-571".
This film does none of these things, it shows the French, English, Scots, Irish, Belgians, Dutch, Prussians (Germans), Russians, and all the rest, fighting in a time when war was honourable and wasn't decided by some lab-technician siting three miles under ground in Washington with his finger on a button and where there where military casualties actually outnumbered civilian ones.
This film is exceptionally impressive, especially given as many of the panoramic views of the army formations were shot using cardboard cut-outs (much more effective than the contemporary practice of simply CGI-ing both armies). The only flaw is the bad dubbing throughout the film and the fact that, like so many de Laurentiis films, the original director's cut was 5 hours long and some soulless corporate hacks slashed it down to just over 2!
Nevertheless, this is movie-history!
10/10 - and that's rare!
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