The Charge of the Light Brigade (review)
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 2, Number 3, February 1973
- pp. 20-21
- Additional Information
States the publications of the British Universities Film Council~an announcement will appear in the next issue ofFilm & History. FILM REVIEWS Film reviews are intended to provide historians and teachers with critical evaluations offilms both in current distributions and those suitablefor classroom use. Reviews ofcurrentfeatures will be assigned to specialists in the givenfield while all members are invited to contribute shorter critiques offilms they have used in the classroom. Each issue ofFilm & History will carry reviews ofboth kinds and we welcome your comments. Unless otherwise noted allfilmsfor the classroom are 16mm. THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE UA 16 1968 color 130 min. A judgment ofthe Charge ofthe Light Brigade depends largely upon what the viewer is looking for. As a teaching device and an insight into mid-Victorian Britain, the film has great value; as a work offilm art it is weak. Like so many other films, or novels for that matter, its failure to be an artistic success need not detract from its usefulness to the teacher who seeks to portray for his students the life and mores of the Victorian period. The subject matter ofthe film is of course the celebrated and often misunderstood charge ofthe light cavalry into the Russian guns during the Crimean War. The resulting slaughter ofa whole brigade led to public uproar, Parliamentary investigations and Tennyson's famous poem. And in the 20th century, it led to Cecil Woodham-Smith's superb book, The Reason Why. In theory, the film is based on the book, but only in the most tenuous way. The power ofthe moving picture enables the film to go far beyond Woodham-Smith's book and as a result we get a complex and sweeping panorama of England in the 1 9th century, complete with a torrid but chaste love story. Great care was taken during the filming to reproduce the authentic backgrounds and costumes ofthe 1 850's, down to the buttons on the soldier's tunic and the hairstyles ofthe elegant ladies. This authenticity is what makes Charge of the Light Brigade notably useful to the teacher, for he can show his classes just what Victorian England wore and how they lived, and be reasonably confident that the pictures on the screen are not the fantasies of a Hollywood dress designer but an honest effort to recreate a moment in history. Social conditions and ways ofthought are of course harder to depict, but even here the film can be worthwhile. The viewer is led back and forth between the two worlds ofVictorian life: the confident and opulent aristocracy and the swarming masses who had little share ofthe wealth created by Victorian prosperity. Scenes inside the army barracks are especially well done and can make the point better than any reading that the Victorian army was a rough, brutal and usually stupid institution, in which the common soldier was despised by his officers and held in check by the most harsh methods. It might surprise the student, for instance, to learn that wives and whole families lived in the barracks with their men. As for the officers, they too are accurately pictured. Some were spoiled sons ofthe wealthy whose interest in military affairs began and ended with the color of their uniforms, while others were capable men who could not overcome a corrupted and unreformed military system. In the case of the Light Brigade, it was led by the almost unbelievably stupid Lord Cadogan, who organized and financed the Brigade in the custom of the day and who thirsted for a way to prove that his investment was a wise one. The result was a foolish and mistaken charge down the wrong valley, not to outflank the Russians but rather into the muzzles of their cannon. A failure of communications between the commander in chief and Cadogan led to the mistake, but the viewer cannot escape the feeling that a foolish but brave cavalry charge was precisely what Cadogan and his officers wanted. The politics ofwar making come in for criticism, as does the whole military ethic which induces men to find adventure and fulfillment on the battlefield. But the condemnation ofthe military life is done well, with some...