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There have been two major motion pictures entitled The Charge of the Light Brigade, the first made in 1936 by the Warner Brothers Studio, the second a British movie of 1968. This topic discusses the latter; the former is discussed here.
A young cavalryman is the target of persecution by his commanding officer. On campaign in the Crimea, he finds war to be nastier than he imagined it. He delivers an order for the cavalry to advance which is misunderstood because of his impetuosity, and is killed before he can put the error right. As a result, the Light Brigade suffers heavy losses.
(Timings are approximate, and relate to TV, not cinema. )
To tell its story, this film uses both live action and animated cartoons in the style of Victorian engravings. It opens in the latter mode.
The opening titles are shown against images first depicting symbolic representations of England, France, Austria, Turkey, and Russia, and then patriotic images of England, stressing the industrial revolution.
Lord Cardigan inspects a parade of the 11th Hussars. Captain Morris introduces Clarissa to Nolan who says he is gazetted to the 11th Hussars
Morris and Clarissa's wedding. The Duberlys and Nolan are among the guests.
A miserable slum street. TSM Corbett is recruiting for the 11th Hussars. A number of men volunteer.
The new recruits are being inducted. They are harshly treated. We are introduced to Captain Featherstonehaugh.
Officers' Mess, exterior. Officers lounge around idly.
Cornet Codrington arrives and is ragged by the other officers. Nolan greets him, and falls out with Featherstonehaugh.
Barracks interior. Some wives are doing the laundry. A soldier sings a suggestive song. A scuffle breaks out.
Officers' ball. Dancers include the Morrises, who stop to speak to Nolan. Onlookers include 'Squire' DeBurgh and Duberly. Cardigan enters, and DeBurgh joins him.
Mrs Duberly descends the staircase, and speaks with Nolan as they drift towards the Morrises.
Street scene. William Russell talks with Morris and Nolan. Lord Cardigan and DeBurgh promenade with a pair of Weimaraner hounds. Nolan describes his horse training system to Russell. The scene changes to the barracks stables.
Troopers in training, practising mounting and dismounting on mock horses. TSM Corbett gives men foot drill. Nolan and Morris ride through. Riding Master Mogg talks to them. Cardigan enters and takes exception to Nolan's having a black servant.
An idyllic picnic by and on the river. Nolan, Morris, and Clarissa, and a Yorkshire terrier. Languorous glances between Clarissa and Nolan reclining in a punt, while Morris wields the pole.
Interior, song around a piano, Clarissa at the keyboard. Then she sits by Nolan as he plays halma while Morris smokes by the fireside.
The Hussars exercise in the open. Clarissa watches, Morris and Nolan ride up. Mogg puts Codrington onto an unruly horse. Nolan gallops up, rescues Codrington, and calms the horse. Mogg looks on abashed, while Morris and Clarissa beam happily. Cardigan and two aides (Featherstonehaugh and Maxse) look on as Nolan puts Codrington onto the horse, which now behaves docilely. Mogg looks discomfited. Cardigan admonishes Mogg for being made a fool of. The men on parade laugh.
In the barracks stables the men water their horses and laugh at Mogg.
Dinner in the officers' mess. Cardigan sits with DeBurgh on his left and Featherstonehaugh on his right. Codrington sits alone. Russell sits with Morris and Nolan. He asks for Moselle, and Nolan orders a bottle. Elsewhere at the table Duberly talks to Mogg about the Russians. Cardigan spots the bottle of Moselle on the table in front of Nolan and accuses him of drinking beer from a black bottle. Nolan leaves the mess angrily. Cardigan shouts after him.
At a meeting in the officers' mess, Cardigan orders Nolan to shake hands with Featherstonehaugh. Nolan refuses. Cardigan tells him he is under arrest.
In an office, Raglan and Airey discuss a report in The Times about Cardigan's behaviour. Raglan says,
I'm an old man, Airey, and I've only got one arm to fight the war with. It won't be enough, eh? Airey looks at him, concerned.
Attending a performance of Macbeth in a theatre, Mrs Duberly and Clarissa discuss the prospect of war. Duberly and Morris join the ladies, and tell them that Nolan's arrest could be the end of his career.
Cardigan arrives and joins DeBurgh. The audience begins to call
Black bottle! Black bottle! stamping their feet. Mrs Duberly joins in and shouts
Black bottle! Duberly admonishes her, whereupon she insists on being introduced to Cardigan. The Morrises leave.
In the barracks stables, Cardigan asks Corbett to report Nolan's conversations with other officers. Corbett demurs, and declares his intention to inform Nolan. Cardigan tells him
You are finished now, as if you had not ever been made.
The troops parade in the barracks. Corbett is unsteady on his feet. He takes station in front of his men, salutes, announces
Parade ready for inspection, Sir, and collapses drunk. From the gallery Cardigan watches, in the company of DeBurgh and Featherstonehaugh. Cardigan calls for the Sergeant-Major.
Cardigan, Nolan, Clarissa, Duberly, Mogg, Codrington, and Maxse attend a Church service. As they leave, a working party crosses the yard carrying a flogging frame. Corbett is marched across, his escort carrying a lash.
Inside the building where the service had been held, Corbett receives fifty lashes. Codrington faints after the eleventh. Corbett declares his intention to continue in the service. He collapses. A soldier throws a bucket of water over his back.
Nolan asks Cardigan for a court-martial. Cardigan refuses. Duberly advises Nolan not to bait Cardigan.
The stables, horses in their stalls. Nolan enters and soliloquises.
Raglan's office. Raglan and Airey. They think there might be war with France.
Nolan enters and requests to be court-matialled. Raglan prevaricates.
Airey admonishes the assembled officers of the 11th Hussars for attracting adverse publicity. He refuses Nolan's request for a court-martial.
A preacher addresses an outdoor anti-war meeting on the steps of a church. A troop of 11th Hussars ride their horses up the steps and through the crowd, scattering it. Women scream. DeBurgh arrives in a carriage, accompanied by lady friends. They shout and catcall at the preacher.
The Morrises and Nolan are taking tea chez Morris. They talk of the prospects of war. Morris goes into the garden. Clarissa tells Nolan she is pregnant. Nolan is off-hand and joins Morris. Clarissa subsides behind the door, sobbing.
Raglan, Airey, and Sir George Brown are in an upstairs office, discussing plans for the war, and allocating commands. Lucan enters while Campbell and Scarlett wait outside. Raglan looks at a piece of paper and says they are to put Sebastopol to the flames. Raglan assigns commands: cavalry to Lucan, Heavy Brigade to Scarlett, Light Brigade to Cardigan. Lucan vehemently objects to Cardigan's appointment. Airey brings in Nolan, to be on the staff.
Airey emerges, and gives the assembled officers their assignments: Colin Campbell - Highland Brigade, Sir Richard England - 3rd Infantry Division, Sir John Burgoyne - Superintendent, Royal Engineers.
In Raglan's office, Cardigan objects to serving under Lucan. The other officers enter. Raglan tells them it is war.
Depicts war fever gripping the nation, and popular hostility against Russia.
Cornet Codrington is teased by soldiers' wives in a wash house. He tells them that 1 in 6 wives will be permitted to go with their husbands.
Embarkation. Dockside farewells. Mrs Duberly climbs a gangplank. Below decks, horses are tethered in stalls. Morris gives Nolan a letter from Clarissa, with instructions that it is not to be read until they sail. After Morris leaves, Nolan tears up the unopened letter and throws the pieces overboard.
The British fleet sails across the Bay of Biscay and through the straits of Gibraltar. The French fleet emerges from the south coast of France and the fleets combine. As the fleet passes through the Bosphorus, caricature heads of Omar Pasha, Raglan, St Arnaud, and Lucan rise above the city.
A yacht with Cardigan and de Burgh aboard, drinking wine. Lucan, in a steam paddle ship, pursues Cardigan's yacht, the two principals glaring at each other through telescopes. They lead the whole fleet into a dense black cloud, named Calamita Bay. As the fleet is enveloped by the cloud, crashes are heard, as of thunder or cannon fire.
Scene below decks in semi-darkness. Horses in stalls are restless. Water pours in through open hatches. Men desperately try to stow moving cargo, barrels and the like, and to return loose horses to their stalls. Mrs Duberly in her petticoats arrives to attend to her horse. Nolan and Duberly are also present.
Morning. Nolan and Morris watch disconsolately as dead horses are thrown overboard.
Officers are rowed ashore in a longboat. Troops and horses are ferried ashore on rafts. Captain and Mrs Duberly cross the deck to the side and converse. He disappears into a boat alongside. Boats tow full rafts ashore. Trumpets sound. Sailors help soldiers to land on the beach. Guns are drawn ashore by horses. Troops wade ashore holding their firearms over their heads. A mounted Morris trots along the shoreline. Nolan is also seen mounted. Raglan and Airey are carried up the beach piggyback on sailors. Troops wade ashore waist-deep, officers in longboats, some on horseback, including Lucan and Cardigan, who exchange insults. On shore, Nolan and Morris have dismounted and converse. Nolan says it is going well
The army advances in a broad line to brave martial music. Raglan and other officers ride at the head, troops marching, de Burgh on a wagon, Mrs Duberly riding.
A trooper falls from the saddle into the dust. The music has ceased, apart from a slow funereal drum. Flies buzz, soldiers wipe their brows. Marching soldiers rest against horses for support. Troopers ride with eyes closed, swaying in the saddle, some falling to the ground, some hanging down their horse's side. One is dragged unconscious along the ground. A dismounted trooper walks off bare-headed into the distance. Nolan observes all this with concern. He rides across to Morris, who tells him not to come too close. A staff officer tells Lucan it is cholera. Lucan tells him to get the men up, and the officer orders the fallen men to fall in. A soldier clutches his midriff, doubled over in pain. Nolan rides forward to Raglan to report the condition of the men, but is told not to bother him. More men fall, some vomiting, some gasping for water. A woman takes a water bottle from a wagon, fills a pannikin, and offers it to a soldier lying gasping, but the man is so weak he knocks it from her hand in attempting to grasp it. Nolan proffers his own water bottle to the man, but pulls away when the man tries to hold his wrist, and rests his head sadly against his horse as the man dies. He goes to drink from the bottle himself, but thinks better of it and throws the bottle away. He remounts and rides on.
Lord Raglan leads the troops through a narrow defile, riding three abreast with Airey on his right and Nolan on his left. Nolan draws Raglan's attention to Russian troops drawn up on a ridge parallel with the line of march. Airey tells Raglan it is the river Alma. The army rides forward, including St Arnaud and Lucan. Raglan orders the cavalry to stay out of the action.
Guards march out of the defile in column five abreast and turn left to face the enemy. Trumpets sound, drums beat. St Arnaud and Raglan are standing together, St Arnaud looking weary. Airey rides up and dismounts. Raglan points out to St Arnaud the Great Redoubt and a Lesser Redoubt. St Arnaud proposes that the French army should attack the Russian left flank. Troops march into position. William Russell stands taking notes. Raglan tells Nolan to get rid of Russell. Nolan tells Russell he would see more if he went with the cavalry.
The cavalry is standing, Cardigan and Featherstonehaugh at their head. Sir George Brown taunts them for not fighting.
Redcoats cross a small stream. Troops go into battle, the Light Division in line, Sir George Brown at their head, the Highlanders on their right in column. Trumpets and cannon fire. The whole scene becomes obscured by smoke. The Light Division and Highlanders cross the river together, the water less than knee deep, and a gun crosses pulled by two horses. As the soldiers climb the opposite bank, we see that it is now much steeper than in the long shot. The Highlanders march past the cavalry in column. The soldiers advance, there is cannon fire, the screen is filled with smoke. Close ups of advancing feet, among which the dead fall. Soldiers advance over the bodies of fallen comrades. Standards fall and are picked up by another. Shouts and gunshots.
The cavalry are standing motionless in line, Corbett, now a trooper, among them. Mogg, smoking a cheroot and pointing towards the action, complains that they are being made fools of. Guards advance through smoke, led by mounted officers. Campbell orders that no soldier may go off carrying wounded men. The Highlanders and the Light Division advance together through the fire up a hillside across which the enemy are drawn up.
Lucan rides along the front of the stationary cavalry. He and Cardigan exchange insults. Cannon shell and smoke. Lines of infantry on the hillsides, and mounted lancers on the skyline. Russian infantry are in retreat.
Airey urges Raglan to order a cavalry attack, but Raglan refuses. St Arnaud collapses, apparently dead, across Raglan's lap.
Victorious allied troops wave flags on the skyline. Cardigan twitches his moustaches in front of his men. Lucan and his aides ride across their front. An order is shouted for the the Light Brigade to retire. In the background troops celebrate; in the foreground dead British soldiers are lying. Mrs Duberly rides across the river to her husband, who complains that the cavalry were not used.
Nolan and Russell pick their way on foot up a hillside covered with casualties. A wounded Highlander staggering down the hill cannons into them, and swears at Nolan for not fighting. Nolan fells him with a blow. The man lies writhing, clutching a shattered arm, his face covered with blood. Russell offers him his flask. Nolan turns away. A wounded British soldier is looting dead and wounded Russians of their valuables and boots. A wounded Russian appeals to another British soldier, who proffers his flask. As the Russian drinks, his companion lying next to him raises his musket and shoots the Briton at point blank range. Nolan takes his pistol from his saddle, and when the murderous Russian rises and stoops over the body of his victim, takes careful aim and shoots him in the back. Morris approaches and asks Nolan what he is thinking. Nolan says he thinks they should go on through and take Sebastopol. Morris says he was thinking of Clarissa.
Clarissa sits by a stream holding a small terrier. She stands, obviously pregnant. A maid comes running from the house with a paper in her hands, and exclaims that Sebastopol has fallen. Clarissa reads the paper and dances.
Britain, France, and Turkey celebrate the fall of Sebastopol and the defeat of Russia.
A shell explodes in front of Russell, who is knocked backwards. Soldiers fall, including Duberly, not seriously hurt. He takes a paper from his pocket and complains to Russell that The Times has reported that Sebastopol has fallen. Russell says it is not his fault and tells him not to believe everything he reads in The Times.
The army is erecting tents in neat lines. Mrs Duberly and her maid, laden with baskets, are helped down from a cart. Mrs Duberly attends to her appearance in her tent. Outside soldiers mingle with civilians. Locals exhibit a dancing bear. Mrs Duberly emerges and writes in her journal. Duberly and Russell play cricket. A surgeon is sawing off the arm of a conscious man, who has a gag between his teeth. Featherstonehaugh and another officer are trying on hats hawked by a local merchant. Cardigan rides into camp and orders the tents to be taken down and re-erected in straighter lines. The men do so. Lord Lucan marches into the camp, and orders the tents to be taken down and re-erected closer together. The troops strike the tents again. When the tents are up again, Cardigan returns and orders the tents to be put further apart. Featherstonehaugh tells Duberly that Cardigan invites him and his wife to dine aboard his yacht that evening. Mrs Duberly is pleased, saying that she feels sorry for Cardigan.
Dinner aboard the yacht. Cardigan, Featherstonehaugh, de Burgh, the Duberlys. Mrs Duberly is wearing a mannish suit with a bow tie. Duberly is boring the company with badly told anecdotes about himself, at which only he laughs. Mrs Duberly and Cardigan exchange sideways glances. The waiter makes a point of removing Duberly's wineglass, and he is subdued. Cardigan ostentatiously looks at his watch. Duberly takes the hint, excuses himself on the grounds of duty, and departs. De Burgh and Featherstonehaugh likewise go. The waiter hands Cardigan the bottle and leaves.
Cardigan and Mrs Duberly are alone at the table. They drink, remove their jackets, and both smoke cigars. They move to the couch. They strip with increasing speed until he is down to long woollen vest and underpants, over which he wears a corset, and she is in bloomers, bodice and a red corset.
With difficulty, she removes his corset, but he slaps her rump and refuses to remove hers, saying that he likes saddles. He pushes her back onto the cushions, and slaps her backside three times. After some initial protests, she starts laughing.
Codrington, on picket duty, nervously fires at approaching individuals, who turn out to be Nolan, Raglan, and Sir George Brown.
Morris and Nolan come upon Corbett and other troopers preparing their breakfast over an open fire outside. The officers eat the fried eggs and ride on.
In the cavalry camp a man is receiving 50 lashes. Among those looking on are wives, Cardigan (on horseback), and Corbett. Cardigan gives the man a guinea. Morris and Nolan discuss the peculiar nature of war.
Lucan brings to Raglan a Russian with information of an attack the next day. Raglan says the man is a traitor, and refuses to listen to him.
The cavalry camp at break of dawn. Men lie in their tents. Slowly a patrol mounts. Nolan is awoken by his Indian servant. He emerges from his tent, and watches the patrol on the skyline.
Raglan is writing at a small table. He rubs his eyes and rises. He opens a French window and looks down into the courtyard as a troop of horse ride in. He rouses Airey in alarm, and says they are surrounded by the French. Airey reminds him that the French are their allies.
Lucan is leading his patrol at a trot. Morris pulls up and shouts, pointing to a hill on which two pennants are waving. It is the signal for 'Enemy advancing.' A shell bursts near by.
Aboard Cardigan's yacht, Mrs Duberly and his valet struggle to get him into his uniform.
Cavalry on a hilltop in the distance. They advance down the hill, watched by Lord Raglan through a telescope.
Nolan rides swiftly into a camp. He dismounts hurriedly and approaches Sir George Brown, who is breakfasting in front of his tent. Nolan gives him an order from Raglan to move his division immediately to the protection of the redoubts. Sir George Brown refuses to move, and continues with his egg.
A redoubt, manned by British troops, Union Flag flying, is run at by a hundred or two Russian troops. There is some firing and much shouting.
Raglan and his staff on a ridge. A longer shot shows two redoubts, about 200 yards apart. Raglan looks through his telescope. Russian cavalry ride across from right to left.
Russell rides into camp and asks Duberly if the cavalry have any orders. Duberly tells him that the cavalry have been ordered to take ground where it is. He points.1.48.35
A long shot of the cavalry drawn up in a valley. At the rear are three squadrons in line, each with two horsemen in front, and a single horseman slightly ahead. In front of them is a squadron of horse, a single rider at their head. In front of them are three squadrons of horse in line, each with a couple of riders at their head, and further in front are three or four horsemen. The camera continues to pan down the empty valley, across the end of which several lines of enemy troops are discernible.
Cardigan rides up and down in front of his men.
Nolan looks down on the two redoubts, now peaceful. A close up of a redoubt show it to be manned now by Russians, who are removing guns from it. Nolan strides over to Raglan and Airey and protests that the Russians are dragging off the guns. Raglan dictates to Airey
Lord Lucan, the cavalry will advance on the French, er, the Russians immediately. They will be supported by the infantry, which has already been ordered to advance on two fronts.
Lucan is at the head of the cavalry. He reads the order, hands it to an aide, looks around him, and says that he sees no infantry and they must wait.
Russians troops are moving guns at great speed. Nolan approaches Lord Raglan and complains that the cavalry have not moved. Raglan cold-shoulders him. Nolan flounces off. Raglan dictates the fourth order to Airey.
Lucan rides up and down in front of the cavalry. Cardigan is mounted but stationary. Cardigan is impatient to act, but Lucan says they must wait for orders.
Airey reads back the order Raglan has dictated:
Lord Raglan wishes the cavalry to advance rapidly to the front, to follow the enemy, and try to prevent the enemy from carrying away the guns. The troop horse artillery may accompany. French cavalry is on your left. Immediate. Signed R Airey.
He hands the order to Raglan. Nolan eagerly volunteers to deliver it. Raglan hesitates, then assents. Nolan calls for his horse, mounts, and rides off down the ridge. Raglan expresses disquiet at Nolan's eagerness. Nolan rides along the skyline on the crest of the ridge before setting his horse down it.
Mrs Duberly asks Raglan if the cavalry are going to charge. Raglan says not a charge, but an advance,
along that pretty valley to the south of the big valley . . . , but not into that nasty valley full of half the Russian army.
Nolan rides furiously down the escarpment. He rides along the front of the mounted cavalry, waving the order in the air. He comes to a halt in front of Lucan and Cardigan who are both mounted and next to each other. Nolan hands the order to Lucan. Lucan reads it, looks at Nolan, looks at Cardigan, and hands the order to Cardigan. Nolan demands to be told if the order will be executed. Lucan says he can see neither enemy nor guns, and the usefulness of the order eludes him. Nolan says that Lord Raglan's orders are that the cavalry should attack immediately. Lucan asks,
Attack what? Attack where? Without turning his head Nolan points behind him down the north valley and says,
There, my Lord, there is your enemy, there are your guns.
Lucan and Cardigan look down the north valley pop-eyed with astonishment, then look at each other heavily. Cardigan reminds Lucan of the Russian forces around the north valley. Lucan agrees but says they have no choice.
Nolan asks Morris for permission to ride with the 17th. Morris gives it. A long shot of Cardigan in front of a line of cavalry, two deep and about two dozen across. He shouts to Douglas, demanding his best support. Cardigan rides forward several paces with three aides, and gives the command:
Draw swords! The cavalry draw swords. Nolan is alongside Morris, on his right.
Long shot of the staff on the ridge. A figure runs along the skyline to Raglan's group and salutes.
A long view of the valley. We see a line of three regiments (although in fact they look more like three squadrons), with a scattering of officers immediately in front of them, and Cardigan and his aides further ahead of them. Behind the main line is another, consisting of a single regiment/squadron, and behind that another three regiments/squadrons.
A long view down the valley, at the end of which serried ranks of Russians are discernible.
Cardigan gives the order for the brigade to advance.
Long shot of the cavalry advancing at a walk.
Raglan and Airey look on from the ridge, as does Nolan's groom.
The cavalry advances slowly down the valley.
Close-up of Russian soldiers looking astonished.
Long shot of the cavalry advancing, this time taken from half front, presumably the Russian point of view.
The Russians look at each other in disbelief. One shakes his head slightly.
Long shot of the cavalry advancing.
Russians manhandle their guns into position.
Medium shot of the line of cavalry, now at a canter.
Close-up of Nolan and Morris. Nolan looks to left and right in some disquiet. There are long shots down the empty south valley, as if this is what Nolan sees when he looks to his right. Nolan looks to his left. Long shot of the north valley. Nolan spurs ahead. Morris shouts to stop him. Nolan shouts to Cardigan that they are going the wrong way, and should wheel right. Cardigan looks taken aback. Nolan veers across Cardigan's front. Cardigan looks astonished. A shell explodes high in the air. Nolan is knocked back in the saddle, his sword flying from his hand. Raglan looks perturbed at the shell fire. Nolan continues to scream, arm outstretched, as his horse wheels through the advancing troopers. He falls from the saddle, blood oozing from his mouth.
Raglan and Airey look on perturbed. Raglan raises his telescope to his eye.
Long shot of the cavalry on a course curving to their left into the north valley.
Airey says that Cardigan is turning into the wrong valley.
A Russian officer barks an order. Guns begin firing rapidly. Medium shots of guns firing and recoiling, and close-ups of gun muzzles belching flame, and shots of riflemen loading. Shells fall among the cavalry. Airey and Raglan look at each other in disbelief. Raglan blinks as if on the point of tears. The view down the valley is now obscured by smoke.
The cavalry advances through the smoke. Morris canters forward, sword at the point, as if to pass Cardigan, who is still at walking pace. Cardigan lays his sword across Morris' advance and restrains him. Morris falls back a few paces. The brigade continues to advance through smoke and shellfire, to the sound of explosions, and the noise of horses and their accoutrements. Men and horses fall. Morris orders the 17th to charge. Bugles sound, swords and lances are lowered, and the advance become a charge. Mogg falls. Close-ups of horses' legs through the dust and smoke. Men are dragged along caught in the harness. A bugle sounds continuously. The shot cuts from Russian guns to cavalry time and again. The guns are lowered to horizontal as the cavalry gets ever nearer. A long shot of the Russian battery of nine or ten guns, drawn up neatly with their crews, other men behind, and the limbers behind them. Fast sequences of explosions, horses, gun muzzles. The cavalry ride through the guns, led by Morris. The guns continue firing.
At an order, a large body of Russian cavalry spurs forward, sabres aloft. The British cavalry continues to pour through the guns. There is hand to hand combat between the opposing cavalry forces, and between dismounted troopers and Russian gunners.
Long shot of mostly riderless horses galloping back up the valley. Raglan watches through his telescope. He sits down wearily, Airey beside him. Raglan says
It isn't done.The firing has ceased, and now in almost silence horses and men return up the valley as the dust clears. On the ridge the Duberlys, Russell, and de Burgh are picnicking. Mrs Duberly looks into the valley through opera glasses and asks her husband if they are skirmishers she sees. Russell looks and says,
That is the Light Brigade. Wounded men stagger up the valley, some on foot, some on horseback, some carried by comrades. Some carry bloodied lances. Many have faces streaked with blood and dust. Corbett helps a soldier who has collapsed. The Duberlys are now sombre.
Lucan and Scarlett ride to meet Cardigan, who complains of Nolan's behaviour. Scarlett says,
My Lord, you have just ridden over his dead body.
Long shot of men, almost all on foot, traipsing back. As Cardigan rides among them, they raise a cheer.
Raglan, Airey and staff officers ride up. Raglan blames Cardigan, who says he only followed Lucan's orders. Raglan then blames Lucan, who says he only obeyed Raglan's orders.
Close-up of shuffling feet still returning up the valley. They pass the body of Nolan. Morris, his face a mask of blood and dirt, his cap split by a sword cut, looks down upon it, and continues on his way with a numbed expression. The altercation between Raglan and Lucan continues in the background.
Lucan shows Raglan the written order. Raglan takes the order and looks at it. Raglan says that it is not his handwriting and blames Airey for losing the Light Brigade.
As farriers move among the fallen horses, shooting them, the argument continues. They all speak at once. Farriers struggle with the horses. A long shot of the upper end of the north valley. A close-up of a fallen horse dissolves into a drawn image. Accompanied by the drone of flies, the end credits roll.
In 1956 Tony Richardson directed the stage production of John Osborne's play Look Back in Anger. He filmed it in 1958, leading to the formation of Woodfall Films, a company with an avowed agenda.2
The company produced a number of acclaimed 'kitchen sink' dramas, followed in 1963 by Tom Jones in collaboration with the American film company United Artists. This film was a great success, encouraging UA to repeat their partnership with Woodfall for the production of The Charge of the Light Brigade.
Osborne wrote a script for the film, drawing heavily on the events described in Cecil Woodham-Smith's book The Reason Why, but Woodfall did not have the film rights to the book, which were held by Laurence Hervey. When Hervey learned what was afoot, he threatened to sue for 'plagiarism'. Woodfall then engaged John Mollo to do original research so as not to seem to rely on the book. To further muddy the waters, they engaged Charles Wood to write an alternative script.3
Hervey was granted an interim injunction prohibiting Woodfall from using the book, and a worried UA insisted that Woodfall acquire the film rights. The dispute came to the attention of persons in high places, and Lord Goodman, chairman of the Arts Council, and the establishment's favourite fixer4, was brought in to mediate. Hervey was persuaded to sell the rights to Woodfall, but one of his conditions was that he should have a part in the film. Richardson accordingly offered him the part of Prince Radziwill. Osborne had wanted that part for himself, and broke with Richardson5. However, the acquisition of the rights meant that much of his script could now be used, although in the final version of the film Wood is the only writer credited.
Prior to making the film, Richardson, Mollo, and film editor Kevin Brownlow watched the cavalry charge from Raymond Bernard's The Chess Player, and sequences from Quiet Flows the Don. (Prior to making the 1936 film, Warner Brothers executives had sought inspiration from watching Paramount's Lives of a Bengal Lancer.)
Filming took place between May and September 1967, first on location in Turkey, using some 4,000 Turkish troops as extras, then back in England.
After shooting was finished, Richardson ruthlessly cut much of the footage, to Brownlow's dismay. Both the stand of the thin red line and the charge of the Heavy Brigade had been filmed, as well as the Russian assault on the redoubts, but these sequences were now discarded. Brownlow wanted to preserve this footage, and re-shape the film into a special four-and-a-half-hour version. He subsequently wrote of Richardson,
He was totally the wrong director. He needs a small canvas . . . He has no feeling for sweeping spectacle.
Richardson also cut Hervey's part completely. This decision had been made before filming finished, and Hervey's later scenes were shot with an empty camera!
It seems that all the cut footage has now been lost.
Most of those involved described the making of the film as an enjoyable experience, but subsequent events suggest that the Richardson/Osborne split was not the only source of tension. Some of Brownlow's comments have already been quoted above. John Mollo was piqued that his research into the uniforms of the cavalry had been ignored, and in May 1968 published a book6 to prove that he was not responsible for the cherry overalls that Richardson had ordered for all the Light Brigade regiments. Wood wrote a play7 in 1972 more or less lampooning the making of the film.
Richardson refused to hold a press showing of the film, saying that film critics were
a group of acidulated, intellectual eunuchs hugging their prejudices like feather boas,
which was not likely to encourage favourable reviews. Despite that, most critics found something favourable to say about the film, but the general tenour was that it suffered because of its disparate elements.
Dilys Powell described the film as
uneven but often brilliant.
Margaret Hinxman thought it
an audacious triumph, but also a deeply dispiriting triumph.
The Observer's critic judged it
a highly sophisticated picture: exquisite to look at, superbly acted, harsh, bitter, funny . . [but] . . the whole is less than the parts.
The harshest review came from the Monthly Film Bulletin, which said:
Subjected to any kind of critical analysis, the film becomes a well-nigh intolerable mess, meandering, fidgety, and indeterminate, trying with frequent signs of panic to reduce its subject nearer to manageable size by scurrilously simplifying and belittling the characters and events of the Crimean War.
There is no hard evidence of the film's box office receipts, but the British takings were probably less than had been hoped, and in the USA even more disappointing.
There is more than one DVD edition of the film. One would expect a DVD to contain additional material such as deleted scenes, but the British Film Institute edition actually, and inexplicably, does the opposite. The wedding scene is truncated, and two scenes are deleted, that of Cornet Codrington on picket duty, and that of Nolan and Morris 'tasting' the men's breakfast.
We shall evaluate the film, first as to its historical accuracy, next as to its cinematic quality, and lastly as to its ethicality. The historical question we shall consider in two parts, first as to the major question (the reason why), and second as to other issues.
There is no unanimity among historians as to the events which led to the charge. The questions in dispute are:
The film by its nature could not leave these questions open, and Richardson opted for:
This is NOT the version put forward by Woodham-Smith. She made it quite clear in her book that she believed that Nolan understood Raglan's order to mean that the cavalry should attack the Russian guns at the end of the North Valley, and that this was the interpretation he put to Lord Lucan8. (In a nod towards the theory that Nolan attempted to divert the direction of the charge, she says that he may have had second thoughts about the meaning of the order after the cavalry had begun to advance.)
The film not only rejects the conclusion of the author it relies on for its authenticity, but also makes nonsense of its own version by having Raglan say, in a toe-curling conversation with Mrs Duberly, that the cavalry was to advance down the "pretty" valley, i.e. the South Valley. But the captured British guns were on the heights between the valleys, not in the South Valley, which was at that point entirely under control of Raglan's forces. Where did this "wrong valley" story originate? One can find an early version of it in Edison's 1912 film of the charge, whose depiction of the terrain was wildly inaccurate.
1. Historical actions are attributed to the wrong characters, sometimes even when the correct character is in the film. See appendix 1.
2. General Scarlett's affidavit in the case of Cardigan v Calthorpe includes the statement:
I informed his Lordship [Cardigan] that in advancing to support the Light Brigade I had nearly ridden over Captain Nolan's dead body. The film has Scarlett saying to Cardigan, when he returned from the charge,
My Lord, you have just ridden over his [Nolan's] dead body. This neatly illustrates the danger of the 'Chinese Whispers' effect when using intermediate sources. Presumably one of the scriptwriters had read somewhere
Scarlett told Cardigan that he had nearly ridden over Nolan's dead body, and misinterpreted the pronoun. The omission of the word
nearly, and the addition of the word
just compound the error.
3. In the film no proper indication is given of the chronology or scale of the war. There is no stay at Varna, despite its relevance both as the source of the cholera and as indicating Raglan's reluctance to invade the Crimea. There is no flank march, no capture of Balaclava, no commencement of siege operations, no barrage. The allies march straight from the battle of Alma to the battle of Balaclava. At that battle there is no thin red line nor charge of the Heavy Brigade, only the loss of the redoubts and the charge of the Light Brigade.
4. No proper indication is given of the forces involved. We see no French or Turkish forces. The only part played by the French is the death of St Arnaud, played for laughs. Even the Turkish redoubts are manned by British troops and marked with a Union flag. Allied artillery is not in evidence. We see absolutely nothing of Sebastopol.
These omissions are not imposed by a need to keep the film within a reasonable showing time. Considerable footage is given to the Nolan/Clarissa affair, including literally minutes at a time with no dialogue whatever. (The old Hollywood studio system had its faults, but it would not have allowed any director this sort of indulgence.)
5. In several instances, events are invented unnecessarily, when actual events would serve as well if not better. See appendix 2.
The film fails to maintain a consistent tone. The animated cartoon sequences are comic, a la Monty Python, but with serious import. This approach is satirical. The main military story however is presented as action drama. The interludes of Nolan with Clarissa are treated as idyllic romance, in terms of content, photography, and accompanying music. (The interludes of Nolan with his horse are treated in much the same way, even down to identical musical motif.) The wedding scene is a bucolic romp (director trying to recapture his success with Tom Jones?) Occasionally the film resorts to farce, almost Carry On in the Crimea, as when St Arnaud drops apparently dead across Raglan's lap, whereupon the latter remarks casually,
I told you he wasn't well, Airey. One could easily believe that three or four different directors worked on different parts of the film, and nobody had told them what the overall effect was intended to be.
Some apologists for the film consider that the mixture of moods adds to its interest. Maybe so, but it did not add to its popular appeal. UA was providing a budget for a commercially profitable film, not an avant-garde experiment. Richardson seems to have thought that he could have it both ways.
The character of Nolan is for the most part presented as above reproach, solicitous of men and horses, his only fault being a tendency to impatience with fools who do not share his values. Occasionally, however, another Nolan peeps through. His eulogy of war, his caddish treatment of Clarissa, his punching of a wounded Highlander after the battle of the Alma, and his presumption in taking Corbett's breakfast, show him as sharing the attitudes he condemns in others. Here would be a good basis for a psychological drama, depicting the internal conflicts within a professional soldier, a film perhaps in the mould of Bridge on the River Kwai, Tunes of Glory, or The Caine Mutiny. Alas, the makers of this film had trendier messages they wished to peddle.
A very large cast includes a great number of historical characters. Despite this, a small gang (Nolan, the Morrises, the Duberlys, Russell, Cardigan, de Burgh) keep turning up together as an unlikely combination - at a ball, at the theatre, at a church service, etc. This would be understandable for a piece with tight dramatic unity, but not for a large scale piece.
Characters in the film repeatedly address each other by name when conversing, almost as if the script was intended as radio drama.
The film contains gross misrepresentation of real persons.
1. Mrs Duberly is depicted as an empty headed trollop whose every remark is prefaced by
Duberly says. In fact we have her journal, in which that expression does not occur once. There is not one iota of evidence to suggest that she would have participated in, let alone did participate in, the conduct shown between her and Cardigan, and the attribution of this conduct to her is unpardonable.
2. The depiction of Captain William Morris vis-a-vis Captain Louis Nolan is so inaccurate as to merit the description 'perverse.' Morris is shown as being in awe of Nolan. At one point, Nolan remarks to Morris,
I have always known that officers who have served in India are considered less worth than those who have purchased9 their way from one regiment to another. Morris replies,
You 'Indians' are the only officers who have led your men in war.
The implications of this exchange are, in the case of these two officers, almost the very reverse of the truth. Morris had served in India. He had fought at the Battle of Maharajpore in 1843, and was decorated. In 1845 he was promoted to Lieutenant without purchase. In 1846 he commanded a troop of the 16th Lancers at the Battle of Buddiwal, at the Battle of Aliwal (where he was wounded), and at the Battle of Sobraon. (After the Crimean War he was again promoted without purchase, to the rank of Major). It was Morris who complained to Cardigan of the Light Brigade's inaction after the charge of the Heavy Brigade.
Nolan obtained his promotions by purchase at each level, and had never participated in any armed conflict prior to the charge.
Nolan and Morris had met in India, and might perhaps be justifiably described as friends, but there is no evidence that they ever consorted in England10. In showing an adulterous relationship between Nolan and Mrs Morris, the film did at least have the courtesy of giving fictitious Christian and maiden names to the latter, so this was a shade less reprehensible than the slur on Mrs Duberly.
When the order came to advance, it is unlikely that Morris would have welcomed being distracted by Nolan. 11
3. The film frequently lapses into dialogue which seems to have been written by somewhat immature 14 year olds. It is claimed that it is authentic Victorian colloquy, but might tell us more of the scriptwriter's mentality than of Cardigan's. See Appendix 3 for examples.
The film is certainly redolent of a bygone decade, but alas, it is the 1960s, not the 1850s.
There was a real General Codrington in the Crimea, commanding the 1st Brigade of the Light Division. He was in command of the army in the Crimea when the war ended. He does not appear in the film, and it does not seem that we are meant to assume that he was the father of Clarissa and Cornet Codrington. The latter tells Raglan,
Appendix 2. Real events which might have been used effectively, but were overlooked.▲
1. Cardigan's malice against particular officers. The 'dismount' story from 1843 would have been a good example to use, as the anonymous officer involved had an Indian groom, so assigning the role to Nolan would have been appropriate. It is briefly referred to by W-S (p.98 in paper-back edition).
2. Romaine relates that on the night after the flank march, he, Estcourt, and Cardigan were together. Estcourt had a bottle of champagne, of which Cardigan drank his share. Cardigan then retired into his spacious tent, leaving the other two to sleep on the ground outside. In the morning, when Estcourt was breaking his fast on a piece of dry biscuit, Cardigan emerged and told them that he had had a pair of good mutton chops for breakfast, but had not had the appetite to enjoy them.
3. Lucan's aide Charteris was on the causeway heights after Lucan had received the order to advance, and returned to Lucan before the start of the advance, during which he was killed at Lucan's side. This is relevant in considering Lucan's understanding of the situation vis-à-vis Raglan's, but is ignored by every account as far as I know.
4. The sending of Maxse by Cardigan to Lucan is of importance in considering the circumstances immediately preceding the charge.
5. Lucan's redeployment of the 11th Hussars should surely not be omitted from any film portraying the conflicts between the two earls.
6. The charge of the Chasseurs d'Afrique should not be missing from any film of the charge with a pretension to authenticity.
7. The efforts of I Troop to get their guns into the action would make good cinema, as would the encounter between Capt Shakespear and Cardigan as the latter returned up the valley.
Appendix 3. Examples of juvenile dialogue.▲
1. Nolan knocks Featherstonehaugh off his chair:
2. Exchange between Cardigan and Lucan at the landing:
3. At the Alma, Cardigan and Lucan exchange insults (whereas in fact they would have maintained icy silence - it is recorded that they communicated via their aides even when within yards of each other):
4. Lord Cardigan objecting to the dressing of the tents:
5. Cardigan complaining, after the charge, of Nolan's behaviour:
As the 1960s beckoned, a new mood swept through Britain. With anger mounting at an out-of-touch establishment, the era was reflected on screen by the rise of Woodfall Films.
I duly produced three hundred or so pages of it, wildly surreal, anachronistic, savage, over-written, pornographic, crammed with art student polemic, optimistically ironic, bitter about class and privilege; everything I felt about the British Empire, the British army, England under Queen Victoria and the first of the modern wars inspired by and based on Stephen Vincent Benet's John Brown's Body, Eisenstein's published screenplay of Ivan the Terrible and John Osborne's Tom Jones.
 ▲ Harold Wilson wrote in his biography:
 ▲ In Past and Present:National Identity and the British Historical Film at p.236 author James Chapman quotes Richardson as saying,
It [the film] also managed to offend the cavalry regiments concerned, and military purists in general, because of Tony's insistence that all the regiments of the Light Brigade should wear cherry-coloured facings and overalls, this in spite of fierce opposition from Charles Wood, who wrote the screenplay (and who had been a regular soldier in the 17th/21st Lancers) and myself as Historical Adviser. Richardson felt that he had good visual reasons for making this decision; but, in hindsight, it undoubtedly spoiled what had been a gigantic research effort lasting no less than three years.
. . . we decided to produce a book dealing with the uniforms and equipment of the Light Brigade, . . .; this was undertaken partly for profit, and partly to prove that we did know what we were about, and were not to blame for the dreaded cherry overalls.
 ▲ Veterans, Or, Hairs in the Gates of the Hellespont. The play revolves around two veteran actors, strongly reminiscent of John Guilgud and Trevor Howard, taking part in an historical epic being filmed in Turkey. In the preface to the published version, Wood wrote:
Curiously, the film supposedly being made in the play appears to feature the siege of Cawnpore, which was clearly the inspiration behind scenes in the 1936 Charge movie.
In Wood's 1977 comedy TV series Don't Forget to Write, one episode takes a humorous look at the experiences of a scriptwriter visiting the location shooting of his equestrian epic, Thundering Hooves, with the director and writer congratulating each other face to face, but privately blaming each other for the film's shortcomings.
 ▲ The title of Woodham-Smith's book, The Reason Why, leads the reader to suppose that what follows, namely a description of episodes in the careers of Lord Lucan and Lord Cardigan, and the ill-will between them, was somehow the cause of the disaster that befell the Light Brigade. However, her conclusion that Nolan
Woodham-Smith may have been the inadvertent cause of another misapprehension about the charge. She wrote that Nolan asked Morris for permission to ride with the 17th Lancers, but did she have a reliable source for that statement? If she was merely rephrasing Kinglake, then we should note that what he wrote was that Nolan told Morris he intended to ride with the brigade, which could mean with Cardigan's group ahead of the first line. In that case, Nolan's movement as the brigade started to advance takes on a different interpretation.
(In any case, by portraying Nolan as an officer of the 11th Hussars, the film makes nonsense of his request to ride with the 17th, when his own regiment was in the line.)
 ▲ Edison's 1912 movie of the Charge showed a cosy domestic familiarity between Morris and Nolan, so this may be where both the 1936 and 1968 versions got the idea.
The romantic sub-plot of the 1968 film is similar to that in the 1936 version: one woman, two men, the men bonded to each other as brother officers. This plot was already acknowledged as hackneyed in 1936, but Richardson adopts it, and is so taken with it that he gives it far more screen time than Warner Brothers would have tolerated. At Warner Brothers this plot was known as the Tiger Shark plot, after the 1932 movie with Edward G. Robinson. Any screenwriter without a current assignment was likely to be handed the script of Tiger Shark and told,
 ▲ Morris was on the staff in the Crimea, as Deputy Assistant Quartermaster-General of the Cavalry Division. He had contracted cholera at Varna, and had not long returned to the front. When the commander of the 17th Lancers, Lieutenant-Colonel John Lawrenson, was sent home sick, Major Willett had assumed command. He died of exposure on 22 October, and Captain Morris was the next senior officer. Within three days he found himself commanding the lead regiment of the front line for what was obviously going to be a desperate assault. It would have been monumentally inconsiderate of Nolan to have distracted him from his immediate duties.