Saturday, May 22, 2010

Peter Watkin's "Culloden"

The Battle of Culloden offers a somewhat tenuous clue to the identity of the unfortunate gentlemen referred to in my previous post, but is certainly relevant to this blog.  I've always considered the  "45", or the third Jacobite Rebellion, to be very much a by-product of the War of the Austrian Succession.  

Certainly the French court gave it the necessary "green light" in an attempt, if not to install a sympathetic monarch on the British throne (the half-hearted level of support would indicate that they did not give the expedition an all-too-serious chance of success), then at least to draw British troops out of the Flanders theatre. In this aim they were very successful indeed.

The price of French success was, of course, the smashing of the Highland clans at Culloden and its aftermath, along with the destruction of their way of life. Not that Versailles would have worried much over that, of course.

I have often heard of the film Peter Watkins made for BBC television way back in 1964 about the battle and its aftermath, but I had never seen it- until now.  And I'm glad I did.

I came across this link where someone had uploaded the entire show.  Despite it being  filmed in black and white it makes for really powerful watching.  And considering the time it was made and the limited budget, it puts a lot of later productions to shame.  John Prebble is mentioned as the historical advisor to the production, and I remember reading his excellent book on Culloden years ago.

Present at Culloden and active in the resulting "Pacification of the Highlands" was Sir George Sackville- known rightly or wrongly as none other than the Coward of Minden for refusing to follow up the retreating French army with his cavalry in 1759.  He seemed to earn himself an unsavoury reputation here, too.

A few memorable scenes from many that stuck in my mind:
  • The young Hanoverian officer at 35:49 scoffing contemptuously at the clansmen  in German as they throw stones at the Government army out of desperation.
  • At 36:31 the Irish Picquets (converged detachments of the Irish Regiments of France- the "Wild Geese")  being ordered to "Stand your ground!" as the Highland army crumbles and retreats through their lines- and doing so with stoic professionalism.
As an aside, wargamers can be very vocal critics of movies when it comes to historical accuracy, and no doubt this one would be no exception.  But I've often felt that were they left to their own devices to make a movie,  many would end up producing a film that well may have all the tactics, lace and gaiter buttons portrayed correctly by a cast of thousands, but which as cinema would have all the dramatic allure of a morning farm report.  Peter Watkins knew how to hold an audience, and evidently had a superb cast to work with.


John Clements said...

Hi Robert.

Interesting to read your comments on the Watkins film. I am old enough to have seen it when it was first shown on BBC and it must have been one of the things that inspired me to read about and later wargame the same period. I now have a DVD of the film and have watched it several times. It never fails to impress. Watkins did an amazing job with a tiny amateur cast. Absolutely brilliant.

My own interests have narrowed down to Fontenoy and I am currently collecting the new Jacdaw range for my French army.

Always nice to meet another WAS enthusiast.


Unknown said...

I have seen this once and thought it was fantastic. I visited Culloden a couple months ago for the second time and saw the new(ish) visitor centre. They have a white room with no chairs in and they project film onto the walls with Jacobites on one side and Hanovarians on the other so that you are right in the middle of the action.

I'm not sure if it is this film which they use but it certainly was the first thing which came to mind.

Anonymous said...

"Not that Versailles would have worried much over that, of course."

Of course, mais n'inversez pas les responsabilités : ce sont les Britanniques qui vont détruire les clans des Hautes Terres d'Ecosse.

Please don't change history. After Culloden, The British will destroy the Highlanders, not the French.

Un grand film. Great movie.

Gael Ridire/Irish Knight said...

I'm knew to painting miniatures and looking through all the manufacturers for the right figure to use for Clare's Regiment of Wild Geese.

Your the first to ever give credit to the Irish and their role at Culloden. Thanks.

irishhighlander said...

YOu wouldn't by chance have worked with JES in Sendai did you? I believe we met on one of the few times I had training before I was asked to leave.