War Against the French | British History Challenge #26-28

To recap: The king is stark raving bonkers, The Americans have won their independance and we’re somewhere in the depths of the late 1700’s… Only just over two hundred years of British history to go then… We’re going to war with the French again!

#26: Amazing Grace

General Opinion: A tepid failure.

Review: This film is about William Wilberforce and his attempts to abolish the slave trade. All well and good. It’s a subject that a lot of people feel very strongly about, so you would expect them to at least try and create something that would at least do the subject justice. Well, they haven’t. As a matter of fact, they’ve butchered it. They have spectacularly butchered it in a way that only film makers can.

Let’s start with the good points. I like the way the characters age. By the end of the film they all look visibly older than they do at the start, which is nice as it adds a strong sense of realism to proceedings.  And there is, at least, some attention to the facts here and there and it isn’t, strictly speaking, wholly inaccurate. The plot, in general, is based on the facts of the abolition movement as a whole and events play out pretty much as happened..

That, I’m afraid, is where the good points end. It has it’s moments and it has some style, but my God, is it boring. Here we have an interesting sequence of events in British history and yet they make it so dull. There’s no life in it and the characters, particularly the lesser ones, just fall flat and don’t jump out at you in any memorable or spectacular way. Whilst the three big political players of the film, Wilberforce, Pitt and Fox are reasonable portrayals, I still feel they have been woefully miscast. Benedict Cumberbatch is fine as Pitt and he gets the manerisms down to a fine art, but he still just doesn’t feel right. That rock at the foot of Mount Snowdon feels more like the real William Pitt than he does. And as for Gambon as Fox… It’s the same problem. He’s too cheery and we also mustn’t forget that Fox was only in his early forties at the beginning of the film and he only died at fifty seven… I have nothing against Gambon, but he’s just not right for Fox. And then theres Ioan Gruffudd as Wilberforce. Is it me or weren’t they even trying to be accurate and just went for whoever they thought would look nicest on screen? He just doesn’t scream WILLIAM WILBERFORCE at you. Good actors as they all are, they’ve all been horribly, horribly miscast in this.

And they’ve fudged things on the accuracy front as well. Despite taking the main point, the details are hashed. They present Wilberforce’s laudanum taking as some sort of cocaine habbit. What? EVERYONE was taking laudanum at this point and many of them were far more addicted than Wilberforce. A fifty eight year old Charles Fox is present at the passing of the Abolition Bill (Go back a paragraph if you don’t understand why that’s bad!) Wilberforce is painted erroneously as some Christ-like figure, the future William IV sits in the House of Commons… Need i go on?

And then there’s the jumping around it does. Rather than telling everything in a sensible, linear fashion they jump around between dates for half the film, which makes everything rather a bit of a headache.

This is one film that could have been something. I’m afraid it isn’t.

Rating: 5.5/10- Could have been so much better but it falls

#27: MASTER AND COMMANDER: The Far Side of the World

General Opinion: God damn… I love this film

Review: First off, let’s pretend I have never seen this film before in my life and watch it with fresh eyes… Ok… Let’s begin.

That’s easier said than done as right from the off I remember why I love this film. That opening pan across the sea to the HMS Surprise, the subsequent horror film like silence before the epic first engagement between the Surprise and The Acheron. It’s such a beautifully shot battle scene with cannon and bits of wood flying through the ship, people getting thrown aside, water gushing in and enough blood to make a vampire queasy. It hooks you right from the off and the film doesn’t let up from beginning to end.

The film takes place entirely in 1805, a few months before Trafalgar, off the coast of South America and the Galapagos Islands as HMS Surprise (A british Man-O-War) attempts to outmanouever and hunt down a French ship named the Acheron, which is a bit like a Golliath to their David. Patrick O’Brien, the author of the books on which the film is based, goes into incredibly ridiculous detail about every plank of wood and every nail holding the ship together. It can get tiresome but that is not the case here. The film isn’t boring. It’s captivating. It’s electric… IT’S EPIC! It’s everything you want from a history film and more. This is how they should make them.

Lets go back to the detail. This film is incredibly detailed in an almost pedantic, obsessive compulsive kind of way. I think this is largely down to the books but they’ve managed to put all of it into the film and it works. It works! And it’s because of this that it’s also very accurate. Incredibly accurate as it happens. This film manages to depict life on a Nelsonian ship as it was, right down the blood, the death, the powder monkeys and the final stitch through the nose.

Peter Weir, who also directed the brilliant Dead Poet’s Society, has got this film absolutely right in every way possible. That’s no set of the Galapagos Islands or a green screen, that IS the Galapogos islands (apparently the only drama film EVER to be allowed to film there.) That’s really Russel Crowe playing the Violin… That ain’t no CGI ship… THAT IS A SHIP… Most of the time. Most of the time it is actually a boat at sea with the real actors. It’s a phenomenal film in that regards, but it’s all enhanced by the epic feel. Seventy five percent of the film takes place in the middle of the sea and yet this is an absorbing, well crafted world that makes the history student in me want to weep with joy and jubilation.

But none of that is why I like this film. I like this film because it’s just so damned good. A lot of the internet, and a certain american film industry, regard this film as a failure (which is why there hasn’t been a sequel and I can’t decide if that’s a good or a bad thing) But let’s look at the evidence… It’s entertaining. The acting is brilliant. Russel Crowe isn’t exactly anybody’s first choice to play a British naval commander (And let’s face it, his other historical roles have been dogged by problems.) But he does it. He is Jack Aubrey… He IS a British naval commander. He’s believable. He’s brilliant. He’s… Dynamic? Paul Bettany is brilliant as the ship’s doctor and friend of Captain Aubrey, Stephen Maturin. The two work so well together, and not for the first time. And then you’ve got the support cast. David Threlfall, James D’Arcy, Lee Ingleby, Either Merry or Pippin from the Lord of the Rings and a load of other people I don’t know. (One guy has fantastic sideburns!) They all do so well at becoming early 19th sailors that it’s difficult to fault. And let’s not forget that this film was nominated for 10 oscars, including Best Picture… Most of those it lost out to Lord of the Rings (which was also a damned good film!) It was also number one at the box office in Canada for a week and, it was released around the same time as the aforementioned… So definitely not a failure in my opinion. Oh… and the trailer doesn’t really do it justice.

There’s really only one fault I have with this film… well two if you count one scene in the middle that really bugs me and should have been cut out… There’s one chap at the end who dies. He dies… dead. Bullet through the head… But when the hell does he die? One second he’s standing there, bold as brass and alive… Two seconds later the battle is over and Russel Crowe is standing over his dead body. What? When did he die?

Ok… But still. This is good. This is so good… And every time you watch it there’s something new which you didn’t spot before.

Rating: 9.5/10 Sorry… It was that death scene. WHEN DOES HE DIE????

#28: Waterloo

General Opinion: Surely one of the greatest battles in cinematic history!

Review: This isn’t really a film, it’s a reenactment. But what a reenactment it is. The story of Napoleon Bonaparte facing off against one of the sharpest and cleverest minds in British history. It’s the story of Napoleon’s hundred days after he escaped from Elbe and the culmination of this is one of the biggest and bloodiest battles of all time.

Much of the first half of the film is taken up with the build up to the battle and it’s fair to say that not a lot happens. That doesn’t mean to say it’s boring. It’s interesting to see the way things are before the battle. There are bits missing and at times the whole thing feels a little rushed. Supposedly there is an extended version of the film which deals with Quatre Bras and Ligny but nobody has actually seen it since the seventies. I really want to see it though. I really want to see it as watching the shorter version was still brilliant!

To start, they’ve cast people who not only can act, but also look a bit like who they’re supposed to play. Add to this a phenomenal rate of accuracy, phenomenal… Even down to the Earl of Uxbridge’s: ‘Sir… I’ve lost my leg,’ which really happened. It’s a brilliant moment in the film and I was wondering right up until it happened if they’d include it. They did… Which makes me very happy. And the battle was indeed as close as it it is depicted here. We very nearly didn’t kick Napoleons arse, though that’s down to some debate I hasten to add.

And as for the battle… Woah! You’ve never seen a historical battle depicted like this before. Accurate down to the finest detail, with all real soliders and all real explosions. It’s a phenomenal achievement that will probably never happen again. You know those battles in Lord of the Rings? It is just like them, only not CGI, and it’s beautiful. There’s a fantastic slow motion horse charge at one point and a brilliant sweep across the battlefield at another. The constant zooms towards the beginning are irritating but they let up once the battle starts. Despite the constant Wilhelm screams, it’s still stunning to watch and rather gripping. It’s one film that everybody should see and it’s a shame that this film isn’t more recognised as it’s bold, brilliant and beautiful.

Rating: 8/10 Definately watch it just for the battle scenes alone. It’s really just a shame we only have half the film…

Well… That’s another Era of British history over with. We’ve more or less reached the end of the Georgian period and very soon it’ll time for the Victorians to take centre stage. And there’s only one way to play it in:


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