British History Challenge 32-34 | The Valleys of Death

The year is 1853. Russia has tried to invade Turkey and a chap in New York State has just invented something he calls a ‘potato chip.’ But that’s in America and we aren’t concerned with that now. Right now the British and their allies are wondering what to do about Russia…

#32: The Charge of the Light Brigade

General Opinion: Less than what it rightly deserves to be.

Review: From a film called The Charge of the Light Brigade it has a chronic shortage of both charging and the Crimean War. The actual charge is almost tacked onto the end of the film and is ridiculously short. And as for the events immediately preceding this… You could be forgiven for thinking that the charge was in fact the opening gambit of the entire campaign. It wasn’t. Well… Not really. It was part of a much bigger event called the Battle of Balaclava. We get absolutely no hint as to what is going on elsewhere, just a few infantry and the occasional explosion beforehand, followed by the actual charge… And then the film ends. That’s it… It just ends. Suddenly and without any real conclusion, other than a dead horse with a fly buzzing around over the credits, it just ends. On the plus side the charge itself is brilliantly brutal and excellently staged. What overshadows it, however, is that it just seems tacked on, as I mentioned above, and once the charge is over there is no resolution. The film just ends.

The film is not just simply about the charge, however, as the real charge was only about ten minutes long (They got that bit right!) At least half of the film is taken up with the build-up to the Crimean war and demonstrating training procedures and the fact that the entire army is run by a bunch of mindless pythonesque toffs. One of them even mentions, at one point, that they don’t want people who know what they’re doing in charge of the army because it would ‘be like murder…’ In short, the whole thing seems to be taking a leftist swipe at British imperial policy during the Victorian era. I get the feeling It’s trying to be satirical, but it’s about one hundred years out of date.

Not that this is a problem, it adds some level of amusement to the film, which in itself is entertaining enough. Whilst a bit slow to start it has its merits. The scenes in London, which take up half of the film, do drag on and seem rather a bit unnecessary in places. There’s a whole lot of talk about the Duke of Wellington like he’s some sort of shadow hanging over the entire army… They even go so far as to stick a picture of him on the wall in almost every shot and there’s even an oversized statue of the man floating about in a pythonesque way. It’s unnecessary though. It doesn’t add anything and in some ways it detracts greatly and just makes the whole start of the film too heavy with context, when it should quite rightly be shoved back in favour of the neglected Balaclava.

One of the best points is a series of peculiar animations interspersed throughout the film. They’re mad and almost as if they were done by a guy on drugs. You have to see them to believe it. Victoria and Albert eat Kremlin Cake… Britain is represented by Britannia and a lion (understandably) Russia is represented by a bear, Turkey is represented by a turkey (Oh very clever… Not!) Austria is represented by a two headed goose thing and France by a chicken (Hmmm… I wonder what they were trying to say?) Whilst bizarre and mostly irrelevant to the film, the animations are still entertaining and they actually improve things somewhat.

In a way, despite its good points, this film is a let down because it just fails to expand on the main point (AKA Balaclava and the charge and instead goes in for the bits before.

Rating:6.5/10 Needs more Balaclava.

#33: The Tichborne Claimant

General Opinion: A well made and  intriguing film.

Review: Out of all the films on the History Challenge this is most likely to be the least known and the rarest of all of them. Fortunately, if you live in the UK, it’s one of those films that has been placed on YouTube in its entirety by the actual film company, just so they can actually make a small amount of money from it. It’s so rare and unknown that I couldn’t even find a trailer or a single solitary clip. All there is the film… Even Rotten Tomatoes doesn’t have a lot to say. That is a real shame as this is a really great film.

I doubt that a lot of you will even know who the Tichborne Claimant was, so I’ll expand. In the 1850’s the heir to the wealthy Tichborne baronetcy, Sir Roger, decided to sail around the world and never came back. Nobody’s quite sure what happened but ten years later a guy claiming to be Sir Roger Tichborne surfaced in Australia. He is referred to as ‘the Claimant’. Some people (Such as Sir Roger’s mother) believed he was Sir Roger but others (Including most of the Tichborne family) weren’t convinced. Eventually it ended up in a court case to determine if he was or wasn’t who he claimed to be. This is what the film is about, although it does play loosely with a few minor aspects of the actual narrative (especially with the involvement of man-servant Andrew Bogle, who narrates the film from his deathbed…)

Whilst the cast may not be the most well known in the world, they’re still mostly recognisable… Cornelius Fudge, one of the Blofelds, Boycie from Only fools and Horses and Stephen Fry all pop up. Fry in particular is eerily convincing as the barrister arguing against the claimant… It seems at times like he is the only man in all England who can really discover the truth about the claimant. Quite rightly so, I feel.

Speaking of the claimant, I don’t think I’ve seen him in anything else but he’s quite good and does an excellent job, first portraying the rough drunken vagabond who surfaces in Australia and then throughout the film transforming into a toff with a slight touch of the Boris Johnson about him. And the thing is… You start off believing he definitely isn’t Tichborne but then as the film goes on there’s just this nagging suspicion that he might be, that he could be, that the Tichborne family could be purposely setting the whole court case up against him… And even at the end, the film never answers if he is or isn’t. It leaves the whole thing hanging and playing on the mind for a while afterwards. And I like that… It doesn’t try to do anything or say anything. It leaves it up to the viewer. I like that. It’s nice.

This is a pleasurable and likeable film. Films such as this do have a tendency to become boring. They drag on for too long and get bogged down in the detail. This one doesn’t though. It’s only ninety minutes long and whilst for some films this would be a problem, here it’s just right. And the detail, meanwhile, is plentiful but not overloaded. Which is as at it should be.

Rating: 9/10- Really good and definitely worth taking the time to watch. Should be better known.

#34: Mrs Brown

General Opinion: Watchable but lacking in many areas

Review: First off I would like, if I may, to state that there is one thing about this film that is completely inexplicable… It’s not a bad inexplicabilty, rather a good one, in a very odd sort of way. It improves the film and alludes to the historical fact quite well. I’m talking here about the chemistry between Judi Dench and Billy Connolly. This is completely mad… One’s a famously foul-mouthed Scottish comedian and the other’s Judi Dench, who is not. Normally you wouldn’t expect this casting to work but it does. You can really believe that these two are friends and that they respect one another. It’s an odd pairing, but one that ultimately pays off. Then again… Queen Victoria and John Brown must be the oddest couple in all of history. He was a tartan clad, roughly spoken, wild ghillie of the Highlands and she was  a diminutive, penis loving widow with a German accent and a form of what I believe is called paternal fixation (in other words where the woman is constantly in search of father figure and latched onto any male she could… Prince Albert, Lord Melbourne, John Brown, The Munshi… If I’m wrong and you know better, please correct me) It was a peculiar situation but it really happened. Honest  to God…

For the most part it’s a reasonably accurate piece. The basic framework is there but they have taken a lot of dramatic licence with the narrative. A lot of the film did happen but many of the events seem a bit out of context. This isn’t because they’re wildly inaccurate. They’re mostly close to the truth, but for some reason they aren’t expanded upon or explained. Take for instance the beginning. It starts off with John Brown (Connolly) running through a forest with a gun and suddenly shouting ‘God Save the Queen.’ We have no explanation for this as it’s immediately followed by a bust of what looks like prince Albert hurtling through the air over some credits… There’s no explanation for this either, until the end when it’s revealed to be a bust of John Brown that the Prince of Wales threw out of the window. The running about thing, meanwhile, is also revealed at the end to have been someone telling Connolly that there was a trespasser in the woods and he went out after him… That’s all… Though according to the film it did lead to his death, which is highly inaccurate. He died of a number of illnesses, but not pneumonia as is depicted here. In fact, the whole beginning is rather pointless and a little bit absurd. There’s also a needless scene where Connolly and Gerard Butler (Yes, the THIS IS SPARTA Gerard Butler) frolic naked along the shore. I think this was only put in there so Connolly could streak. I wouldn’t put it past him. He’s done it before…

There in lies the major fault with this film. Whilst it is entertaining and watchable, it suffers due to a high number of inaccuracies in the plotting whilst the real events are truncated and not expanded upon. There are huge gaps. It jumps rapidly between 1864, 1866 and then skips the next fifteen years entirely, where it ends… Not once do we even get a hint of the events in those years. They aren’t even alluded to. There’s the point where the real John Brown sat on an assailant until the police came but all we see is him running towards the attacker. And then it’s not even elaborated on afterwards.

Then you have the first meeting between Victoria and Brown, like they barely knew each other. In actual fact this is bullshit… Brown was one of Albert’s favourite servants at Balmoral (perhaps a reason why Victoria fixated on him?) He and Victoria were already fairly well acquainted, especially as Albert had already been using him as the Queen’s personal bodyguard. There certainly wouldn’t have been any animosity between them like is depicted here.

But in all, it’s not over the top. In a way, it’s likeable. The performances are good and that inexplicable chemistry helps it along. It’s just a shame that they hashed the narrative.

Rating: 5/10- Fudged narrative. That’s all i have to say.


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