British History Challenge | 35-37- Men of Harlech

We’ll be in Africa for this portion of the history challenge to see what’s going down in the empire in the late Victorian Era. We’ve got battles galore and plenty of gung ho style adventuring ahead so let’s get cracking… Oh and by the way… Heath Ledger will be turning up to appease all you female readers.

#35: Zulu Dawn

General Opinion: Zzzzzzzzz….

Review: This film is about the start of the Zulu wars and the massacre at Isandlwana… And that’s really it. There is very little else that happens in the film. And what makes it worse is that Isandlwana is just tacked on to the last twenty minutes or so. AND THIS IS A TWO HOUR FILM. In the remaining 1:40 virtually nothing happens. The British invade the Zulu Nation… They cross the river at Rorke’s Drift and then sit there… Then you have the bit at Isandlwana… And then the end of the film.

It’s all so boring. Up until Isandlwana you might as well just fall asleep. That’s how little happens. Theres not even much character building or even historical detail. It is just Boring. No… Really. It’s boring. There is very little to say about this film other than the fact that it is really, really boring.

Theres no detail in this film at all. Theres very little background, very little in the way of  anything going on and very little in the way of a script. It’s like somebody just decided to film a bunch of actors running around africa in period costume. That’s it.

So what about those actors running around Africa in period costumes? Well you’ve got Bob Hoskins… In a minor roll. All he does in the entire film is shout and then got shot. My verdict: Wasted potential. And then there’s the guy playing Vereker (He’ll turn up again in a bit as Winston Churchill…) I’ve seen him in other stuff and he was good… But here? A bit stiff and wooden I’m afraid. He doesn’t do much until right at the end… Where he gets shot. There’s Burt Lancaster of course… But he doesn’t do a lot either. And then you have Peter O Toole who is essentially playing Henry II for the third time… His acting is so bad that it could be the same character… Again though… He does absolutely nothing (and he does nothing worse than everybody else)

The only saving grace of the film is Isandlwana itself. It looks nothing like the real Isandlwana but it’s a good, hearty battle that you can get your teeth into. And compared to the snore fest that is the rest of the film it’s positively exciting. In contrast, it’s well shot, well acted and damn good fun. It’s even got detail, something the rest of the film just doesn’t have. It’s a shame that they didn’t say ‘Yeah… Let’s ditch most of the previous stuff and just keep the better bits.’ You know that at exactly the same time as Isandlwana there was another battle against the Zulu’s going on? Seriously… At Inyezane. You could have included that bit just before Isandlwana. It would have made for a much better film.

You know… When I’ve seen this film before it’s always been ok. I look at it now though, after seeing so, so many other history films, and it’s weak. It’s very weak and very boring.

Rating: 3/10- The battle scene at the end only just saves it.

(God… Even the trailer is boring!)


General Opinion: A well made piece about heroism against impossible odds

Review: And so we come to the first of many, many Michael Caine films on our journey. He’ll be back another three times yet. His first starring role was this film, which makes it kind of appropriate for his first appearance. And what an appearance… What a film!

This film deals with what it’s supposed to deal with. Unlike the Charge of the Light Brigade or to a lesser extent, Zulu Dawn, which pussyfoot around the subject matter like they’re afraid of it, this gets to the point. Almost the entire film is set at Rorke’s Drift. The only bit that isn’t is about ten minutes at the beginning which takes place in the Zulu village. And that ten minutes serves as a nice introduction.

The remainder of the first hour is spent getting to know the soldiers and racking up the defences at Rorke’s Drift before the inevitable Zulu assault… Whilst that might sound boring it actually isn’t. It moves along at a fairly nippy pace, never sagging or feeling weighed down at any point. And before you know it you get to the main point of the film, the battle. And what a battle it is! It takes up the whole second half and it barely lets up. It’s well directed and well performed, especially during the scenes where the Zulu’s burn down the mission house. And then, towards the end ,you get a rousing chorus of Men of Harlech . Almost perfect…

The only problem I have is that you never really feel the threat. There seems to be an equal number of Zulu and British and you never get the impression of them being outnumbered like you should. You never feel a part of the action… It’s odd because whilst the film is very good, it’s all very stilted and detached from reality. If that’s because of when it was made or something else, I don’t know…

But nevertheless, it doesn’t detract. I have seen some people on the internet bitching about the fact that the rifles aren’t right and the helmets are too white… But they’re minor niggles. Overall, with a few flights of fancy here and there, the film sticks mostly to the facts. What alterations they have made are minor. It’s still a good film thanks of the performances of Michael Caine and the rest.

Rating: 8/10 Good film. Better than the prequel.

#37: The Four Feathers

General Opinion: WHAT THE HELL???

Review: Ok, Ok… I’ll let all you female readers oogle Heath Ledger in a moment. First I’m going to moan because this film isn’t very good. It’s about a soldier (Heath Ledger) who resigns on the eve of the Gordon Relief Expedition and then gets given four feathers as a sign of cowardice. He then goes off to the Sudan to redeem himself.

If I may, I would like to start on the point of accuracy. Errr… There were the British Army and they went to the Sudan… That’s about it. I know the actual story may be fictional but it’s supposed to be set against real events, and those ‘real events’ are thrown out of the window.  The worst part is there’s a battle (The battle of Abu Klea) which in the film is portrayed as this big massive disaster with the British (wearing traditional redcoats of yesteryear when by this point they were wearing Khaki) running away and getting mostly massacred in a big way whilst the Mahdists send in people in British Uniforms to trick them and kill them even further. Sometimes I wonder what the hell goes through the minds of these film makers… Abu Klea was a massive victory for the British… One thousand one hundred Sudanese killed to about seventy six British. Yet the film makers have bastardized the event for their own purposes. When you’re playing with reality (Which ALL History filmmakers must do) you can’t make things up. You can’t change what happened to suit your own agenda.

And then you have an inexplicable lack of detail and misguidance. No mention is made of General Gordon being stuck in Khartoum or why the British were in the Sudan in the first place. In reality, it was because Gordon went to try and wipe out slavery and ivory in a country that had nothing to do with them… Basically  it was the British doing what the Americans do today… (Hey… That could be a prequel to Team America!) No mention WHATSOEVER is made of this. Instead its hinted that the British haven’t had a war for years (Errr?) and that it’s just Britain protecting ‘ a bit of desert,’ which it really wasn’t. This film lacks detail, that’s what T’m saying.

The plot itself, whilst not overly bad, is poorly executed and much of the acting, despite having the likes of Heath Ledger, Michael Sheen, that guy who used to be in spooks and the man from the BT Adverts, is stilted and wooden at best. No one performance stands out and there’s not much of a script. I don’t know who any of the characters are as they aren’t really introduced properly or expanded upon or dealt with in any way apart from as tools to manipulate Heath Ledger out of cowardice. I don’t even know who the main character was… (Ok… I know who the main character was but not his name.) And it’s sooooo boring. The only two mildly interesting bits are where BT Man gets shot in slow motion whilst Ledger rides towards him on a horse and a bit where Ledger and Sheen are in some prison before it rapidly goes downhill and they escape in a ridiculous fashion and then have a stupidly over the top fist fight in a desert that’s clearly nowhere near the Sudan. I know Sudan might not be the most film friendly place in the world but would it really be too hard to film on the other side of Egyptian border? Or what about that Hala’ib triangle? It would at least have had a bit of accuracy.

Despite it’s problems, the film is borderline watchable, if only for its nice sweeping shots of the desert. It’s better than Zulu Dawn, but not much.

Rating: 4/10- Poor and misguided.

Oh right… Yes. You want to oogle Heath Ledger… Here you go then:

Oh come on…. You didn’t see that coming? Lighten up? Why So Serious?

Ok… I’ll stop now.


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