The Charge of the Light Brigade


2h 21m 1968
The Charge of the Light Brigade

Brief Synopsis

Snobbery and bad politics lead to military disaster during the Crimean War.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Genre
Drama
Historical
Adaptation
Release Date
Jan 1968
Premiere Information
New York opening: 6 Oct 1968
Production Company
Woodfall Films
Distribution Company
United Artists
Country
United Kingdom
Location
Turkey
Screenplay Information
Based on the book The Reason Why by Cecil Woodham-Smith (London, 1953).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 21m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (DeLuxe)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Synopsis

In 1854, 39 years after Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo, a group of aristocratic British army officers, including the arrogant Lord Cardigan, become restless for an opportunity to seek military glory. While Cardigan is eagerly planning to lead an army in the Crimean expedition to protect the Ottoman Empire from the invading Russians, he is also involved in a dispute with Captain Lewis Nolan, an outspoken young officer recently returned to Britain from India. As the two men's mutual acrimony reaches its peak, the British declare war, join forces with the French, and set sail for Turkey. Left behind in England is an officer's wife, Clarissa Morris, with whom Nolan has been having an affair. Once in the Crimea, the British army, although poorly-provisioned and cholera-ridden, wins an initial victory over the Russians and quickly becomes complacent about its power. Failing to follow through on his forces' advantage, the doddering Lord Raglan ponders his next course of action, while Cardigan dallies with Mrs. Duberly, the unfaithful paymaster's wife, who cheers on the soldiers by day and their commanding officer by night. Infuriated by the lack of immediate retaliation as the Battle of Balaklava begins, Nolan takes it upon himself to deliver one of Raglan's incoherent military orders to Cardigan and his brother-in-law, Lord Lucan. In the confusion, Cardigan's Light Brigade veers into the wrong valley and heads straight into the waiting Russian cannons. Though Nolan attempts to halt the charge, he is killed by an aerial burst, as the brigade stubbornly continues its suicidal march. Following the slaughter, Cardigan rides his horse over Nolan's corpse and joins the other officers in bickering over where the blame for the senseless debacle should be laid.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Genre
Drama
Historical
Adaptation
Release Date
Jan 1968
Premiere Information
New York opening: 6 Oct 1968
Production Company
Woodfall Films
Distribution Company
United Artists
Country
United Kingdom
Location
Turkey
Screenplay Information
Based on the book The Reason Why by Cecil Woodham-Smith (London, 1953).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 21m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (DeLuxe)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Articles

The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968)


The Charge of the Light Brigade

"It will be a sad day for England when her armies are officered by men who know too well what they are doing -- it smacks of murder."
John Gielgud in The Charge of the Light Brigade

By the late '60s, Tony Richardson was looking to re-capture the magic of his 1963 historical hit Tom Jones. In fact, some would claim he took on this debunking view of history's most famous failed military action in an effort to make lightning strike twice. Though The Charge of the Light Brigade was a disappointment in relation to its cost at the box office, it has developed a group of faithful fans who herald the iconoclastic epic as far ahead of its time politically and stylistically.

Richardson had been working on the idea for years with John Osborne, whose breakthrough play, Look Back in Anger, the director had brought to both stage and screen before the two had teamed for Tom Jones. Wanting a more honest treatment of the disastrous charge than had been depicted in Warner Bros.' 1936 version, starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, they looked to Cecil Woodham-Smith's revisionist The Reason Why, but the book's screen rights had been tied up for years by various producers who could not get the project off the ground. At the time, actor Laurence Harvey, who hoped to star in his own version of the events, held them. So they hired a researcher to make sure that every historical reference in Osborne's script could be documented from sources in the public domain.

Despite the box office failures of such recent projects as The Loved One (1965) and The Sailor from Gibraltar (1967), Richardson and Osborne's Woodfall films had arranged for United Artists, which had financed Tom Jones, to back them for the considerable budget of $8 million (which was a huge sum at the time). It was also the distribution company's major release for 1968.

As had happened on Tom Jones, Osborne turned in a script that, despite brilliant sections, was far from finished. So, Richardson brought in Charles Wood, a comic writer best known for his work on The Beatles' second film, Help! (1965). He became the sole credited screenwriter when Harvey got hold of a script draft and sued Osborne for plagiarism. At first, Richardson and United Artists planned to fight the suit, but when their legal team informed them that there were too many similarities between their script and Woodham-Smith's book, they settled. United Artists bought the rights to the book from Harvey, who agreed to drop charges in return for a cameo in the film. The only role that fit him was a Polish Prince who makes a desperate escape from the Russian Army. The part had been promised to Osborne, however, who took great offense at having to give it up. It triggered a breach between him and Richardson that ended their production company. The two would not speak for years afterwards.

The three main roles in the film were the British lords who pushed England's entry in the Crimean War and were at least partially responsible for the disastrous charge. Richardson had hoped to cast Rex Harrison as Lord Cardigan, and negotiations were going well until Harrison read a gossip column that stated Richardson had been talking to George C. Scott about the role. The part eventually went to Trevor Howard, with Harry Andrews as his brother-in-law and John Gielgud as the aging nobleman whose vague written command leads Howard to lead a charge against the wrong set of guns. Richardson made the film a family affair by casting his wife, Vanessa Redgrave, in one of the few major female roles. He also cast her mother, Rachel Kempson; her brother, Corin Redgrave; and their two daughters, Joely and Natasha Richardson, the latter in her film debut. The other major role, a minor officer's over-sexed wife, went to Osborne's wife, Jill Bennett. Critics would be divided over whether she or Gielgud stole the film.

To shoot the Battle of Balaclava, Richardson secured a location in Turkey that, though not the actual site of the original charge, looked almost exactly like it. The production company also secured the cooperation of the Turkish army, whose Calvary would double for Britain's military on-screen. Richardson clinched the deal by bringing the cavalry's chief officer to London, where they wined and dined him and even bought frilly black corsets and underwear for his mistress.

To guarantee that cast and crew would be rested for the climactic battle scenes, they scheduled them for the start of the shoot. With Richardson's perfectionism and attention to detail, he demanded that the period uniforms be properly distressed so the soldiers would look as though they had been on the field for weeks. When it was time to shoot the earlier scenes, however, the costumes were so worn they had to be replaced with fresh ones.

Throughout the location shoot, Richardson would feel as though he were in a state of siege himself. The valley in which they were filming belonged to two neighboring villages. Since they were shooting in the summer, they had to pay the villages not to farm the land, giving them three times the value of any crops they might have grown there. Nonetheless, the villagers tried to farm the land in secret every night, leaving the plowed land a danger to the production's horses and military extras. Richardson had gotten permission from the military high command to let the cavalrymen grow their hair and beards for the proper period look. But one day a general showed up and ordered all the men to shave and cut their hair. The production had to fly in hairdressers from Rome, Paris and London to create wigs and fake beards for the men.

Things did not improve when they moved to Istanbul to film the British landing. Unaccustomed to the rough seas of the Bosporus, most of the cast and extras became sea sick and collapsed out of camera range once their ships had sailed into position for the landing. A few days later, an earthquake struck and almost toppled their hotel. Suddenly the surrounding streets were filled with titled actors, many of them naked.

Despite all the problems, however, Richardson assembled a handsome looking film. Cinematographer David Watkin wanted to capture the look of 19th-century photography, so he combed Europe for the oldest lenses he could find and then adapted them for wide-screen photography. To provide the film's historical context, Richardson engaged Richard Williams to create a series of animated sequences modeled on 19th-century political cartoons. These would prove to be the film's high point, but they almost didn't make it into the production. Even with two years to work on the project, Williams was still finishing the animation on the day of the premiere.

The Charge of the Light Brigade opened to mixed reviews, particularly in the U.S. Although many critics appreciated Richardson's revisionist take on history, some, like Pauline Kael, argued that he focused so much on the shortcomings of the military leaders that he lost any sense of the heroism that also accompanied the events. The best reviews went to the cast and to Williams' animation. With its combination of anti-military attitudes, coinciding with protests against the Vietnam War in the U.S. and England, with the lavish re-creation of the past (Richardson even insisted on using 19th century slang throughout the script), the film may have been caught between two audiences: the counter-culture crowd who would make Easy Rider (1969) a hit the following year and older moviegoers drawn to historical spectacle. For contemporary audiences, however, the film seems timely and even ahead-of-its time with its political criticism and short, vaudeville-style scenes.

Producer: Neil Hartley
Director: Tony Richardson
Screenplay: Charles Wood
Cinematography: David Watkin
Art Direction: Edward Marshall
Music: John Addison
Cast: Trevor Howard (Lord Cardigan), Vanessa Redgrave (Mrs. Clarissa Morris), John Gielgud (Lord Raglan), Harry Andrews (Lord Lucan), Jill Bennett (Mrs. Fanny Duberly), David Hemmings (Capt. Louis Edward Nolan), Peter Bowles (Paymaster Capt. Henry Duberly), Mark Dignam (Gen. Airey), Alan Dobie (Riding Master Mogg), Rachel Kempson (Mrs. Codrington), T.P. McKenna (William Russel), Corin Redgrave (Capt. Feathersonhaugh), Norman Rossington (S.M. Corbett), Donald Wolfit (Macbeth), Laurence Harvey (Russian Prince), Joely Richardson (Extra), Natasha Richardson (Flower Girl).
C-128m.

by Frank Miller
The Charge Of The Light Brigade (1968)

The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968)

The Charge of the Light Brigade "It will be a sad day for England when her armies are officered by men who know too well what they are doing -- it smacks of murder." John Gielgud in The Charge of the Light Brigade By the late '60s, Tony Richardson was looking to re-capture the magic of his 1963 historical hit Tom Jones. In fact, some would claim he took on this debunking view of history's most famous failed military action in an effort to make lightning strike twice. Though The Charge of the Light Brigade was a disappointment in relation to its cost at the box office, it has developed a group of faithful fans who herald the iconoclastic epic as far ahead of its time politically and stylistically. Richardson had been working on the idea for years with John Osborne, whose breakthrough play, Look Back in Anger, the director had brought to both stage and screen before the two had teamed for Tom Jones. Wanting a more honest treatment of the disastrous charge than had been depicted in Warner Bros.' 1936 version, starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, they looked to Cecil Woodham-Smith's revisionist The Reason Why, but the book's screen rights had been tied up for years by various producers who could not get the project off the ground. At the time, actor Laurence Harvey, who hoped to star in his own version of the events, held them. So they hired a researcher to make sure that every historical reference in Osborne's script could be documented from sources in the public domain. Despite the box office failures of such recent projects as The Loved One (1965) and The Sailor from Gibraltar (1967), Richardson and Osborne's Woodfall films had arranged for United Artists, which had financed Tom Jones, to back them for the considerable budget of $8 million (which was a huge sum at the time). It was also the distribution company's major release for 1968. As had happened on Tom Jones, Osborne turned in a script that, despite brilliant sections, was far from finished. So, Richardson brought in Charles Wood, a comic writer best known for his work on The Beatles' second film, Help! (1965). He became the sole credited screenwriter when Harvey got hold of a script draft and sued Osborne for plagiarism. At first, Richardson and United Artists planned to fight the suit, but when their legal team informed them that there were too many similarities between their script and Woodham-Smith's book, they settled. United Artists bought the rights to the book from Harvey, who agreed to drop charges in return for a cameo in the film. The only role that fit him was a Polish Prince who makes a desperate escape from the Russian Army. The part had been promised to Osborne, however, who took great offense at having to give it up. It triggered a breach between him and Richardson that ended their production company. The two would not speak for years afterwards. The three main roles in the film were the British lords who pushed England's entry in the Crimean War and were at least partially responsible for the disastrous charge. Richardson had hoped to cast Rex Harrison as Lord Cardigan, and negotiations were going well until Harrison read a gossip column that stated Richardson had been talking to George C. Scott about the role. The part eventually went to Trevor Howard, with Harry Andrews as his brother-in-law and John Gielgud as the aging nobleman whose vague written command leads Howard to lead a charge against the wrong set of guns. Richardson made the film a family affair by casting his wife, Vanessa Redgrave, in one of the few major female roles. He also cast her mother, Rachel Kempson; her brother, Corin Redgrave; and their two daughters, Joely and Natasha Richardson, the latter in her film debut. The other major role, a minor officer's over-sexed wife, went to Osborne's wife, Jill Bennett. Critics would be divided over whether she or Gielgud stole the film. To shoot the Battle of Balaclava, Richardson secured a location in Turkey that, though not the actual site of the original charge, looked almost exactly like it. The production company also secured the cooperation of the Turkish army, whose Calvary would double for Britain's military on-screen. Richardson clinched the deal by bringing the cavalry's chief officer to London, where they wined and dined him and even bought frilly black corsets and underwear for his mistress. To guarantee that cast and crew would be rested for the climactic battle scenes, they scheduled them for the start of the shoot. With Richardson's perfectionism and attention to detail, he demanded that the period uniforms be properly distressed so the soldiers would look as though they had been on the field for weeks. When it was time to shoot the earlier scenes, however, the costumes were so worn they had to be replaced with fresh ones. Throughout the location shoot, Richardson would feel as though he were in a state of siege himself. The valley in which they were filming belonged to two neighboring villages. Since they were shooting in the summer, they had to pay the villages not to farm the land, giving them three times the value of any crops they might have grown there. Nonetheless, the villagers tried to farm the land in secret every night, leaving the plowed land a danger to the production's horses and military extras. Richardson had gotten permission from the military high command to let the cavalrymen grow their hair and beards for the proper period look. But one day a general showed up and ordered all the men to shave and cut their hair. The production had to fly in hairdressers from Rome, Paris and London to create wigs and fake beards for the men. Things did not improve when they moved to Istanbul to film the British landing. Unaccustomed to the rough seas of the Bosporus, most of the cast and extras became sea sick and collapsed out of camera range once their ships had sailed into position for the landing. A few days later, an earthquake struck and almost toppled their hotel. Suddenly the surrounding streets were filled with titled actors, many of them naked. Despite all the problems, however, Richardson assembled a handsome looking film. Cinematographer David Watkin wanted to capture the look of 19th-century photography, so he combed Europe for the oldest lenses he could find and then adapted them for wide-screen photography. To provide the film's historical context, Richardson engaged Richard Williams to create a series of animated sequences modeled on 19th-century political cartoons. These would prove to be the film's high point, but they almost didn't make it into the production. Even with two years to work on the project, Williams was still finishing the animation on the day of the premiere. The Charge of the Light Brigade opened to mixed reviews, particularly in the U.S. Although many critics appreciated Richardson's revisionist take on history, some, like Pauline Kael, argued that he focused so much on the shortcomings of the military leaders that he lost any sense of the heroism that also accompanied the events. The best reviews went to the cast and to Williams' animation. With its combination of anti-military attitudes, coinciding with protests against the Vietnam War in the U.S. and England, with the lavish re-creation of the past (Richardson even insisted on using 19th century slang throughout the script), the film may have been caught between two audiences: the counter-culture crowd who would make Easy Rider (1969) a hit the following year and older moviegoers drawn to historical spectacle. For contemporary audiences, however, the film seems timely and even ahead-of-its time with its political criticism and short, vaudeville-style scenes. Producer: Neil Hartley Director: Tony Richardson Screenplay: Charles Wood Cinematography: David Watkin Art Direction: Edward Marshall Music: John Addison Cast: Trevor Howard (Lord Cardigan), Vanessa Redgrave (Mrs. Clarissa Morris), John Gielgud (Lord Raglan), Harry Andrews (Lord Lucan), Jill Bennett (Mrs. Fanny Duberly), David Hemmings (Capt. Louis Edward Nolan), Peter Bowles (Paymaster Capt. Henry Duberly), Mark Dignam (Gen. Airey), Alan Dobie (Riding Master Mogg), Rachel Kempson (Mrs. Codrington), T.P. McKenna (William Russel), Corin Redgrave (Capt. Feathersonhaugh), Norman Rossington (S.M. Corbett), Donald Wolfit (Macbeth), Laurence Harvey (Russian Prince), Joely Richardson (Extra), Natasha Richardson (Flower Girl). C-128m. by Frank Miller

Rachel Kempson, 1910-2003


Rachel Kempson, the matriarch of the Redgrave acting dynasty, and a notable performer of the stage and screen in her own right, died on May 24 of natural causes at the home of her granddaughter, the actress Natasha Richardson in Millbrook, New York. She was 92. Her family of performers included Kempson's late husband, Sir Michael Redgrave, children Vanessa, Lynn and Corin Redgrave, and granddaughters Natasha and Joely Richardson.

Born on May 28, 1910, in Dartmouth, England, Kempson longed for a career in acting. She trained as an actress at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in London and made her professional stage debut in 1932 at the legendary Stratford-on-Avon Theater in the lead of Romeo and Juliet. She went on to perform with such distinguished theatrical companies including the Royal Shakespeare Company, the English Stage Company and the Old Vic. In 1935 she was asked to star in the Liverpool Repertory production of Flowers of the Forest. Her leading man was Michael Redgrave, one of the top actors of his generation. Within a few weeks they fell in love and were married on July 18, 1935.

Kempson took a break for the next few years, to give birth to her three children: Vanessa, Corin and Lynn, but by the mid '40s, she came back to pursue her career in both stage and screen. She began to appear in some films with her husband: Basil Dearden's The Captive Heart (1946); and Lewis Gilbert's tough war drama The Sea Shall Not Have Them (1954). She hit her stride as a character actress in the '60s with a string of good films: Tony Richardson's (at the time her son-in-law) hilarious, award-winning Tom Jones (1963); Silvio Narizzano's classic comedy Georgy Girl (1966) starring her daughter, Lynn; and John Dexter's underrated anti-war film The Virgin Soldiers (1969), again with Lynn. In the '80s Kempson had two strong roles: Lady Manners in the epic British television series The Jewel in the Crown (1984); and as Lady Belfield in Sydney Pollack's hit Out of Africa (1985), starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep.

Kempson had been in semi-retirement after the death of her husband, Sir Michael in 1985. She made her last film appearance in Henry Jaglom's romantic Deja vu (1998) poignantly playing the mother to her real life daughter Vanessa. Kempson is survived by her three children and 10 grandchildren.

by Michael T. Toole

Rachel Kempson, 1910-2003

Rachel Kempson, the matriarch of the Redgrave acting dynasty, and a notable performer of the stage and screen in her own right, died on May 24 of natural causes at the home of her granddaughter, the actress Natasha Richardson in Millbrook, New York. She was 92. Her family of performers included Kempson's late husband, Sir Michael Redgrave, children Vanessa, Lynn and Corin Redgrave, and granddaughters Natasha and Joely Richardson. Born on May 28, 1910, in Dartmouth, England, Kempson longed for a career in acting. She trained as an actress at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in London and made her professional stage debut in 1932 at the legendary Stratford-on-Avon Theater in the lead of Romeo and Juliet. She went on to perform with such distinguished theatrical companies including the Royal Shakespeare Company, the English Stage Company and the Old Vic. In 1935 she was asked to star in the Liverpool Repertory production of Flowers of the Forest. Her leading man was Michael Redgrave, one of the top actors of his generation. Within a few weeks they fell in love and were married on July 18, 1935. Kempson took a break for the next few years, to give birth to her three children: Vanessa, Corin and Lynn, but by the mid '40s, she came back to pursue her career in both stage and screen. She began to appear in some films with her husband: Basil Dearden's The Captive Heart (1946); and Lewis Gilbert's tough war drama The Sea Shall Not Have Them (1954). She hit her stride as a character actress in the '60s with a string of good films: Tony Richardson's (at the time her son-in-law) hilarious, award-winning Tom Jones (1963); Silvio Narizzano's classic comedy Georgy Girl (1966) starring her daughter, Lynn; and John Dexter's underrated anti-war film The Virgin Soldiers (1969), again with Lynn. In the '80s Kempson had two strong roles: Lady Manners in the epic British television series The Jewel in the Crown (1984); and as Lady Belfield in Sydney Pollack's hit Out of Africa (1985), starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep. Kempson had been in semi-retirement after the death of her husband, Sir Michael in 1985. She made her last film appearance in Henry Jaglom's romantic Deja vu (1998) poignantly playing the mother to her real life daughter Vanessa. Kempson is survived by her three children and 10 grandchildren. by Michael T. Toole

Quotes

Trivia

To preserve authenticity, no male actors used makeup, and female actors only used what makeup was available during the mid-19th Century.

The Hussars jacket worn by David Hemmings was later owned by Adam Ant.

in a walk-on bit part

Notes

Copyright length: 143 min Location scenes filmed in Turkey. Opened in London in April 1968; running time: 141 min. Previously filmed in the United States in 1903, 1912, and 1936; previously filmed in Great Britain in 1931.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1994

Released in United States October 6, 1968

Released in United States Spring April 11, 1968

Previously filmed in the USA in 1903, 1912 and 1936; previously filmed in Great Britain in 1931.

Released in United States Spring April 11, 1968

Released in United States October 6, 1968

Released in United States 1994 (Shown in New York City (Walter Reade) as part of program "Laughter in the Dark: Tony Richardson" August 26 - September 13, 1994.)