Friday, 6 April 2012

A mixed bag

DVD Review: Cavalry Charge La Haie Sainte & Plancenoit: The French and Prussian Attacks, Graeme Cooper, Tom Dormer, Andrew Duff, Mike Peters, Tim Saunders and Frank Toogood

Julian and I watched this DVD separately and have combined our thoughts and observations into this review.

“Cavalry Charge La Haie Sainte & Plancenoit” is the third of four DVDs about the Battle of Waterloo. While we have not seen the other three, we understand that the format of each is the same. The DVD is produced with relatively simple production, so you won’t find slick presenters, CGI and holographic-style overlays of Napoleonic armies moving across the Waterloo battlefield. Rather the DVD features a combination of narration, sometimes overlaid with video and/or still pictures and interviews. The narrators, who are historians and professional battlefield guides, describe the key events from each stage of the battle being discussed, while standing at the appropriate part of the battlefield. This is mixed with a few stills of paintings and maps, video of re-enactors in ‘action’ and interviews with individual re-enactors, artists and others about specific aspects of uniform, stories or incidents during the battle. The DVD has almost a ‘home-made’ feel (particularly of the narrators), with the emphasis being on content and depth of the discussion/analysis. We found this refreshing compared with the over-produced, but simplistic presentation that we see all too often on our television screens.

That said, it took a few moments to be able to focus properly on the content as Tim Saunders, one of the two main narrators, looks and sounds much like Michael Palin in Ripping Yarns! That little matter aside, his narration, along with that of Andrew Duff, is delivered with clarity, confidence and reference to the battlefield site(s) being discussed.

We always find the use of re-enactors a bit limited as a few dozen of them ‘milling about’ in no way conveys how we envisage a Napoleonic battle to have been. In our eyes, the frequent use of video of small groups of re-enactors to illustrate aspects of the battle being discussed did not work. Fortunately, they do not solely rely on such images for illustration, but also include clear maps and images from classical paintings, particularly the Waterloo diorama.

In contrast, the inclusion of interviews with individual re-enactors is an excellent feature of the DVD. The first of these is with Howard Adams, a re-enactor corporal of horse of the 18th Light Dragoons (Hussars) who describes the elements of his uniform, all brilliantly presented and accurately reproduced. We regretted that there were not more of these, for example a discussion of differences in horse sizes, training, armament, and the rest between French and British cavalry, and between light, medium and heavy cavalry. Similarly, an interview with Steve Stanton of the discussing two paintings showing the same scene from the French cavalry charge, but from different perspectives was also fascinating—the story of Captain Mercer absolutely gripping. Others interviewed are re‑enactor Sergeant John “Squiffy” Wanmer, 1st battalion 95th Rifles and Mike Bedford-Stradley and John Goodman, re-enactors of the Rocket Troop of the RHA. Sgt Wanmer’s explanation that the long bayonet associated with the Baker rifle was purely to ensure that it had the same reach as a musket plus bayonet is one of those gems of information that we’d not previously considered, nor heard.

All in all, the DVD was a mixed experience. What was good were the sections where modern computer graphics would have added little or nothing, such as the interviews with the re-enactors and showing sites on the battlefield. What was poor, and would have been enhanced greatly with computer graphics or other enhanced images, was the description of the course of the battle solely with the use of maps, paintings and video of re-enactors. These criticisms notwithstanding, the interviews and use of story-telling, anecdotes, maps and paintings make this a DVD that is well-worth watching. 

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