The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968 film)

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The Charge of the Light Brigade
The Charge of the Light Brigade .jpeg
DVD cover
Directed by Tony Richardson
Produced by Neil Hartley
Written by Charles Wood
John Osborne
Starring Trevor Howard
John Gielgud
Vanessa Redgrave
Harry Andrews
Jill Bennett
David Hemmings
Alan Dobie
Norman Rossington
Music by John Addison
Cinematography David Watkin
Edited by Kevin Brownlow
Hugh Raggett
Woodfall Film Productions
Distributed by United Artists
Release date(s)
  • 11 April 1968 (1968-04-11)
Running time 139 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $6.5 million[1]
Box office $1 million (US/ Canada rental)[2]$3.2 million (total)[3]

The Charge of the Light Brigade is a 1968 British war film made by Woodfall Film Productions and distributed by United Artists. It was directed by Tony Richardson and produced by Neil Hartley.

Plot summary[edit]

The film is about the poor state of the British Army's leadership during the Crimean War (1853-56), as witnessed by a relatively competent officer, Captain Louis Nolan. A veteran of campaigns in India, Nolan is unusual in the hierarchy of his day for having acquired his rank through promotion rather than purchase. As such he looks with contempt on his colleagues, who are mostly aristocratic dilettantes casual about squandering their subordinates' lives.

Nolan's superior is the gruff Lord Cardigan, who treats the regiment under his command as his personal property. Cardigan's men are typical of the common soldiers of their day; though well-equipped and intensively trained, they endure squalid living conditions and are punished mercilessly for the slightest missteps in their duties. Nolan soon gets into a highly publicised feud with Cardigan, who is angry at him for ordering Moselle wine at a banquet where all guests were to drink champagne.

Meanwhile the Russian Empire invades lucrative territory in Turkey. Britain joins an alliance of other European nations ostensibly created to come to Turkey's aid, although all are more interested in making their own territorial acquisitions and parading their military might. The British forces are to be led by Lord Raglan, an amiable, vague-minded man who proves a poor commander despite his long war record. As campaign preparations begin he is preoccupied with a bad mistake he made while allotting commands, requiring Lord Cardigan to lead the cavalry alongside his equally unpleasant arch-rival Lord Lucan. Captain Nolan, enlisted as Raglan's aide, is glad to get away from England; it gives him an escape from the morally uneasy affair he has been having with Clarissa Morris, the wife of his best friend William. Also travelling with the British command is a minor officer's wife named Fanny Duberly, who wants to observe battle firsthand (and be near Lord Cardigan, with whom she is infatuated).

Britain and its ally France travel to the Crimea, where they march inland to attack the strategically important city of Sebastopol. Along the way the British forces are ravaged by cholera, an occurrence met with palpable indifference by their commanders. Captain Nolan, although no friend of his subordinates, is frightened to see the army's organisation all but fall apart as men are consumed by the disease. When the outbreak passes, British and French forces win an infantry battle with the occupying Russians. Lord Raglan refuses to use the cavalry to press his advantage, so concerned is he with keeping Cardigan and Lucan from having to work with one another. As a result the Russians reinforce the road to Sebastopol, necessitating a series of battles before the British even reach the city. Back in England the press lies that the city is captured and Russia's government humbled. As the war progresses Lord Cardigan retires nightly to the yacht he keeps on the coastline to hold formal dinners, at one of which he seduces Mrs. Duberly.

Captain Nolan has been growing increasingly exasperated at the ineptitude of Raglan and the other officers, which has caused needless death and delay at every step. His emotions reach a tipping point when a Russian raiding party captures an improperly defended British fortification, stealing several pieces of artillery in the process. Lord Raglan is slow to realise what is happening, and Nolan practically demands that he take steps to recover the valuable equipment. The first order Raglan sends out is so badly worded that the cavalry leaders interpret it as telling them to hold. Nolan secures another, delivers it personally, and gains permission to ride with Cardigan's light brigade as they chase the Russians.

As it happens, the British cavalrymen are in a valley that branches off in two directions; one contains the escaping raiders, the other an artillery battery and a sizeable reserve of Russian cavalry. Lord Raglan did not bother to mention this in his order, since the lay of the land is obvious from his high vantage point. Cardigan, at his lower level, can only see the valley with the cannons, and assumes that he must charge into this. As the cavalry advances into cannon fire Nolan realises his mistake, but is killed by shrapnel before he can warn Cardigan.

The Light Brigade, torn apart by the cannons, clashes briefly with the Russians and then retreats. With most of his force dead or wounded, Lord Cardigan, ironically, is unharmed. He immediately begins bickering with the other officers about who must take the blame for the disaster.


The screenplay was written by Charles Wood from a first draft (uncredited) by John Osborne. It aimed to be brutally authentic, based in part on the research in Cecil Woodham-Smith's The Reason Why (1953). The film included animations by Richard Williams, based on the contemporary graphic style of Punch Magazine, to explain the political events surrounding the battle. The music score was by John Addison and the cinematography by David Watkin.

In 2002, Osborne's unproduced original script was reworked into a radio play for BBC Radio 4. The original airing featured Charles Dance as Cardigan, Donald Sinden as Lucan, Joseph Fiennes as Nolan, Alec McCowen as Raglan and Lynne Miller as Fanny Duberly.[4]


Cast notes[edit]

Laurence Harvey had originally purchased the film rights for The Reason Why for his own production company and Joseph E. Levine. At the conclusion of a lengthy settlement in Richardson's favour, Harvey demanded a role in the film. He was given the role of Prince Radziwill, a Polish officer with the Heavy Brigade, but his part was edited out of the completed film.[5] This lawsuit led to a falling out between Tony Richardson and John Osborne, when the latter refused to alter his script for being too close to Woodham-Smith's book.[6]

In his memoirs, Tony Richardson mentions approaching Rex Harrison to play Lord Cardigan. However, a newspaper erroneously reported that George C. Scott was being cast in the role. This news infuriated Harrison and he dropped out of the project, leaving Trevor Howard to be cast.[7]

The director's daughters, Joely Richardson and Natasha Richardson, appeared in the film in very small uncredited roles.


The Charge of the Light Brigade was nominated for six BAFTA Film Awards, but failed to win in any category. It was criticised for presenting an impulsive and haughty Captain Louis Nolan as a hero[citation needed] and an officer's adventurous wife Fanny Duberly as unfaithful and eager for carnage.[8] The film received generally positive reviews but proved a box office bomb.

The film was produced during a time of public frustration over the Vietnam War, and it has been argued that in retrospect it can be seen as a warning against military interventions in other lands.[9]


Departures from history[edit]

For plot purposes, the film incorrectly portrays its protagonist Captain Nolan at the centre of the 'black bottle' affair, when Moselle wine was ordered for a guest rather than the champagne that Lord Cardigan had required. The officer actually concerned was Captain John Reynolds.

In the film all of the Light Brigade regiments are outfitted with cherry coloured breeches when only the 11th Hussars wore breeches of that colour. Officers and troopers of the other four regiments wore dark blue breeches, with double yellow stripes, or in the case of the 17th Lancers, double white stripes. In one scene a single trooper of the 17th is correctly attired.[citation needed]

The movie's depiction of the Battle of Balaclava shows the initial Russian attack on the redoubts and of course the Charge of the Light Brigade, but elides both the stand of the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders (the "Thin Red Line") and the Charge of the Heavy Brigade. According to director Tony Richardson, the Heavy Brigade scene was filmed but later cut at the studio's behest.[10]

Likewise Fanny Duberly is shown to be seduced by Lord Cardigan; although she was in the Crimea, she did not have an affair with Cardigan.


The Cavalry Riding School building at Beaumont Barracks in Aldershot featured in the early scenes

The scene where troopers rush into position to salute Cardigan as he takes a morning walk with his dogs was shot at 6 Carlton House Terrace, St James's, London, a few doors along from the earl's actual London residence of 17 Carlton House Terrace.[11] Other London street scenes were filmed in the Royal Naval Hospital, Greenwich. The Royal Mint, opposite The Tower of London, represented Horseguards, the headquarters of the Army.[12]

The barracks scenes in the first half of the film were filmed at Aldershot in Hampshire,[13] while the 'Crimea' scenes, including the Charge itself, were filmed in Turkey[14] with the action sequences directed by Bob Simmons.


  1. ^ Alexander Walker, Hollywood, England, Stein and Day, 1974 p367
  2. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1969", Variety, 7 January 1970 p 15
  3. ^ Tino Balio, United Artists: The Company The Changed the Film Industry, Uni of Wisconsin Press, 1987 p 246
  4. ^
  5. ^ pp 35–36 Welsh, James Michael & Tibbetts, John C. The Cinema of Tony Richardson: Essays and Interviews SUNY Press, 1999
  6. ^ Heilpern,John. John Osborne: A Patriot for Us. London: Chatto & Windus, 2006. pp. 346–351
  7. ^ Richardson, Tony. The Long-Distance Runner: An Autobiography. New York: William Morrow & Co., 1993. pp.228–230
  8. ^ Fraser, George MacDonald (1986). The Hollywood History of the World. London: Michael Joseph. p. 161. ISBN 0-7181-2997-0. "I don't know on what authority Mrs Duberly can be accused of misconduct, but if none exists (and I have heard of none) then her portrayal in the film is inexcusable" 
  9. ^ Connelly, Mark (2003). "The Charge of the Light Brigade, Warner Brothers, 1936". The Charge of the Light Brigade. London: I B Taurus. pp. 55–58; 67. ISBN 1-86064-612-3. 
  10. ^ Richardson, 239
  11. ^ "Carlton House Terrace and Carlton Gardens". Survey of London, Volume 20. British History Online. Retrieved 24 October 2010. 
  12. ^ James, Simon (2007). London Film Location Guide. London: Batsford. pp. 89; 176; 191. ISBN 0-7134-9062-4. 
  13. ^ David Watkin Cinematographer website
  14. ^ Connelly, Mark Thomas (2003). The Charge of the Light Brigade. London: I. B. Tauris. pp. 27–31. ISBN 1-86064-612-3. 

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