Waterloo (1970 film)
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British DVD cover
|Directed by||Sergei Bondarchuk|
|Produced by||Dino De Laurentiis|
|Running time||134 / 123 min.|
|Budget||app. 35,000,000 USD|
Waterloo (Russian: Ватерлоо) is a 1970 Soviet-Italian film directed by Sergei Bondarchuk and produced by Dino De Laurentiis. It depicts the story of the preliminary events and the Battle of Waterloo, and is famous for its lavish battle scenes.
It stars Rod Steiger (portraying Napoleon Bonaparte) and Christopher Plummer (portraying the Duke of Wellington) with a cameo by Orson Welles (Louis XVIII of France). Other stars include Jack Hawkins as General Picton, Virginia McKenna as the Duchess of Richmond and Dan O'Herlihy as Marshal Ney.
The film includes some 15,000 Soviet foot soldiers and 2,000 cavalrymen as extras – it was said that, during its making, director Sergei Bondarchuk was in command of the seventh largest army in the world. Fifty circus stunt riders were used to perform the dangerous horse falls. These numbers brought an epic quality to the battle scenes.
||This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (August 2010)|
The film opens on Château de Fontainebleau in 1814. Paris is besieged by the Austrians. Napoleon Bonaparte (Steiger) is urged by his marshals to abdicate. Upon hearing of the surrender of his last army under Auguste Marmont he accepts the abdication pleas of his marshallate. He is banished to Elba, an island in the Mediterranean with a small army of 1,000—Ney (O'Herlihy) calls it an honourable exile.
Ten months later he escapes from Elba and sails back to France. Michel Ney, now under the allegiance of the restored Bourbon king (Welles) is asked to capture him at Grenoble. Ney agrees. The two men meet on the road from Grenoble. Napoleon goes forward unarmed and asks them if they really want to fire at him. Instead they greet him with cries of "Vive l'Empereur!" Ney is instantly swayed and marches with Napoleon and his former soldiers. They return to Paris to a warm welcome by the people. King Louis has fled and the Hundred Days has begun.
Napoleon appoints King Louis' former Minister of War, Marshal Soult, as Chief of Staff. Napoleon realizes he will be attacked but genuinely offers peace to his enemies, who, once more, ignore his communiques and declare war. Prussian and British forces manoeuvre to counter Napoleon's expected thrust. The armies separate, much to the joy of Napoleon, who prepares to place his army between them and defeat one followed by the other.
Attention is now drawn to Wellington (Plummer), who attends the Duchess of Richmond's ball, where Picton and other generals are present. One of his young soldiers, Lord Hay, is engaged to her daughter, and the Duchess begs they keep him away from the battlefield. The young officer declares he will bring back a cuirassier's helmet.
The ball is interrupted by General Müffling (John Savident), who announces that Napoleon has crossed the Belgian border at Charleroi, much to Wellington's displeasure. He realizes that Napoleon has got between himself and Blücher's Prussians and is on the road to Brussels. Hastily looking at his map, he realises that the French will seize the key crossroads of Quatre Bras, and that they will fight north of there, at Waterloo - later in the film he admits that he saw the battlefield a year earlier and kept it in his mind.
The soldiers are now on their way to Waterloo. Attention now turns to Marschall Blücher (Sergo Zaqariadze), the seventy-two-year-old commander of the Prussian army. Defeated by Napoleon at Ligny, he re-buffs advice by General Gneisenau, who says he does not trust "the English", to retreat eastwards towards Germany, and instead retreats north to Wavre so as to maintain contact with Wellington. Wellington has retreated from Quatre Bras to Waterloo, but Ney returns to Napoleon to deliver his report on the Quatre Bras engagement, which angers Napoleon, who had expected Ney to pursue Wellington, who is now free to choose his own battlefield. Napoleon sends part of his army, under Grouchy and Gerard, to pursue Blücher and directs the rest of his forces against Wellington.
Wellington arrives at Waterloo, and asks Blücher to join him in the battle but Müffling wants a new horse to reach him. Wellington is not amused. Before this, an Irish soldier plunders a pig for food. Looting is a capital offence in the British Army, but when Wellington catches him the looter claims the pig got lost and he was trying to find her relatives. Instead of punishing him, Wellington orders the soldier to be promoted to corporal, for he "knows how to defend a helpless position". Wellington then tells De Lancey:
I do not know what they'll do to the enemy, but by God, they frighten me!
Napoleon is in pain because of trouble with his stomach, but when he is asked whether he wants a doctor, he refuses and following a few minutes, he orders his generals out of his outpost after going through tactics. A storm is raging outside with heavy rain pouring down.
The day of the battle dawns bright and dry and Napoleon invites his generals to breakfast. Napoleon is in a happy mood compared to the night before but now the commander of artillery brings bad news. The rains of the previous night have made it impossible to maneuver the French guns. The battle must be delayed until the ground dries. Napoleon, who agrees with Ney that they had fought with muddy boots previously, alone among his generals realizes that each delay brings the Prussians closer. He is annoyed and leaves his breakfast to look at the battlefield.
The armies move into position opposite each other. Both commanders take turns to ride amongst their troops. Ponsonby and Wellington both marvel at the precision of the French formations, while Wellington refuses permission to an artillery officer to fire long range shot at Napoleon himself. "Commanders of armies have better things to do than fire at each other."
The battle starts shortly after 11.30 am with cannon fire from the French. Napoleon then sends a diversionary infantry attack against Wellington's right flank—the Chateau of Hougoumont—with the view to stretch the Allied line and to "see the quality of this English aristocrat [Wellington]". Wellington ignores this attack and keeps his line firm.
Napoleon sends the corps of d'Erlon up the ridge where Wellington's men are sheltering from the French guns. As they crest the rise they are locked in fierce fighting but are repulsed by British cavalry. Picton's troops plug a gap in the line, but a French musket ball strikes him in the head through his hat, killing him. Meanwhile, Ponsonby's cavalry brigade, including the renowned Scots Greys, have chased the French all the way back to their lines but have become disorganized and their horses blown. Wellington sounds the recall signal, but it is either not heard or is ignored. Napoleon sends his Polish lancers to attack them and Ponsonby is killed after his horse gets stuck in mud.
As the battle proceeds, Wellington reorganizes his lines, moving them a few yards further back, so they are out of the reach of the French artillery. While Napoleon has taken a short leave from the field—again stricken with stomach pain—Ney sees the movement and believes the British are retreating, and orders the French cavalry to advance on them. The allied units form infantry squares to repel the massed cavalry attacks. Richard Hay rallies the faltering squares, urging his men to "think of England" before he is struck by a musket ball and killed, much to the upset of Wellington, a good friend.
Napoleon returns and angrily rebukes his marshals for allowing Ney to attack without infantry support. The attacks are repulsed and the French have no fresh troops left, yet Napoleon can see that the cavalry attacks have weakened the Allied line. He determines that the farmhouse of La Haye Sainte is the key to the battlefield and orders its capture. After fierce fighting, a French flag flies above it and Napoleon asks Soult to write a letter to Paris that the battle and the war have been won.
Napoleon now sends forward the Imperial Guard to smash the failing allied line. He begins leading the men from the front of the formation himself, but his marshals insist he fall back. Wellington is desperate. He asks for "night... or Blücher!". Wellington orders the forces on his left flank—"every brigade, every battalion"—to abandon their position, to reinforce his center and "put every gun to them".
At the same time, the troops are spotted emerging onto the battlefield from the woods on the east - it is unclear at first whether they are French (Grouchy's force) or Prussians (Blücher's army). They are in fact part of the Prussian Army, for Grouchy, currently near Wavre, has chosen to obey the letter of Napoleon's orders to pursue the Prussians east, rather than the standing instructions to "march to the sound of the guns" and join in any ongoing battle. Blücher warns his men that he will shoot any man he sees with pity for the French. A frustrated Napoleon remarks, "I made one mistake in my life—I should have burnt Berlin".
As the French continue their advance over the hill, they realize too late that Maitland's Guards Division is on the reverse of the slope, lying down unseen in the grass, waiting for the French. Wellington calls out to him: "Now, Maitland! Now is your time!" The Guards stand up and at point-blank range fire volley after volley at the French column. The Imperial Guard withdraws, defeated, amid great consternation. Napoleon and Ney attempt to rally the broken army, but to no avail. French morale collapses and a general retreat begins, as Wellington gives the signal for a general advance.
The Imperial Guard forms squares in an attempt to ward off the advancing allied forces. Meanwhile, the French retreat has quickly deteriorated into a rout, and Napoleon's marshals physically force the Emperor himself to withdraw from the battlefield.
To save their lives, under a flag of truce, a British officer offers surrender terms to Pierre Cambronne (Yevgeny Samoilov), who replies with the famous "mot de Cambronne". In a rare departure from real-life events, the British cavalry move aside to reveal a line of artillery, and proceed to blast the obstinate French square, killing most in it. In reality, as the battle had been won, Blücher and Wellington met to signal the defeat of Napoleon, which is not seen in the film.
Wellington is not cheered by his victory. As he surveys the desolate battlefield—which has already attracted looters—he laments, in voice over, that "next to a battle lost, the saddest thing is a battle won".
Meanwhile, Napoleon, surrounded by Ney, de la Bedoyère and his marshals, is seen leaving the battlefield in his coach, knowing that this time his days as Emperor really have ended.
Columbia Pictures published a 28-page, full-colour pictorial guide when it released Waterloo in 1970. According to the guidebook, Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis had difficulty finding financial backers for the massive undertaking until he finally began talks with the Russians in the late 1960s and reached agreement with the Mosfilm organization. Final costs were over £12 million (UK) (equivalent to about US $38.3 million in 1970), making Waterloo, for its time, one of the most expensive movies ever made. Had the movie been filmed in the West, costs might have been as much as three times this. Mosfilm contributed more than £4 million of the costs, nearly 16,000 soldiers of the Soviet Army, a full brigade of Soviet cavalry, and a host of engineers and labourers to prepare the battlefield in the rolling farmland outside Uzhhorod, Ukraine (then part of the Soviet Union).
To recreate the battlefield authentically, the Russians bulldozed away two hills, laid five miles of roads, transplanted 5,000 trees, sowed fields of rye, barley and wildflowers and reconstructed four historic buildings. To create the mud, more than six miles of underground irrigation piping was specially laid. Most of the battle scenes were filmed using five Panavision cameras simultaneously—from ground level, from 100 foot towers, from a helicopter, and from an overhead railway built right across the location.
Actual filming was accomplished over 28 weeks, which included 16 days of delay (principally due to bad weather). Many of the battle scenes were filmed in the summer of 1969 in often sweltering heat. In addition to the battlefield in Ukraine, filming also took place on location in Caserta, Italy, while interior scenes were filmed on the large De Laurentiis Studios lot in Rome. A massive quantity of period props were built by E. Rancati and hundreds of pairs of footwear were supplied by Pompei.
Months before the cameras started filming, the 16,000 Soviet Army soldiers began training to learn 1815 drill and battle formations, as well as the use of sabres, bayonets and handling cannon. A selected 2,000 additional men were also taught to load and fire muskets. This army lived in a large encampment next to the battlefield. Each day after breakfast, they marched to a large wardrobe building, donned their French, British or Prussian uniforms and fifteen minutes later were in position. The soldiers were commanded by officers who took orders from director Sergei Bondarchuk by walkie-talkie. To assist in the direction of this huge, multi-national undertaking, the Russian director had four interpreters permanently at his side: one each for English, Italian, French and Serbo-Croatian.
In credits order.
- Rod Steiger as Emperor Napoleon I of France
- Christopher Plummer as Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington
- Orson Welles as King Louis XVIII of France
- Jack Hawkins as Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Picton
- Virginia McKenna as Charlotte Lennox, Duchess of Richmond
- Dan O'Herlihy as Marshal Michel Ney
- Rupert Davies as Colonel Alexander Gordon, 4th Duke of Gordon
- Philippe Forquet as Brigadier-General Charles de la Bédoyère
- Gianni Garko as Major-General Antoine Drouot
- Ivo Garrani as Marshal Nicolas Jean-de-Dieu Soult
- Ian Ogilvy as Colonel Sir William Howe De Lancey
- Michael Wilding as Major-General The Honourable Sir William Ponsonby
- Sergo Zakariadze as Field Marshal Gebhard von Blücher, Fürst von Wahlstatt (as Serghej Zakhariadze)
- Terence Alexander as Lieutenant-General Henry Paget, 2nd Earl of Uxbridge
- Andrea Checchi as Soldier of the Old Guard
- Donal Donnelly as Corporal O'Connor (as Donald Donnelly)
- Charles Millot as Marshal Emmanuel de Grouchy, Marquis de Grouchy
- Yevgeny Samoylov as Brigadier-General Pierre Cambronne (as Eughenj Samoilov)
- Oleg Vidov as Tomlinson
- Charles Borromel as Mulholland
- Peter Davies as Ensign James Hay, Lord Hay
- Veronica De Laurentiis as Magdalene De Lancey, wife of William Howe De Lancey
- Vladimir Druzhnikov as Gerard (as Vladimir Drujnikov)
- Willoughby Gray as Ramsey
- Roger Green as Duncan
- Orso Maria Guerrini as Officer
- Richard Heffer as Mercer
- Orazio Orlando as Constant
- John Savident as Major-General Karl Freiherr von Müffling
- Jeffrey Wickham as Colborne
- Susan Wood as Lady Sarah Lennox
- Gennadi Yudin as Chactas (as Ghennady Yudin)
- Antonio Anelli as Nicolas François, comte Mollien
- Rino Bellini as Armand-Augustin-Louis, marquis de Caulaincourt
- Aldo Cecconi as Charles, comte d'Artois
- Massimo Della Torre as Jean Jacques Régis de Cambacérès, duc de Parme
- Andrea Esterhazy as General Charles Lennox, 4th Duke of Richmond
- Fred Jackson as Frederick William, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel
- Rodolfo Lodi as Joseph Fouché
- Jean Louis as Marshal Nicolas Oudinot
- Karl Lyepinsk as Lieutenant-General August Graf Neidhardt von Gneisenau
- Viktor Murganov as Major-General Lord Edward Somerset
- Filippo Perego as Marshal Laurent de Gouvion Saint-Cyr
- Vasili Plaksin as Major-General Peregrine Maitland
- Lev Polyakov as Major-General François Étienne de Kellermann
- Giuliano Raffaelli as Marshal Jacques MacDonald
- Giorgio Sciolette as Marshal Louis-Alexandre Berthier
- Kristian Yanakiyev as Dominique Jean Larrey
- Rostislav Yankovsky as Major-General Charles Joseph, comte de Flahaut
Trivia and mistakes
While the film portrayed the events of the "Hundred Days" quite faithfully, including some allusions to and scenes from the Battle of Ligny and of Quatre Bras, there were a few mistakes, presumably made for artistic purposes, and some characters act as ciphers for others. In the opening scene, where the marshals are attempting to persuade Napoleon to abdicate, Marshal Soult is present: in 1814, Soult was commanding the defence of Toulouse against Wellington's Army.
At the Duchess of Richmond's ball (which itself was held in something more like a barn than the magnificent ballroom depicted ), there is an entirely fictional romantic sub-plot with Lord Hay and one of the Duchess' daughters.
More importantly, the movie depicts one of the battle's most decisive elements, the arrival of the Prussian army, rather superficially as they arrive to win the battle in short order: distant columns of Prussians are observed by the general staff of both armies, arriving on the battlefield at the very end of the day to change the outcome with a single blow. In reality, Prussians intervened in the battle and engaged the French in increasing strength.
Unlike the Prussians in the movie, arriving at the right flank of the French force, General Bülow's 4th corps attacked at the rear-right of the French lines at the village of Plancenoit. Napoleon first sent his reserve corps (under General Lobau) and then some elements of his Guard to engage and delay these Prussians, while maintaining his front line: these clashes in and around the village of Plancenoit were crucial to the battle. After a couple of hours, another Prussian corps arrived on the battlefield to link with the British army, sealing the fate of the French force.
William Ponsonby, before leading the British cavalry charge, tells Uxbridge that his father had been killed in battle by lancers, not least because he had been riding an inferior horse: in fact his father had been a politician who died of natural causes back in England, and he is simply foretelling his own fate in the battle.
The Duke of Gordon is depicted as leading his Gordon Highlanders into battle, and is described by the Duchess of Richmond as "uncle": in fact, he is a conflate character, representing the contributions of several members of the House of Gordon. The Duke at the time, the founder and colonel of the regiment, was the Duchess of Richmond's father, and he saw no active service overseas during the Napoleonic Wars; his son and the Duchess's brother, the Marquis of Huntly (later the 5th Duke) was a distinguished general, but held no command in the campaign, although anecdotal evidence suggests that he arrived during the aftermath of the battle; the senior representative of the family at the battle was in fact the Duchess's own twenty-three-year-old son, the Earl of March, who would eventually become the 5th Duke's heir in 1836, and who served as a major and an aide de camp to the Duke of Wellington; another branch of the family was represented by another ADC, Colonel Sir Alexander Gordon, aged twenty-eight or twenty-nine, the brother of the Earl of Aberdeen; in reality, both were young men similar in age and duty to Lord Hay. The field commander of the Gordon regiment during the campaign, Lieutenant Colonel, John Cameron of Fassiefern, had been killed at the battle of Quatre Bras on 16 June. The acting commander of the regiment during the battle appears to have been Major Donald MacDonald of Dalchosnie.
The film was the fifth most popular "reserve ticket" movie at the British box office in 1971. However it failed to recoup its cost. This, in part, led director Stanley Kubrick to abandon a film he was preparing on Napoleon. Post release saw the film gain popularity and received numerous positive reviews for its battle depiction. The film is rumoured to have originally been 4 hours long and shown in the Soviet Union. Several historical characters listed in the credits do not actually appear in the film, they are said to have been in scenes cut before release. In this 'extended version', the chronology of Waterloo is said to have been much more detailed as well as more in depth coverage of the Battle of Ligny. However no extended version has ever been released.
- J G H Corrigan Waterloo (A reviews)[dead link]
- A picture exists of Christopher Plummer talking to Sergo Zaqariadze, both as their respective roles.[dead link]
- Waterloo (1970/I) - Company credits
- Internet Movie Database entry
- Foulkes, Nick (2006). Dancing into Battle: A Social History of the Battle of Waterloo. Weidenfeld &Nicholson. p. 138. ISBN 0-297-85078-4.
- Jupp, P. J. (2004). "William Brabazon Ponsonby (1744–1806)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/22506.
- Chichester, H. M.; Sweetman, John (reviewer) (2004). "Cameron, John (1771–1815)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/4446.
- Peter Waymark. "Richard Burton top draw in British cinemas." Times [London, England] 30 Dec. 1971: 2. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 11 July 2012.
- Evans, Alun (2000) Brassey's Guide to War Films Potomac Books Inc