Culloden (film)

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Culloden title.jpg
The title card
Directed byPeter Watkins
Written byPeter Watkins
CinematographyDick Bush
Edited byMichael Bradsell
Distributed byBritish Broadcasting Corporation
Release date
15 December 1964 (UK)
Running time
69 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
LanguagesEnglish, Scottish Gaelic

Culloden (known as The Battle of Culloden in the U.S.) is a 1964 docudrama written and directed by Peter Watkins for BBC TV. It portrays the 1746 Battle of Culloden, which resulted in the British Army's destruction of the Scottish Jacobite rising of 1745 and, in the words of the narrator, "tore apart forever the clan system of the Scottish Highlands." Described in its opening credits as "an account of one of the most mishandled and brutal battles ever fought in Britain," Culloden was hailed as a breakthrough for its presentation of a historical event in the style of modern TV war reporting, as well as its use of non-professional actors. The film was based on John Prebble's study of the battle.[1]


Culloden was Watkins's first full-length film. It was also his first use of his docudrama style in which actors portray historical characters being interviewed by filmmakers on the scene as though it were happening in front of news cameras. The film was produced on a low budget, with only a handful of extras and a single cannon. Watkins made use of carefully planned camera angles to give the appearance of an army.[2]

Watkins also "wanted to break through the conventional use of professional actors in historical melodramas, with the comfortable avoidance of reality that these provide, and to use amateurs—ordinary people—in a reconstruction of their own history." He accordingly used an all-amateur cast from London and the Scottish Lowlands for the Hanoverian forces, and people from Inverness for the Jacobite army. This later became a central technique of Watkins's filmmaking.

According to an estimate by the cinematographer for the film, Dick Bush, about 85% of all camerawork in Culloden was hand-held.[3] This cinéma vérité-style shooting gave an already gritty reality a sense of present action.[4] Culloden looked like a documentary of an event that occurred long before the film camera was invented.


Culloden won in 1965 both a Society of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) TV Award for Specialised Programmes[5] and the British Screenwriters' Award of Merit. In a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes drawn up by the British Film Institute in 2000, voted for by industry professionals, Culloden was placed 64th.[6] Writing for Eye for Film, Amber Wilkinson praised Culloden, commenting that "the mastery of [Watkins's] direction is obvious from first to last".[2]

Production crew[edit]

  • Production design – Anne Davey, Colin MacLeod, Brendon Woods
  • Makeup artist – Ann Brodie
  • Sound department – John Gatland, Lou Hanks
  • Production unit – Rodney Barnes, Valerie Booth, Roger Higham, Jennifer Howie, Michael Powell
  • Historical advisor – John Prebble
  • Production unit – Geraldine Proudfoot, Geoff Sanders
  • Battle coordinator – Derek Ware

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "British Film Institute: Culloden". Archived from the original on 10 September 2011. Retrieved 22 October 2011.
  2. ^ a b "Eye for Film: Culloden review". Retrieved 22 October 2011.
  3. ^ Welsh, James Michael. Peter Watkins: a guide to references and sources. G. K. Hall & Co., Boston, 1986.
  4. ^ Young, Colin. "Film and Social Change". Journal of Aesthetic Education 3.3 (1969): 21–27.
  5. ^ BAFTA TV awards for 1965
  6. ^ "British Film Institute: 100 Greatest TV Shows". Retrieved 22 October 2011.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]