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Napoleon and Wellington
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Napoleon and Wellington

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Critic Reviews

I suppose I am generously disposed to this basic documentary as I came to it with very low expectations. It was a bonus feature in an A & E DVD collection to accompany the rather disappointing mini series "Napoleon" (2002) starring Christian Clavier. I was therefore expecting a very cheap and cheerful TV filler of about 40 minutes mainly focusing on the Battle of Waterloo with some limited information on the background of Wellington and Napoleon. In fact the video is about 90 minutes in length, approximately an hour of which presents a dual biography of the two military leaders, before concluding with 30 minutes on the battle itself.

The video has plenty of footage of historic locations, famous paintings of the period, competent filmed pieces by re-enactors, and interviews with a few 'talking heads' as experts. It is also interesting to see interviews with the 8th Duke of Wellington who recently died on 31 December 2014. One of the consultants listed for the film is the celebrated Napoleonic historian Prof David G Chandler (1934-2004, and thanks is also given in the credits to another well known academic in the field Dr Donald D Horward, but the main historical consultant appears to be Tim Pickles.

Without wishing to sound too snobbish, I would not regard Mr Pickles in the forefront of Napoleonic study. He is a graduate from Harrogate College, a further education institution in North Yorkshire. I can only readily find details of a couple of works he has written for Osprey History which mainly publishes short works of about 100 pages focusing on uniforms and single military campaigns. Prof Chandler appears only two or three times on screen. The other talking heads are Brian de Toy (up until 2013 a professor at West Point), Dr Patrick L Hatcher (a military historian formerly of the University of California, Berkeley), again not someone I am familiar with in the Napoleonic field, and Prof Jay Luuvas (1927-2009) a military historian of the American Civil War but who did produce a celebrated work "Napoleon on the Art of War" (1999).Tim Pickles is well known for his company Historical Military Productions which perhaps contributed to the look of this small video with the uniforms, equipment and military re-enactments.

For the most part the video provides good solid background for the main protagonists, especially information on the early career of Wellington which is not often easily found on TV. Naturally there are a few minor mistakes - for example the common mistake of using Meissonier's painting of Napoleon on campaign in north eastern France in early 1814, a picture with the Emperor on horseback followed glumly by his staff on a snowy track, as an illustration for the 1812 Russian Campaign. Pickles elsewhere states Blucher was 76 at Waterloo when he was 73. Maps and narration refer to 'Belgium' and 'Belgian' troops when Belgium as a political unit did not exist until 1830 and it was more correctly the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. Despite the generous time given to Napoleon's past, the period from the end of the Russian Campaign in 1812 until the First Abdication in April 1814 are glossed over such that major battles including Lutzen, Bautzen and Leipzig are ignored.

The video is produced by Greystone Communications and actually much of it - the re-enactment footage, artworks, interviews and even the narration text - has been re-hashed from their earlier film "Napoleon Bonaparte: The Glory of France" (this was produced for A&E Biography series and even has a hokey introduction and conclusion read by 'host' Peter Graves - an American TV cliché that has been satirised in shows such as The Simpsons and Family Guy. This earlier film is listed on IMDb as from 1993 but it is also on my DVD collection and is dated 1997). The narration, much of it re-hashed from the earlier Greystone film with added information on Wellington, is now read by Robert Loggia. Loggia is a fine actor but an odd choice, especially as his New York accent jars a little when he speaks of the 'Dook' of Wellington. Yet for those who know next to nothing about these two figures this film is a decent general introduction and the information provided does not compare too badly alongside the more lavish documentary by David Grubin "Napoleon" (2000) for the PBS Empires series.

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