Just for a change we are abandoning the 20th Century and skipping back a hundred years to the days of the redcoats when the British Army in the Peninsular was in the hands of that great soldier Sir Arthur Wellesley, soon to be created Duke of Wellington.
We’ve all seen Sharpe and some of us remember the occasionally seen Waterloo with Rod Steiger as old Boney, but other than that, Napoleonics are in danger of being a bit of a closed book. I suppose it is something we know a bit about but leave where it is.
By all means tell me I am wrong, but Omaha Beach seems much more in our hearts than Waterloo, even though I could probably say the same for any Great War battle if I am feeling churlish. I think it has a great deal to do with the impact recent memory has on us and the power of modern culture.
So here we are with the important events of 22nd July, 1812, when Wellesley defeated Auguste Marmont at Salamanca. Having got used to the standard of World War II battlefield history DVDs from the Pen & Sword team, it is very interesting to see them handle events from a century earlier. An obvious difference is that Napoleonic War films cannot make use of newsreel and have to rely on maps and the illustrations of the day. A major source of colour comes in the form of re-enactments and it has to be said that there is plenty of it on view here with all manner of snippets slotted in between the talking heads. There was one point when a long file of French infantry were seen walking through a corn field and I said to my son “That’s a great shot.” He looked up from the sofa and said “Yeah, shame about the articulated lorry going by in the background!” Ouch!
Setting that minor niggle aside, I have to say this is a thoroughly informative and not a little entertaining film. The location filming showing the geography of the battlefield is managed really well and you can get a good handle on where everybody is at the important moments. I should mention that the usual suspects from the khaki stuff are keen as mustard as always and thoroughly good value. But the star of this film is the wonderful Julia Page who not only knows her stuff but brings a huge amount of charm to proceedings with her vivid descriptions of people and events.
Not that I’m biased or anything but the glory of Essex is held high with a sequence showing the capture of the eagle of the French 62nd Infantry Regiment by the 44th Foot, who continue today as the Vikings, the 1st Battalion Royal Anglian Regiment. The eagle can be seen at the Essex Regiment museum in Chelmsford.
So to recap, this is a battlefield DVD without tanks and machine guns and the only Huns are in the King’s German Legion – but other than that all the usual ingredients are here. The next two in the review pile bring us back to 1944, our usual stomping ground. This has been an enjoyable diversion and it illustrates the depth of knowledge of the presenting team, but I am often more at home with battles from the century I was born in. Having said that, there is something fascinating about the age of the red coated British soldier and it is not to be ignored, for this is where pretty much all the tradition we cherish was forged and it is all there to be had.
The Peninsular Collection DVD
Pen & Sword Digital. £16.99