Everyone else on the wargaming blogosphere seems to be celebrating the 200th anniversary of Waterloo today with quite a few posts featuring the poster for the 1970 film directed by Sergei Bondurchuk. I wonder how many people will be watching it tonight?
I went to see it with my father, who was responsible for my interest in Napoleonic warfare, when it first came out, in Ashford cinema.
In those days, big films would have a souvenir programme you could buy at the cinema and my father bought me the one for Waterloo which, forty five years later, I still have.
The brochure told the story of the battle illustrated with some wonderful stills from the film, together with a few pages of behind the scenes information.
I loved this booklet when I was younger and it encouraged me to collect Airfix Waterloo figures, even though I never painted any. Actually, that wasn't quite true I did paint some in 1995 at about the time my daughter was born. Her arrival left no time for painting soldiers and I didn't touch a paintbrush for five years.
Although there must be many people, like me, who kept this programme, there must be some younger fans of the film who haven't seen it, so I decided to scan it in its entirety today as my Waterloo commemoration.
I particularly appreciated the map of the battlefield, at a time when I didn't have any other books on Waterloo at all and I used this to lay out my 20mm recreation on the 7' by 7' board which I used to put on the dining table. This had to be carefully covered with blankets to protect the surface of what was an expensive piece of furniture. I had to remove the dining room chairs from the room completely, as they actually dated from before the battle itself!
There is much to find fault with in the film today: Such as all the troops wearing dress uniforms, the lack of any of Britain's allies in the arrayed forces, the very mountainous version of Belgium, some terrible dubbing of the multi-national cast and a miscast Rod Steiger's very mannered performance.
There are other issues which I am acutely aware of too, such as the fact that the venue for the Duchess of Richmond's ball was far from the splendid building shown in the film and was more akin to a barn.
However, the recreation of the buildings on the battlefield, Christopher Plummer's Wellington and the sheer number of extras make it a favourite. In these days of CGI we will never see its like again.
These days the battle scenes would be rendered in the now fashionable monochrome (see The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies) losing the effect of the uniforms, which for a young Legatus was the main appeal of the film.
Looking at shots like this makes you realise how futile it is to try to recreate the feel of Napoleonic battles with units of a couple of dozen figures. At least my Charles Grant sized battalions of 48 in my Airfix days looked a bit better!
Waterloo really is a battle for small scale figures, much as I dislike their gnome -like proportions! Maybe something for 15mm? One day!
I had this shot as a poster on my wall for many years and even then noted the fact that all the troops were armed with bolt action rifles not muskets. Tragic.
The first metal figures I was given by my father were some Hinchcliffe Imperial Guard but I remember being disappointed that they were in campaign dress. This is what the Imperical Guard should look like!
For some reason I always got upset at this shot of the burning La Haye Sainte, probably because I spent so much time building and painting my Airfix model!
Even at the age of ten I was very struck by Virginia McKenna, as the Duchess of Richmond, and a couple of years ago I met her at a charity concert at the Yehudi Menuhin School, which is about two miles from where I live. She was still a very elegant lady.
Anyway, this brochure is still something of a treasured possession and is carefully kept in one of my filing drawers.
Of course, the choice of what music to listen to when writing this post was easy. One of the other positive things about the film was Nino Rota's evocative music. Even on one hearing at the cinema I could remember the tune of what I later found out to be the French march La victoire est à nous. It wasn't until the nineteen nineties that I came across the soundtrack CD in a record shop in Milan.