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Film / Culloden

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"Wednesday, April 16th 1745. This is the advanced battalion of an English government Army of nine thousand men. Their objective: Culloden moor, four and a half miles southeast of the Highland town of Inverness. Their purpose: The destruction of the Highland Jacobite army of rebellion, a tired, ill-administered force of less than five thousand men who wait just beyond the top of this ridge."
The Narrator

Culloden is a 1964 BBC Docudrama (possibly the first example of the genre) shot in a Mockumentary style, depicting the eponymous Battle of Culloden and its immediate aftermath. It was the work of director Peter Watkins (The War Game), and the influence of its pseudo-newsreel style can be seen today in such diverse examples as Simon Schama's A History of Britain and Ben Wheatley's A Field in England.

The film introduces us to the Jacobite army of rebellion, led by Charles Edward Stuart, aka Bonnie Prince Charlie, followed by some of his officers and men. We then meet the English Government Army led by the Duke of Cumberland who are charged with stopping the rebellion. The two sides clash at Culloden moor, and the result is a pretty one-sided victory for the English loyalist army (although in truth there are more Scots fighting Charlie than there are in his army).

The film then shows the Government's programme of "pacification" against the remnants of the Jacobite rebellion, now hiding amongst the mountains and valleys of the Scottish Highlands. Once this is deemed complete, the government in London takes measures to bring an end to the Highland clan system, with the Lowland Scots helping to enforce said measures.

At the time the film was made, The Vietnam War was being broadcast nightly to British TV screens during the evening news, and Culloden seems to strongly suggest a continuity between the brutality of the British Army against the Jacobite rebels and the conduct of the US-led forces against the Vietnamese two hundred and twenty years later.

This Film Provides Examples Of:

  • The Ace: Lord George Murray. "He has turned the ill-disciplined Highland army into a force that has twice reduced superior English forces to a panic-stricken rout.." Possibly Only Sane Man as well, on the Jacobite side at least.
  • A Father to His Men: 'Butcher' Cumberland looks like a spherical pig in a tricorne hat but appears to have the respect of his men, for nothing else if not his ability to keep them fed. After the battle, he promises to compensate every disabled soldier out of his own pocket.
  • The Alliance: Both sides to a certain extent. The Jacobite army of rebellion consists of Highland Scots, Irish exiles serving in the French Army (the "Wild Geese") and a small number of French soldiers. The British Army consists of troops from the lowlands of Scotland, southern and Midlands Englishmen, along with Hessians and a battalion of Irish soldiers.
  • The Butcher: William, Duke of Cumberland's well-earned nickname after the battle and "Pacifications."
  • Category Traitor: Ludovick Grant, son of a rebel clan chief. We see him briefly after the battle going over to the Loyalist side and happily handing over eighty-two of his own clansmen over to the Government to be transported to Barbados.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The actual fighting lasts only about 40 minutes and amounts to the Hanoverian forces all but obliterating the Jacobites while taking only minor casualties.
  • Decisive Battle: Culloden was the final battle of the Forty Five uprising, and where the fate of the entire Scottish clan system was decided.
  • End of an Age: Closing the film is a grim epitaph describing the aftermath as a massive Downer Ending:
    "The year of the Prince had ended. But for the English government this was just the beginning. Systematically, and with due parliamentary legislation, they proceeded to eliminate all the things that made this man unique and gave him the strength they so feared. They penalised the wearing his highland dress, penalised the weaving of his highland tartan, penalised the worshipping at his church, penalised the carrying of his weapons, penalised the playing of his music. They removed the authority of his chief and, in one blow, smashed forever the the system of his clan. They then encouraged his chief to lose interest in him, to evict him and to replace him by the more profitable sheep. Thus they reduced him to a homeless, unwanted oddity and finally forced him in his hundreds of thousands, to leave the land of his birth for the canning industries of the North, for the disease-ridden slums of the south, for the lumber camps of Canada and the stockyards of Australia. And wherever he went, he took with him his music, his poetry, his language and his children...thus within a century of Culloden, the English and the Scottish lowlanders had made secure forever their religion, their commerce, their culture, their ruling dynasty. And in so doing, they had destroyed a race of people. They have created a desert and called it 'peace'".
  • Film the Hand: Done by Bonnie Prince Charlie with the documentary camera when he decides to make a run for it after the defeat.
  • General Failure: The Jacobites are ill-served by almost all of their officers except for Lord George Murray. Sir John MacDonald is "frequently intoxicated...a man of the most limited capacities". Next to him is the decrepit Sir Thomas Sheridan ("suffering from advanced debility and loss of memory") and John William O'Sullivan (described as 'an Irishman whose vanity is exceeded only by his lack of wisdom'). O'Sullivan is blamed by the film as the man most responsible for the defeat of the Jacobites at Culloden, since the Government army does exactly what he said it wouldn't do, i.e catch the charging Highlanders in a cross-fire from behind a wall O'Sullivan refused to demolish.
  • General Ripper: "Butcher" Cumberland.
  • Hollywood History: Ironic considering the film takes efforts to avoid it, but it makes a lot of mistakes that hew closer to the mythology than what actually happened in both big and small ways. Murray's role in the defeat (like his role in making the night march a fiasco and other questionable decisions) gets whitewashed, while everyone else gets more flak than they probably deserve. The average Jacobite commoner is shown to have a broadsword in line with the legend, when most of them actually had other melee weapons and that was limited to the officers... The Jacobite artillery is allegedly suffering from uneven equipment, when the pieces they deployed were almost universally standardized... And so on.
  • Oh, Crap!: The faces of the Highland rebels when the full strength of the Government army is revealed. The narrator describes the Government army: "9,000 men, 16 battalions of infantry, 12 squadrons of cavalry, 8 companies of militia, 220,000 rounds of musket ammunition, 10 3-pounder battalion cannons, 800 3-pound cannonballs, 500 bags of cannon grapeshot". Against them the rebels have mustered less than 5,000 terrified feudal peasants led by their reluctant landlords, armed with broadswords, antique pistols and very little else.
  • Only Sane Man: Lord George Murray is depicted as the most sensible and competent of the Jacobite commanders on the field. Unfortunately for the Jacobites, Prince Charles chooses to ignore him.
  • Shown Their Work: The Jacobites are all played by Irish and Highland Scottish actors, and the government army by English and Lowland Scottish actors. Some of the Jacobite speak only in Gaelic both for versimilitude and to emphasise the difference between the two sides.
  • Stand Your Ground: Inadvertent starting orders for the rebels, standing orders for the Government army.
  • War Is Hell:
    • "4pm, Inverness. James Wray, trooper, Kingston's Light Horse: the first man of Cumberland's army to enter the Highland capital, the first man to show its inhabitants what is to be expected of an Englishman protecting his liberty and his Protestant religion."
    • And during the battle, the reporters take a minute or two to document the horrific effects of the British bombardment of Scottish lines, including things like limb severance, disembowelment, and shell shock.
  • Warrior Prince: Being both of the blood royal and cousins, Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Duke of Cumberland qualify.
  • Would Not Shoot a Civilian: Oh, dear God. Almost the entire second half of the film is wall-to-wall atrocities committed by the government against the Highland Scots.


Video Example(s):


Jacobites at Culloden

A summary of the commanding officers of the Jacobite Army, which would go on to suffer total defeat at Culloden Moor in 1745.

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