The Charge of the Light Brigade

The Charge of the Light Brigade ★★★★½

How many filmmakers had as good a 1960s as Tony Richardson?

The Charge of the Light Brigade is a far cry from the kitchen sinkers that made him one of the most prominent and important British filmmakers, possibly of all time. It's similar in how angry it is, however, with Richardson's wonderful and sometimes hilarious bad mood style of directing giving him the chance to round on militarism and imperialism.

Yes, it's fair to say Richardson didn't seem very pleased when he was making this. He wasn't very pleased after he'd finished making it either, giving critics the big 'fuck off' when they asked for press screenings ahead of its release. It was a box office flop at a time when audiences probably weren't quite ready for the anti-war narrative it brings to the table, what with Vietnam having not come to its more calamitous stages as yet.

Richardson pushes the absurdities of Trevor Howard's Lord Cardigan and his ancient methods of punishment and tradition preservation to such lengths that this almost becomes a satire. Even more so when John Gielgud's scatter-brained Lord Raglan is put in charge of the whole ill-fated affair, with bickering, communication breakdowns and a total refusal to pursue new strategies leaving 'the best light brigade ever assembled' completely exposed and doomed to defeat.

It does become almost comical, which I'm sure is Richardson's point, just how appallingly organised this entire thing is. And while comparisons to Full Metal Jacket are easy to make in how Richardson splits this film into two parts, he isn't sparing the rod in its early stages either. Everything is in place to show why failure was inevitable and why Britain's thirst for blood overseas was a recipe for a massacre.

We never even see much of the 'enemy'. We don't need to. All we need to know is that we shouldn't be here and that this is their land. Let's have a shot at the French too, while we're at it, as they're almost as bad when it comes to this sort of thing as Britain is. Throw in some truly weird and wild animations, and Richardson is absolutely fuming. I love it.

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