Review: Waterloo (1970)


Directed by: Sergey Bondarchuk | 128 minutes | action, drama, history, war | Actors: Rod Steiger, Christopher Plummer, Orson Welles, Jack Hawkins, Virginia McKenna, Dan O’Herlihy, Rupert Davies, Philippe Forquet, Gianni Garko, Ivo Garrani, Ian Ogilvy, Michael Wilding, Sergo Zakariadze, Terence Alexander, Andrea Checchi, Donal Donnelly, Charles Millot, Yevgeni Samojlov, Oleg Vidov, Charles Borromel, Peter Davies, Veronica De Laurentiis, Vladimir Druzhnikov, Willoughby Gray, Roger Green, Orso Maria Guerrini, Richard Heffer, Orazio Orlando, John Savident, Jeffrey Wickham, Susan Wood, Gennadi Yudin

“Waterloo” will not often be counted among the best war films. Although it has received positive reviews, this epic Russian-Italian co-production, directed by Sergei Bondarchuk, did bad business at the box office. So bad, in fact, that masterpiece-in-the-making, Stanley Kubrick’s gigantic and advanced film project “Napoleon”, could no longer find financiers. Still, the bad name of “Waterloo” is unnecessary. When it comes to depicting battles – in this case mainly the world-famous confrontation at Waterloo – there are even few films that can match “Waterloo” in terms of format, spectacle, and strategic overview. And the acting is by no means bad, with Rod Steiger and Christopher Plummer as Napoleon and the Duke of Wellington respectively. Historically, the film is also quite accurate.

Sergei Bondarchuk was no stranger to filmmaking. In 1967 he directed the award-winning “War and Peace”, based on Tolstoy’s book. And three years later he did this exercise over again with “Waterloo”, only with less human drama, and with an emphasis on the fighting. There are rumors of a four-hour version of the film and the question is how much attention there would be in this for characters, subplots, and other battles, but frankly, the close focus is on the battle from the title, which is about half of that. the film takes up, refreshing.

Of course, the film doesn’t dive directly into the fight and the events leading up to the battle of Waterloo should be clearly spelled out, but beyond the main historical moments and twists and turns, there are hardly any distractions or scenes in the film. For a moment this seems to be the case when there is attention for a budding romance at a ball, but fortunately this is not said a word (or image) later, and it is completely made way for the rattling of arms and tough language of the military leaders. .

These leaders are generally interpreted skilfully. Rod Steiger’s voiceover, intended to communicate his thoughts and doubts, is more disturbing than enlightening, but the man himself is usually convincing as the megalomaniacal but troubled ruler. He has an authoritative glance and can deliver compelling speeches. At times, however, his tantrums make him like a stamping-footed child who gets angry when things don’t go the way he wants, which does somewhat violate the mythical image of the great, untouchable leader.

Christopher Plummer is practically perfect as the steadfast, quick-witted, and elite Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, and Napoleon’s greatest enemy. In fact, he’s here repeating his role of the rigid Captain von Trapp in “The Sound of Music,” but with a little more humor and without the ultimate sweet, romantic disposition. Very funny is the scene in which he promotes a stammering soldier to be a corporal when he is caught stealing a piglet and tries to talk himself out creatively. There are also several official quotes in the film, which describe the two men well. Wellington, for example, says about Napoleon: “He’s not a gentleman.”, But also: “By God, this man does war honor.” In addition, his remark that a battle won is only a slightly less terrible experience than a lost battle makes much of an impression, especially when the image of Wellington walking on horseback among the many piles of dead soldiers, once the smoke has cleared. Napoleon, in turn, says he admires Wellington for his “caution, but above all, his courage.”

But the biggest attraction is of course the battle of Waterloo, wonderfully reproduced with some twenty thousand real (Russian) soldiers – a nice counterbalance to the current overdose of CGI – and using many stunt horse riders for the impressive, authentic confrontations with the cavalry. The shots of cannons firing in quick succession and leaving thick, white plumes of smoke are breathtaking. Also fascinating is the moment when the English defense lines (of the infantry) transform into different squares to create resistance.

can offer to the approaching cavalry, beautifully portrayed from a distance with overview shots. The picturesque plains, compositions and setting sun give the whole a timeless character. So compelling and visually stimulating at the same time.

“Waterloo” is worth a look for these pure battle scenes alone, but adds solid acting, higher historical accuracy than usual, and a multitude of organically incorporated famous quotes into the dialogue. The construction could perhaps have been a little faster, and certain comical or melodramatic asides on the battlefield could have been omitted, but as a whole ‘Waterloo’ is a film that is a spectacle, and as a historical and military document of one of the most famous battles of the history, does an excellent job.

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