Thursday 23 October 2014

A Camera at Culloden

Take an historical battle that took place decades before the camera was invented, and reimagine it through a documentary camera crew filming the event. It was an idea that was used to great effect in the docudrama 'Culloden', a film made by the BBC in 1964 and directed by Peter Watkins.

Culloden deals with the battle between the Jacobite army led by Charles Edward Stuart and the British army led by the Duke of Cumberland, the youngest son of King George II. Based upon the book 'Culloden,' by John Prebble, who also acted as an historical advisor, the film covers the events of the battle and the characters involved using a TV documentary style that still looks fresh and dynamic fifty years later. Around 85% of the camera work was hand held and camera angles were planned to make the most of the small cast.

The interviews with the Government soldiers and clans men  are especially well done with the camera focussing close into the worn faces and tired eyes of the characters. A cast of non professional actors did a fine job of portraying the men who took part in the battle, though it has to be said that Bonnie Prince Charlie, portrayed in the film as a weak pathetic character, is seen with a more sympathetically by modern historians.

Culloden went on to win a BAFTA in 1965, the year that Watkins filmed another of his docudramas 'The War Game'. The War Game was filmed in a similar manner to Culloden and looked at a nuclear attack on Britain and the effect on the population of Kent. The film was (and still is) such a terrifying vision of a nuclear attack upon Britain that the BBC banned it for 20 years. It went on to win an Oscar for best documentary film and the Bafta for Best Short Film in 1967. The film was eventually broadcast on 31 July 1985.

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