Culloden Review

Brutal battles in the Scottish Highlands are brought to life with a documentary-like focus from director Peter Watkins. That is what it feels like. A re-enactment brought to the big screen to teach and terrorise, as Edvard Munch managed nearly a decade later with revolutionary attention to detail and fine quality throughout. Culloden offers the same. Jacobites and Dukes fight it out in the final pitched battle on English soil. Watkins’ knack for military history and the deep interest he has in the rich fabric of history is a fascinating draw. He knows it, and propels that message towards the audience as much as he can. He takes to the scene of the great battle and interviews people as though he were a time traveller.

There is a bleakness to Culloden that is genuinely surprising. It may feature a re-enactment of one of the most brutal and mishandled battles in Britain, but the accounts given feel so real and flourished by Watkins. These are the people that fought and died in the battle because of consequences uncontrollable by them. Actors who bring these people to life with integrity and respect for the history of warfare. It makes Culloden a brilliant piece that relies on the simplicity of the direction and the grand idea at the heart of it. Displaying itself more as a historical document than a dramatic piece of film, Watkins takes the best of entertainment and blurs it with a genuine desire to teach those willing to learn of warfare.

He introduces those he can and where he can. Watkins’ presentation of their backstory builds them up as ordinary people guided by fools and egos. Tony Cosgrove’s role as the field narrator brings the voice of calm, news-like reporting to Culloden. It would be better placed over newsreel footage reporting on a local calamity, not the warfare of Britain. The fit is a triumphant one, though. It brings life and a unique angle to Culloden, which would surely have lacked impressionable variety had it been displayed as just another biopic of war within the history of England. That realisation and the subsequent reaction from Watkins and his cast is the driving force and brilliant angle of this short and necessary feature. The history is there with breath-taking clarity. Horrors of war on soulful, tired faces who understand they are closer to death than victory no matter which side they fight for. Speaking directly to the camera, the doomed dictate the events of warfare.

Watkins works tirelessly to make this work and the payoff is a dramatic tale of warfare and a revolutionary style for documentary filmmaking. Its utilisation of music and costume and the standings of the time are monumental to the very core of this feature. Culloden is not a typical biopic. Steering clear of all the usual potholes and pitfalls that usually knock a feature like this down, it is instead the magnificent focus on area and fact that Watkins gets right. This will not appeal to those that want to see the guts and gore of warfare but will work wonders for the many interested in the harsh realities behind all the swordplay and fighting.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s