Tag Archives: British Army

Movies for the Classroom: Culloden (1964)

Recently, as I was packing for the Save Our Schools March this weekend, I ran into some clips of a film I haven’t seen in many years.

Looking at it now, the film still shocks and absorbs me, especially since it was decades ahead of its time.

In 1964, the BBC released a film on British television stations by director Peter Watkins. Culloden was a film about the 1746 Battle of Culloden Moor between the British Army and the rebel forces of the Young Pretender Bonnie Prince Charlie. It was the culmination of the Second Jacobite Rebellion, an attempt by Scots and other Britons to depose the German-born king of Great Britain and re-install the Stuart royal family of Scotland.

Yet what makes Culloden so prescient is not the subject material—it is the film itself.

Watkins shot Culloden as a drama-documentary, interviewing the characters (officers, soldiers, and local people) as if they were on a 20th century TV special. His narration, unlike many earlier depictions of the battle, is remarkably newslike and spares no detail no matter how gory or disturbing.

Finally, the grim, horrific nature of war, and of war atrocities, is brought into terrible focus—even through the grainy black-and-white lens of 1960s television. It was created as a window on the then-emerging Vietnam conflict (take a guess which side is which) and the acting seems hokey at times.

But look closely: even among today’s viewers, Culloden can still shock and create furious debate about war, violence, class division, patriotism, and a whole host of social conflicts, just as it did in 1964.

Attached are three excerpts from the film. The entire film is not available streaming, but Amazon has a double-feature DVD of both Culloden and Watkins’ 1965 masterpiece The War Game, a film about nuclear war so intense the BBC wouldn’t show it in full for 20 years.



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This Day in History 5/31: Treaty of Vereeniging ends the Boer War

The end of the Britsh Empire began on May 31, 1902.

On that day, the Treaty of Vereeniging ended the three-year long disaster known as the Boer War.  It began as a dispute over mining rights and sovereignty of the Boer Republics of South Africa, the Transvaal and the Orange Free State.  It ended as one of the darkest chapters in British history.

The war was technically “over” in 1900, when the British occupied the Transvaal capital of Pretoria.  However, the remaining Boer commandos of the Orange Free State and the Northern Transvaal continued a war of attrition for another two years.   It would see unspeakable atrocities on both sides.  It would see “scorched-Earth” tactics and concentration camps that would result in the deaths of thousands.  It would also see continued and violent repression, mutilation and torture of the majority African native population–a situation not really rectified until almost a century later.

Finally, the Boer War would see British people start to question the need for a colonial empire.  Though a victory, the war cost thousands of lives and millions of British pounds.  Britons would then start questioning the use of British troops, the entanglement in colonial affairs–even questioning the need for an empire in the first place.

Attached is a nice 5-part synopsis of the Boer War and other African conflicts of the time.  It is very even handed, and its short length is perfect for the classroom.

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