Waterloo (1970)

Waterloo (1970), directed by Sergei Bondarchuk.

Christopher Plummer was born to play the Duke of Wellington. Rod Steiger does not look much like Napoleon but perhaps the great man requires the sort of ham acting interpretation the actor brings.

According to the wikipedia:


The film takes a largely neutral stance and portrays many individual leaders and soldiers on each side, rather than simply focusing on Wellington and Napoleon. It creates a mostly-accurate chronology of the events of the battle, the extreme heroism on each side, and the tragic loss of life suffered by all the armies which took part.

The film is most famous for its lavish battle scenes, shot on-location in Uzhhorod, Ukraine. The impact of the 15,000 authentically dressed extras, recreating the battle sections with true numbers and without special effects, is unsurpassed, and remains the highest number of costumed extras in any film.

See the article for "Historical inaccuracies".

The first section of the film is all France and Napoleon (who was in, then out, then in again for 100 days, then out for good) with Orson Welles appearing briefly as King Louis XVIII, brother of Louis XVI who was guillotined, uncle of young Louis XVII who died in prison.

It is 38 minutes until we get to Wellington at the Duchess of Richmond's Ball the night before the battle, one of the most famous parties in history.

Napoleon was called the "Man of Destiny". Watching the passionate devotion of his old soldiers, I'm reminded of sentiments common in previous centuries that seem to have gone out of our world: the excitement of being caught up in a great cause, of life being an actual adventure where every participant is his own hero.

Since then we've had bad experiences with charismatic leaders and mass warfare which drains away the old romance. People try to direct their energies into ideological systems and new causes, but these devolve into dull bureaucratized affairs.

As for Napoleon himself: we need a word for "controversial x 10". He was appreciated for solidifying and extending the reforms of the Revolution across Europe, and damned for being a self-aggrandizing tyrant most interested in forming a new royal line for his family.


Score by Nino Rota: 8½ (1963), Romeo and Juliet (1968), The Godfather (1972).

My thumbnails are from an all-region Blu-ray on the Imprint label in Australia, which is establishing an impressive catalog. Detail is good, but black levels are only fair. No subtitles, but text versions are available online.

Around 2006 I rented a non-anamorphic letterboxed DVD from Netflix. Oddly enough I think it was a bootleg; not sure how they got it.