Some Historical films

One more 2013 film post that only Eddy and Roland commented on back then. Historical dramas this time. Something for everyone, I hope.

beetleypete

Many films have been set in various Historical periods, or specific events in History. Since the silent days, and up to many of  the latest films of the past few years, History has provided rich ground for the inspiration of film makers everywhere. In my usual five film selection, I have tried my best to recommend lesser known films, and to avoid the obvious epics.

The War Lord. This film is getting on a bit, and it shows sometimes. Nevertheless, this 1965 production, starring Charlton Heston and Richard Boone, still has a lot to offer. Set at the beginning of the 11th Century, in Normandy, it tells the story of a Knight, rewarded for loyal service, with a bequest of lands, and a run-down small castle. The land is poor, and the local villagers resentful. Still, the Knight, and his accompanying soldiers, rebuild the old fortress, and begin to impose…

View original post 1,158 more words

Film Review: Peterloo (2018)

Based around a real historical event that happened in Manchester in 1819, British director Mike Leigh directed this superb drama looking at the plight of the working classes following the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo, in 1815. Assembling a large cast of some of the best British acting talent, and searching the country for authentic locations, Leigh delivered a long film (Two hours and thirty minutes) that is rich in historical accuracy and period detail.

In 1816, conditions for the working classes in Britain were terrible. Rich landowners and factory owners paid tiny wages for long hours at work. In the cotton mills of Lancashire, that work was very dangerous, and done by all age groups, including very small children. Most families barely had enough to put food on the table, and the imposition of the Corn Laws banning imports of corn forced up the price of bread to unaffordable levels.

There was also no representation for normal people, as only landowners and nobles were allowed to vote in elections. With King George III incapacitated by mental illness, his foppish son The Prince Regent was in control of the country, and his lavish lifestyle caused outrage at the time. The Reform Party sought to achieve better conditions for the working classes, with the right of one man, one vote, and proper contracted and safe working conditions. But government agents and spies infiltrated the meetings, as they feared a revolution like the one that had happened in France, in 1789.

The story follows one family, and their friends and neighbours. Returning home with PTSD after his harrowing experience at the battle of Waterloo, son Joseph can find no work. His mother sells pies to make enough money to feed the family, and the rest of his relatives work long hours in the local cotton mill. All are interested in the Reform Party, and attend meetings urging protest against their living conditions and lack of voting rights. Very soon, they come under the watchful eye of government agents, as the film starts to build to the climax in 1819.

Despite this being a ‘worthy’ film, full of long speeches, and a lot of regional dialect used, I never found its pace too slow. I was completely invested in the life of the family, helped by a wonderful performance from the excellent Maxine Peake as the mother. When the Manchester reformers ask a famous orator to come and address a public meeting, they have to use the large site of St Peter’s Field in Manchester, as it is to be the largest public gathering ever seen in the north of England. There will be no violence, and no weapons carried. Families will dress in their best clothes, and march to the field together, accompanied by musicians, and carrying banners and flags.

They choose a Monday, a working day, as their absence from their jobs will also serve as a protest to the wealthy owners, and the Magistrates who dominate their lives with an iron hand. This worries the government, so the local Yeomanry and Cavalry detachments are mobilised, in case of civil unrest. Once the famous orator begins to speak, the Magistrates instruct the military to disperse the crowd. What followed was later described in the newspapers as ‘The Peterloo Massacre’, using the idea of Waterloo to impart the scale of the slaughter on the day.

Around thirty people were killed instantly, many of them women, children, and babies. Over seven hundred people were injured, by swords, bullets, bayonets, or being trampled by horses. Many of those would later die from their injuries, and some were so badly injured they could never work again.

This is not a film for everybody, but as historical dramas go I thought it was outstanding. A wonderful cast, great script, and authenticity throughout.

Here’s a short trailer.

An Alphabet Of things I Like: J

Japanese Films.

I have written about my love for films from this country many times, so it was always going to be the choice for J.

From my early teens as a member of London’s National Film Theatre, I was introduced to some excellent foreign films, many of which were from Japan. I know lots of you don’t like to watch films with subtitles, but I am going to recommend some anyway.

Akira Kurosawa was one of the coutry’s foremost film-makers, and his historical epics are breathtaking to watch. They also inspired the later ‘Spaghetti Westerns’, and of course ‘The Magnificent Seven’.

But Japanese cinema is about more than Samurai warriors and feuding warlords.

The powerful family saga, ‘Tokyo Story’, made in 1953.

Tough Cop dramas, often starring Beat Takeshi.

Chilling horror films, like these two.

There is also the tradition of monster films, using stop-motion animation. They loved to have famous monsters fighting each other!

That brings me to the wonderful anime films made in Japan by studios that are now world-famous. There are far too many to list, but I have chosen three examples.

Many of the animated films are available in dubbed versions, voiced by famous western film stars. So you don’t even have to worry about those subtitles.
Let me know if you have a personal favourite Japanese film.

Film Review: The Favourite (2018)

When I took a break from blogging, I hoped to spend some time watching films and reading. Unfortunately, a bout of severe Flu has meant no reading, but I have managed to watch a few films on DVD. This is the first one I am reviewing.

(Historical characters, so spoilers do not apply)

This film has won so many awards that I won’t list them here. Suffice to say it was adored by most critics, though I have read mixed reviews from my blogging friends online. It is an historical drama, with real characters from the early 18th century in England, including Queen Anne, and the Duchess of Marlborough. Importantly, it is also a film where the three leads are all female, and played by outstanding actresses.

Set toward the end of the Queen’s life, we find her unwell as a consequence of disease. She is troubled too, as despite seventeen pregnancies before the death of her husband, not one child lived past the age of eleven. Saddened by becoming a widow, she lives in her palace surrounded by bickering courtiers and grabbing politicians, each and every one of them hoping to benefit from their association with the queen. Foremost of these is Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough. Her husband the Duke of Marlborough is the head of the Army, which is embroiled in the war of The Austrian Succession being fought in Europe.

Meanwhile, his wife controls not only the queen, but also parliament, and the royal funds. She is very much ‘The Favourite’ of the title. The film shows a long-term lesbian relationship between Sarah Churchill and the queen that was alluded to at the time, but has since been discounted by many learned historians. There is a lot of circumstantial evidence that Queen Anne did indeed love women, and slept in her bed with them. But like many things that happened hundreds of years ago, you will have to make up your own mind about how factual this is.

Along comes Abigail, a relative of Sarah Churchill; a young woman down on her luck, and seeking employment. At first she is relegated to chores in the kitchens, and it takes all of her guile to come to the attention of the queen. When she finds favour, her situation changes, much to the obvious annoyance of Sarah. The rivalry between these two women for the affection and influence of the queen is the mainstay of the story.

This film is simply breathtaking to behold. Even on my 40-inch TV it looked wonderful, and made me wish I had seen it on the biggest cinema screen available. The unusual use of extreme wide-angle and fisheye distortion lenses draws the viewer into the scene, and long tracking shots give some idea of the vast interconnnecting corridors in palaces so big, the queen could get herself lost in them. Costume and set design is nothing less than flawless, and no cost was spared recreating sumptuous period detail, including filming in locations like Hampton Court Palace and Hatfield House.

Olivia Colman rarely delivers a bad performance, and her Queen Anne is completely believable. Emma Stone as Abigail shows her cunning and contrivance well, and plays the part of a young woman prepared to go to any lengths to rise in society. But Rachel Weisz stole the film for me as the arrogant and confident Duchess, Sarah Churchill. Faced with loss of power and favour, she goes all out to recapture her influence. Every cast member is on top form, however small their role. From the cook, to the haughty soldiers there is not one that fails to convince. Nicholas Hoult shines as the politician, Harley. In a ridiculous wig, and covered in make-up, he still manages to seem ruthless and determined.

I have to make it clear that I loved this film, and didn’t want it to end. I could have watched it for another two hours without blinking, and in my opinion it deserved every award it received, and more. To my blogging friends who didn’t feel the same, I respect your opinions.

But for me, it was a cinematic delight!

Book Review: Storming Party

I recently read and reviewed the first book in this series, ‘Turncoat’s Drum’.
https://beetleypete.com/2019/10/14/book-review-turncoats-drum/

I mentioned then that I had already bought the second book, and I have just finished reading it.

Following on from the very last line, we continue the adventures of the characters embroiled in the English Civil War, during the 17th century. This time, the author adds a few more characters, and gives us a look into the court-in-exile of Charles I and his queen, in the city of Oxford. The fawning sycophants, aristocrats and merchants seeking favours, and the romantic affairs and dalliances during the midst of a bitter war.

Carter also adds an unusual Civil War element to the action, the war at sea, with the reader travelling on a Parliamentary warship, following the fate of the prisoners from the previous book. As we reconnect with all the characters, and watch as they interact with the new ones, all roads are leading to the mighty fortress city of Bristol, where the opposing sides are set to clash in bloody conflict. As Parliamentary stragglers seek refuge in the beleaguered city, adding to the small number of desperate defenders, the Royalist general Prince Rupert arrives with a huge army, and many cannon. The scene is set for a desperate siege, followed by a massive assault by the Royalist forces.

Once again, historical detail is flawless. The cramped back streets of Bristol are accurately brought to life, (many still exist today) and the plight of both the defending army and trapped civilians feels all too real. Despite the now familiar characters, the author manages to avoid any ‘soap-opera’ tropes in their relationships, and keeps surprising the reader with unexpected turns in the story. Everything from the preparation of the siege guns, to the desperate hand-to-hand fighting around shattered earthworks is fast-paced, and exciting to read.

The small details are a delight too. From how many teeth someone has, to what is available to eat. As well as the descriptions of clothing, personal habits, and the physical appearance of exhausted and wounded soldiers.
At 371 pages, it didn’t seem that long, and I found myself staying up late to read more. This was also only 99 p, so great value.

Highly recommended for fans of Historical Fiction, and those interested in the background to the actual events of that 17th century war.

The third book of six is already available, but I have to read some others before buying that one.

Here’s an Amazon link.

Book Review: Turncoat’s Drum

This title was ‘suggested’ to me by Amazon. It is set in a period I am interested in, and on offer at just 99 p for 377 pages, I thought it was good value too. This is book one in series of six, by the same author. It forms part of the ‘Shadow On The Crown’ set of novels, all set during the turbulent years of The English Civil War, from 1642-1651.

Like many similar books in the genre, it takes a series of real events, then peoples them with characters who actually existed, mixed in with fictional ones who mainly drive the plot. In this case, we see the effects of the Civil War in the Western sector of the conflict through the eyes of the opposing generals of the Royalist army, and the Parliamentary rebels seeking to overthrow the monarchy. Also individual soldiers and cavalrymen on both sides, as well as the officers and noblemen drawn to conflicting causes.

Civilian life is dealt with in detail too. The ravaged countryside, looting, stealing of food and livestock, and destruction of property during bitter sieges and larger battles. Women on both sides hoping for love or marriage in the midst of war, strumpet camp-followers trailing both armies selling their bodies for financial gain, and unscrupulous businessmen seeking to profit from selling goods to both sides at inflated prices.

And the ‘Turncoat’ of the title is reflected too, with some soldiers willing to change sides after losing in a battle, or for the chance of better pay, or more loot.

This book has an old-fashioned style, but that is a good thing. It reflects life in 17th century England well, a time when landowners demanded obedience from their workers, mothers sought good matches for their sons and daughters to retain their wealth and inheritance, and bitter differences in religious practices often lent a ruthless fanaticism to the battles. There is a softer side too. Relatives and old friends discovering each other on the opposite side during a skirmish, families divided by adherence to one cause or the other lamenting the events that brought them to this.

Historical accuracy is first rate, as all the engagements between the two sides actually happened. Then there is the description of camp life, or the hardships of defending a town under siege. The weapons used, the uniforms worn, and the tactics employed by the opposing armies, all are related in authentic detail. And when it comes to the full-on battles, the author has done his homework, with completely believable blow-by-blow accounts of 17th century warfare, from cavalry formations, to the ghastly wounds inflicted by the weapons of the time.

This is my kind of book, and I lapped it up. I have also just bought the second book in the series, which follows on from the last page of this one.

If you like your history bloody, bawdy, and completely true to life, then this is a book for you.

Here is an Amazon link. (It is still just 99 p on Kindle.)

The Old Boat House: Part Two

This is the second and final part of a short story, prompted by a photo of a painting, seen on Sue Judd’s blog.
https://suejudd.com/

Verdun was a vision of Hell on Earth. The relentless combat, enduring the shelling, and life among the dead and wounded in cramped bunkers, or the shattered forts. He could hardly breathe most of the time, for the combination of dust, earth, and acrid smoke that filled the air. The screams of the wounded denied him sleep, and the water was so foul, he could barely quench his thirst. At times, he thought he would go insane, and at others, he wished he could.

This was very different to the earlier fighting. Men on horses, infantry moving fast through woodland, and across open ground. Then had come the trenches, and after that the regiment had been sent to Verdun. And there they stayed, rotated in and out of the reserve lines with little or no leave, save for some recreation in the nearest town. Too far to travel all the way home and back in forty-eight hours anyway, and few places on the trains, for soldiers going away from the front. He thought back to the last time he had been home, struggling to remember how long ago it had been. Mother and Father had both cried to see him so thin, and looking so much older. Even M. Henry had shed a tear when he had seen his young employee. Serge had been distracted, waiting for Sunday, when he could hurry to the old boat house.

She was already there, that chilly afternoon. The fur collar on her coat was raised against the wind, and her gloves were now thick and woolen, instead of delicate lace. That time there was no hesitation, no pause for any awkward moments. They had embraced, kissing with passion, pressing tightly against each other. She hadn’t mentioned how thin he had become, or remarked on his gaunt features, and nervous eyes. They didn’t mention the war at first, talking only of their love for each other. She asked if he still had the miniature, and he removed it from his uniform pocket to show her. Despite wrapping it in half of an old muffler for protection, a long crack ran from edge to edge on the glass. He told her how he looked at it countless times every day, and always before trying to sleep.
Sandrine had little else to tell. Her brother had been wounded in ’15, but was now back with his men. As for her father, he spent all day in his study, even eating there. He was rarely seen by anyone except Mireille, the housekeeper. But Serge needed no more talking. They were happy enough in each other’s arms, for the all-too short time they could be together. Before it started to get dark, he told her to go. He would wait in the doorway, and watch her walk away.

The blast from the shell had lifted him in the air, and dumped him in a pile of earth. Digging frantically, Serge spat mud from his mouth, and was soon in daylight again. He checked himself all over, making sure every limb was intact, looking for blood on the dirty palms of his hands. To his right, he could see the sergeant was shouting something at at him, but he couldn’t hear anything. Then he passed out.
They had said it was the big push, the last offensive. It would be over soon. Half the men in his company were already dead, or maimed. He saw the new faces of replacements come and go, reluctant to get to know them. Still just in his twenties, he felt as old as his father. They had made him a corporal, and told him to lead the attack. Show the new boys how it was done.

The doctor was smiling, and outside the tent, men were cheering. “You missed it, Corporal Dujardin. You have been unconscious for three days, and now it’s all over. Germany has surrendered! You are going home young man”.

The head wound and concussion got him a place on the hospital train south. From the end of the line, he could get a local train closer to home. He sat with other wounded men in a crowded carriage, most worse off than him. Serge had been told he had a two week leave, then must report to the nearest barracks to be released from service on medical grounds. But his mood was not good. When he had been in hospital, the framed miniature had gone missing, and he was no longer able to gaze at the face of his beloved Sandrine. A frantic search had failed to find it. Orderlies and nurses denied ever seeing it, and suggested it had fallen out during the fighting. But Serge knew better. His top pocket had been securely buttoned, and still was, when the jacket was returned to him. They had brought him a clean uniform to wear home, and before parting with the tattered old one, he had looked at every inch, in the vain hope of discovering the frame in the lining. It was gone. There was no denying that.

The journey was long, tiring, and very cold. He was glad of the new greatcoat as he sat shivering during the inevitable train delays. And he had to walk the last seven miles, feet aching in the new boots. The only consolation was that it was late on Friday by the time he got back, so only one day to wait, before he met his love in the old boat house. His father had news. M. Henry had died, his heart they had said. He had left a will, asking Serge to pay his sister for the business, and hoping he would take it over. If not, it would be sold by an agent. Mother stopped crying long enough to feed him her special soup, and when dinner was over, he was given a glass of Cognac, the first time ever, at home.

On Sunday, Serge was at the lake more than one hour early. He didn’t mind the cold wind blowing through the gaps in the timbers. The old boat house hadn’t fared well during the war years. One of the timbers had slid off, and was propped close to the entrance. The roof panels seemed to be collapsing inward, and the whole building looked on the verge of falling down. He resolved to repair it, as best he could. He would use some of the pay he had saved to buy timber, and spend a few days working there.

Sandrine didn’t come. The hours passed, and the sky darkened with signs of evening. Serge was so cold, he had to stamp around the deck inside, to keep his circulation going. He reluctantly started to head home, then changed his mind, and turned in the direction of the Aubertin mansion. He had to see her.

Mirelle came to the door holding a lamp. Opening it just a little, she called out. “Who’s there? Who comes at this hour?” Serge walked up to the crack in the door. “It is Serge Dujardin, Madame, the carpenter. You know me, I worked here with M. Henry”. The door opened wider, and the thin-faced woman came outside, scowling. “What do you want? We have no need of carpentry. M. Aubertin will see no visitors. He is mourning his son, killed in the war at Arras”. Serge kept his tone polite. “I was hoping to see Mademoiselle Sandrine, his daughter. She knows me, and I am sure she will see me if you tell her I am here”.

She took two steps back, looking around. “What is this wickedness? M. Aubertin’s daughter was stillborn, twenty three years since, in Montpelier. I was at Madame’s bedside, and she died that night too. Be off with you now, before I fetch someone to throw you out”.
She hurried back inside, slamming the huge door.

The End.

The Old Boat House: Part One

This is a two-part fictional story, prompted by a photo of a painting seen on Sue Judd’s blog.
http://suejudd.com

That summer of 1914 had started hot, and kept getting hotter. The sleepy town at the edge of the Massif Central felt more like the tropics, and Serge was uncomfortably hot in his Sunday Best suit as he walked along the path leading to the lake. But he wouldn’t slow his pace, as time with Sandrine was all too fleeting, and he wanted to make sure he got there early. They had no option but to meet in the old boat house. It was far enough away from the prying eyes of those who might recognise them, and it had proved to be a good choice, as they were never disturbed. Every Sunday for two months now, the only time she could get away, and his only day off work.

Serge had a good trade. He had been apprenticed to M. Henry, the cabinet maker, and soon earned a reputation for fine carving. Customers frequently requested his adornments, often playing down their enthusiasm so the price would not increase. “Oh, Monsieur Henry, have the young man carve something nice on the doors too”. This was usually said after a price had been agreed, and the old man never liked to ask for more. When he turned eighteen, he had been summoned into the living room behind the workshop, and told to sit. “I am very pleased with your work, Serge. How would you like to take over this business one day? You should save some of your pay every week, and when I am older I will sell you the whole thing, at a special price”. He had felt honoured, and happily shook hands on the deal.

Weeks later, they had finished the special bookcases for a wealthy customer. M. Henry had employed Marcel the carter to make the delivery, and they would accompany him to carry out the installation. The house was well known, but the inside was grander than Serge had ever imagined, with a huge chandelier in the entrance hall, and more rooms than any family could ever need. The owner, M. Aubertin, was a man of some mystery. He was exceedingly rich, but owned no lands outside of his small estate. He had no wife, and his son was hardly ever seen at the house. Some said his money had come from a banking family in Paris, though others insisted that he had investments in the South Seas. The housekeeper had let them in, and they set to work in the library.

As they stopped for lunch, Serge was entranced by some beautiful music he could hear coming from the next room, and opened the door slightly, to sneak a look. A young woman was playing a piano with great skill, her face a vision of beauty in the afternoon light. She stopped to look at the sheet music, and saw him looking in. He moved to close the door, but she called to him. “Come in, you can help me”. He shuffled in awkwardly, embarrassed by his dusty work clothes and shabby boots. “Serge Dujardin, miss. I am with the cabinet maker”. She was a confident young woman, bright and modern. “I know that, silly. You are working for my father. I am Sandrine, and I need you to turn the page for me, when I nod”. As she started to play once again, he stood to the side, waiting expectantly for her to nod. He had never been so close to a lady of such refinement. Her smell was intoxicating, and her piled hair shone like chestnuts. He missed her nod, and she laughed at his distracted face. “Perhaps you had better go back to what you do best, Serge?” He nodded, and as he turned to leave, she spoke again. “What do you do on your day off? Is there anything interesting to see around here?” He thought for a moment. “I usually go down to the lake. There is an old boat house there, and I sit inside it. Old man Duclos once kept his boat there, but he is long gone”. She smiled, and he felt stupid to have related how dull his life was. But he really couldn’t think of anything else. He smiled in return, and left the room.

Her voice made him start with surprise. “So, this is your boat house? May I sit? He jumped up, clutching his hat. “It might be dusty, miss, and make sure your shoes don’t touch the water”. “Call me Sandrine, and I don’t mind a little dust. My legs are short, so I doubt they will reach the water”. She perched rather than sat, so elegant in her movements. Twirling her furled parasol, she chatted with great animation. Talking of her life at a school for young ladies near Montpelier, that her mother had died giving birth to her, and how she didn’t understand her generous but distant father. She had an older brother she rarely saw, as he was an army officer. Since coming back to live in the family home recently, she had felt bored and listless, with little to interest her in the small market town, so no reason to go out. Serge listened, without a word in reply. This girl was nothing like the cackling gossips he knew in the town, and a world away from the lewd country girls who appeared each week on market day.

She stood suddenly, smoothing her dress, and picking up her parasol. “I must go, but I will be here next Sunday, if I know you are coming”. She extended her delicate gloved hand, and Serge touched it gently. He watched her walk away, already knowing he loved her, and aware that nothing could ever come of it. M. Aubertin would never countenance his fine daughter taking up with a tradesman, however honest and respectable he might be. But he resolved to be there next Sunday, nonetheless. And every Sunday after that.

She looked troubled that afternoon. There was talk of imminent war, and her brother had already been mobilised with his artillery regiment. She embraced Serge fondly, allowing a soft kiss on her cheek. They had not spoken of love, but both knew the other’s heart by now. “Will you go, Serge? I don’t want you to.”. He shrugged, staring at the lapping water where the boat had once been moored. “I don’t see how I cannot. All the able men will go, and those who stay will be thought of as cowards”. Reaching into her small bag, she stiffened her tone. “In that case, we must make a pledge. Whenever you can get home, we will meet here as usual, on a Sunday. I brought this for you, as I anticipated your answer”. She handed him a small oval frame. It contained a painted miniature of her face, protected by glass.

Serge gazed at the gift, his eyes moistening.

“I promise, Sandrine. Whenever I am home, every Sunday”.

When they left the boat house, they took the luxury of holding hands for a few steps, before parting with a fond glance, and going their separate ways.

The next day was the 3rd of August. The town seemed hysterical with the news of war against Germany. Many men stayed away from work, as excited crowds lined the streets, and filled the market square. Old men who had fought against Prussia in 1870 shook their heads, looking at each other with grim expressions. They knew what awaited those overjoyed youngsters.

Continued in Part Two.

Film and Cinema

Do you like historical epics? Are you a film buff or film fan? If not, then read no further.
However, if I have got you even remotely interested, please click this link to read my latest article on curnblog.com

http://curnblog.com/2015/04/05/seven-classic-historical-epics-you-havent-seen/#comment-29634

This is my fifteenth article on this excellent website, and if you have any comments, positive or negative, please feel free to add them under the original.

Thanks in anticipation, and Happy Easter to everyone. Pete.

Some Russian films

I first became interested in Russian films in 1967. It was the 50th anniversary of the revolution, and the NFT were showing silent classics, such as ‘October’, ‘Battleship Potemkin’, and ‘Strike’. These were all directed by the master of Soviet Cinema, Sergei Eisenstein, and are epic in scale, as were many films of that time coming out of Russia. Since then, much of the output of the Russian film industry has concerned their Civil War, and World War Two, or has been historical sagas. I list my usual five recommendations below, trying as best as I can, to offer a mixed bag of interests.

Burnt by the sun. Despite being a hero of the revolution, and leading Bolshevik, Colonel Kotov is aware that his privileged position is under threat, during the time of Stalin’s purges of the 1930’s. The arrival of a cousin from Moscow interrupts the idyllic summer he and his family are spending at their holiday home. Things begin to take a darker turn. This 1994 film, starring and directed by Nikita Mikhalkov, won the Oscar for best foreign film the following year, and it is easy to see why. Even if you have no interest in the historical subject matter, you will soon be able to pick up on the political machinations, and the unstable lives, so common in Stalinist Russia. This film is also exceptionally photographed, with the hot summer portrayed so well, you can almost feel the heat. Here is an early scene, with English subtitles.

1612. This film  covers a period when Russia had no ruling dynasty in place, and goes into some detail about the different factions that were trying to gain control of the country, from the Polish invaders, to the Russian pretenders to the throne. If that sounds dull, don’t worry, as excellent battle scenes make the viewing worthwhile. Historical period detail is first class, though the leading actors are very much in the Russian style, that is somewhat stilted and old-school. The locations reek of authenticity, as does the portrayal of everyday life in a country torn by war. This is a period rarely covered in historical drama, (The Last Valley is in a similar period, though some years later) so it is worth seeing for this aspect alone. Here is a scene that gives a good idea of the content of this film.

 

9th Company. This is a full-on, old-style war film, set during the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. Although made in 2008, it is set some twenty years earlier, on a remote hilltop base, towards the end of the Russian involvement in the conflict. Following the traditional format of war films, we see the young recruits in training, then follow them to the war zone, where they are to defend this isolated hill. It is bloody, violent, and full of action. Unusually, it also portrays the Afghan enemy as brave and resourceful soldiers, not just as fanatical cannon fodder, as in so many films. One for the war film fan only, I suspect, but a good one nonetheless. This is the trailer.

 

The Return. Winner of numerous awards, and nominated for a Golden Globe, this 2003 film was part of a new movement in Russian Cinema, taking a different path to the traditional films, so often set during war, or conflict. Two teenage boys are startled by the return of their father, who has been away for twelve years. He takes them on a holiday to a remote island, and his domineering ways, and cruel nature, change the lives of all involved. A haunting drama, set amid a dysfunctional family, filmed in unusual, and often startling locations. One for the thinkers out there. This trailer is unfortunately from the dubbed version, in English. I would recommend watching it in the original Russian, with subtitles.

Dersu Uzala. I confess to including this as a personal favourite, though it is also a cinema oddity to some degree. Filmed in Russia, with a Russian cast, this was written and directed by one of the greatest directors in the world, the Japanese film-maker, Akira Kurosawa, in 1975. This film is the simple tale of a Russian military exploration team, and the man they meet in Siberia, Dersu, of the indigenous Goldi people. He helps them as they struggle in the wilderness, and then we see him out of place, when he returns with them to civilisation. It is the performance by the actor playing the title character, and the cinematic nature of the remote locations, that together with the masterly touch of Kurosawa, turn this film into a small masterpiece. This clip has no subtitles, but really shows the vast expanses where the film was shot.

I have tried to find you some examples of typical Russian Cinema, with a warning that the acting style, to this day, is very different to what you may have come to expect. They still value expressive gestures, long-winded speeches, and occasional slapstick, so be prepared for a slightly unusual viewing experience. I have avoided all the silent films, as well as some of the better-known epics, such as Sergei Bondarchuk’s 1967 version of ‘War and Peace’, which runs for a full eight hours, on two DVD discs! Try some of the above for size, and I will revisit the work of Russian Cinema another time.