A few posts ago I mentioned the paucity of decent films on the Civil War era. Most films that deal with history are at best, idealised and at worst propaganda for the awful way things are. Here is a terrific exception. Peter Watkins, possibly best known for his jaw-droppingly good 6 hour La Commune, is a unique film maker and all of his work is worth checking out. Watkins describes his motivation for making his 1964 film of the final battle of the Jacobite wars this way….
This was the 1960s, and the US army was ‘pacifying’ the Vietnam highlands. I wanted to draw a parallel between these events and what had happened in our own UK Highlands two centuries earlier, including because our knowledge of what took place after ‘Culloden’ was basically limited to an exotic image of ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ on the label of a Drambuie whiskey bottle. Secondly, I wanted to break through the conventional use of professional actors in historical melodramas, with the comfortable avoidance of reality that these provide, and to use amateurs – ordinary people – in a reconstruction of their own history. Many of the people portraying the Highland army in our film were direct descendants of those who had been killed on the Culloden Moor.
I’ve never seen a film like this. I’ve never seen history on film treated as fully and as concretely as this. After the defeat of the Highlanders and the destruction of the clan system there the clearances would begin in earnest. The clearances would serve as Marx’s example when discussing primitive accumulation in the dramatic, masterful final chapters of Capital.
Thankfully the film is now available along with many of Watkins other works. Here is a taste of the film (the youtube poster has fiddled with Watkins work -why?- and I couldn’t find an unfiddled with version), but don’t settle for a fiddled taste. Hunt down the real thing. I am sure that a certain video-by-mail company carries it. Or better yet, demand your local public library get a copy. You might even get a date from the movie nerd who works in cataloging. Culloden, comrades: