Movie Review: Salamanca
Martin Lampon reviews a documentary on the pivotal battle, continuing our celebration of its bicentennial.
Publisher: Pen & Sword, 2012.
Actors: Tom Dormer, Andrew Duff, Tim Saunders, and Page Julia
Salamanca is the first DVD in Pen & Sword's new three part The Peninsular Collection, a selection of Napoleonic history films for the bicentennial of the famous battle in 1812. These films are made by the same production team that filmed the epic The Waterloo Collection in 2011. The main feature on this DVD runs for approximately 82 minutes, with trailers of other Pen & Sword DVD titles also available to view from the main menu screen at the beginning of the film. This title is presented in a standard DVD box with an excellently “art-worked” slip cover and DVD. Though, it would have been nice to see the inclusion of a catalogue in the box.
The Peninsular War 1809-1814
The Peninsular War was fought between Britain, Spain and Portugal and France from 1809-1814, as part of the Napoleonic Wars. It raged backwards and forwards across Spain and Portugal and was by far the longest running single campaign in the Napoleonic Wars. It saw some of the most ferocious fighting and introduced a new form of 'guerrilla warfare' to the world. Fortifications were also constructed on a scale never seen before at the Lines of Torres Vedras. This extraordinary war became known to Napoleon as his “Spanish Ulcer.” As it was not just a war of soldiers, but a conflict against the civilian population.
What are these films?
These history films by Pen & Sword and Battlefield History TV are in-depth documentary films that use the extensive expert knowledge of battlefield guides such as Andrew Duff, Julia Page, Tom Dormer and Tim Saunders. The Salamanca campaign and battle of 1812 are explained in detail using contemporary artwork, simplistic but easy to understand graphics, re-enactment footage by living historians and, most importantly of all, visits to the actual battlefield and key places; that help the viewer to understand every aspect of the allied campaign that was launched against Napoleon in 1812.
The programme content can be broken-up into two parts. The first 30 minutes of the DVD sets the background, and discusses the opening moves of the campaign; with the rest of the running time given over to an exhaustive narration and description of the Battle of Salamanca as never seen before!
So how are these films different?
Even though these films do not have a TV personality presenter, like Simon Schama or Neil Oliver, the narration is very easy to understand. And because the presenters are battlefield guides, I found the level of “story” mixed with facts just about right, without getting bogged down in too much minutiae. The inclusion of living history re-enactors also gives the viewer an excellent idea on what a Napoleonic battle would have looked like, with the fabulous uniforms lavishly recreated and weapons and tactics accurately displayed. The dedication of these people is absolutely second to none!
There are plenty of action cut-scenes that superbly illustrate these faithfully reproduced uniforms and weapons. From British riflemen, French voltiguers and line infantry of both nations, to mounted troops like French dragoons and artillery. All of these troops can be seen in simulated battle scenes demonstrating period battle tactics and firing drill, as well as in a more relaxed campaign camp environment. Even here, the attention to detail is superb. Soldiers and camp followers can be seen cooking, eating and smoking all, again, accurately depicted.
Where these films score highest are the many ”walking the battlefield” sequences. Actually seeing the real battlefields and terrain from the commanders' and soldiers' point-of-view, whilst having every aspect of the campaign and battle explained, gave me a much better insight and understanding of what was going on—compared to what one can get from just reading books and looking at maps.
Viewers can better appreciate what soldiers of the period had to endure when they see the terrain that they would have had to fight over, and the hardships that would have gone with it. Like glancing at a map in an atlas and asking “why couldn't they take that hill?” Something all of us must have done as an armchair general. The reasons why not become clearer when you can see for yourself the size and magnitude of the task!
I want more!
If you are thinking, as I did, where you can find coverage of pre-1812 Peninsular War events, you will be happy to know that a second film called The Keys of Spain - Siege Warfare 1812 is advertised on the DVD as “coming soon.” Also a quick search on the Pen & Sword website will show that a third title, The 95th Rifles 1809-1812, is scheduled for release around October 2012. With these other titles, I hope that the whole history of the Peninsular campaign will be represented in similar quality and detail. I look forward to reviewing these titles!
The only slight negative that I can come up with for this DVD release is in the production. There is the occasional difference in sound quality and sound levels. Which is a little off putting now and then. But this would not prevent me buying these DVDs in any way. I'm also sure that this small issue can be addressed with a little more attention to detail in future titles.
Overall, I found Salamanca highly informative and very enjoyable to watch. I would heartily recommend this title to anybody who has an interest in military history—in general. It is an absolute “must have” inclusion for the library, for those who have an interest in the Napoleonic era in particular.
Review written by: Martin Lampon, Staff Writer
About Martin Lampon
Martin Lampon is a graphic designer who has been a wargamer, board gamer and PC gamer for nearly 40 years. He has a particular interest in the history of the Napoleonic Wars, but will do anything to pursue knowledge in military history subjects of any era.
Forum username: MartNick