The Keys of Spain - DVD Review

By Martin Lampon 20 Aug 2013 0

Introduction

The Keys of Spain: Siege Warfare 1812 is the companion DVD for Pen & Sword's The Peninsular Collection: Salamanca. These Napoleonic history 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 88 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. It would have been nice to see the inclusion of a Pen and Sword DVD catalogue in the box though.

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Example of siege warfare.

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Example of siege warfare.

 

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 between soldiers, but a conflict against the civilian population.

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Vauban style fortress at Almeida, Portugal.

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Inside the fort defences at Almeida, Portugal.

 

This DVD concentrates on the war from 1809 up to the battle of Salamanca in 1812, focussing on the two key sieges at the French border fortresses of Cuidad Rodrigo and Badajoz. These fortresses were crucial to the allied invasion of Spain leading up to the Battle of Salamanca.

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Fighting in the Spanish Peninsular War.

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Map showing fortresses, the 'Keys of Spain'.

 

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, Tom Dormer and Tim Saunders. The Peninsular War from 1809 to 1812 is 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 battlefields and key places. These help the viewer to understand every aspect of the war against Napoleon.

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Marshal Marmont. Commander of the French Army of Portugal.

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Map of Cuidad Rodrigo.

 

The programme content can be broken up into three parts. The first part of the DVD gives a brief description of siege warfare in history and also sets the background, discussing the opening moves of the Peninsular campaign. Britain and her allies had little experience of prolonged siege warfare at this time, so this would have to be overcome if the invasion of Spain was to be successful. The two sieges of Cuidad Rodrigo and Badajoz make up the rest of the presentation, discussing the fortresses, tactics and battle descriptions in exhaustive depth!

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Living history re-enactors in typical Napoleonic British uniforms.

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Living history re-enactors in typical Napoleonic French uniforms.

 

So how are these films different?

Even though these films do not have a 'named' 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 of 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!  

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The fortress defences at Cuidad Rodrigo.

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The fortress defences at Cuidad Rodrigo.

 

There are plenty of action scenes that superbly illustrate the faithfully reproduced uniforms and weapons. Troops included range 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.

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The fortress town of Cuidad Rodrigo.

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Living history re-enactors in British 95th Rifles uniforms.

 

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. You might glance at a map in an atlas and ask: ?Why couldn't they take that hill?? It?s something all of us must have done as an armchair general. The reasons why they couldn?t become much clearer when you can see for yourself the size and magnitude of the task!

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Living history re-enactors advance to the attack!

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Map of Badajoz.

 

I want even more!

Now that The Peninsular Collection has covered the war from 1809 up to and including the Battle of Salamanca in 1812. I hope that a concluding DVD will be produced that covers the war from 1812 to the invasion of France in 1814.

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British troops attacking Badajoz.

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The fortress defences at Badajoz.

 

A quick search on the Pen & Sword website also shows that three new titles dealing with The 95th Rifles are available. These titles look at the history of this unique military unit from its formation right up to the end of the Napoleonic Wars at the Battle of Waterloo. I look forward to reviewing all these titles!

Any negatives?

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.

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The fortress defences at Badajoz.

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The fortress defences at Badajoz.

 

Overall, I find The Peninsular Collection DVDs highly informative and very enjoyable to watch and I would heartily recommend them to anybody who has an interest in military history in general. And they are an absolute ?must have? inclusion to 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.

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