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The charge of the Light Brigade poem and film comparison

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  • Pages: 9
  • Word count: 2178
  • Category: Poems

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The charge of the Light Brigade took place during the Crimean War of 1853 – 1856, when Britain, France and Turkey were fighting Russia for the control of some land in Crimea. This particular charge was made by the Light Brigade, a battalion composed of fleet, light cavalry; designed to quickly break the ranks of an opposing force, and they were adept at dashing in to deal light damage. The attack was meant to secure some cannons that had been recently stolen by the enemy; and Lord Raglan, the overall commander of the British forces, gave the order for the Light Brigade to charge for the cannons.

Unfortunately, a mistake was made with the order, and a young Captain Nolan, in his haste to get Lord Cardigan and Lord Lucan to execute the order, pointed to a different valley to the one they were intending to charge. Cardigan was slightly shocked by this, but nonetheless went ahead with the charge – even though in the valley fixed guns awaited their charge; and as Cardigan remarked to Lucan, “It is against all practices of war to have cavalry charge fixed guns.” Out of the 673 of the Light Brigade who charged the valley, only 195 returned; it was a terrible mistake, as the Brigade was shattered and slaughtered by the valley’s guns.

Later, both a film and a poem were made about the charge, and to commemorate it. At the time of the Crimean War, Alfred Lord Tennyson was the Poet Laureate; and it was expected that he would compose poems concerning matters of interest to the public; and he made a poem about the charge of the Light Brigade towards the end of the war. The poem describes how the charge was made, and the courage of all who took part. It often uses many different techniques to convey the importance of events, the feelings of soldiers and officers alike, the damage that was inflicted upon the enemy, but also how the Light Brigade was shattered – and the how honoured the brave soldiers should be.

During the poem, however, no one in the valiant brigade at all is criticised in any way by Tennyson – he is a very diplomatic writer throughout the account; sidestepping any issue of with whom the blame fell upon, or whether the officers or men did anything wrong. Although he mentions the mistake, he never points the finger, saying:

“Some one had blunder’d”.

The poem ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson often utilizes rhetoric questions; questions asking us about the war and rouse us, to try and make us cheer for the brigade. Tennyson uses lines of the poem such as:

“Was there a man dismay’d?”

designed to provoke an indignant response, and to stir us – to get us excited about the upcoming glorious charge that the Light Brigade would make. Tennyson rushes straight into the start of the poem with the charge just beginning; the first two lines are full of all the horses and brigade galloping bravely onward:

“Half a league, half a league,

Half a league onward.”

These two lines make us of dactylic metre at this point, where ‘half’ is the stressed word; this gives us the impression of horses galloping, onward into the valley, where a battle would await them.

In the next verse, direct speech is included, and also a rhetoric question. These techniques that are used make us feel as if we are actually present in the scene that is taking place – receiving orders from Lord Cardigan to march onward. For the first time in the poem, the fact that a mistake has been made is mentioned, although the identity of the person who had made that mistake is kept secret. The next part of the second verse is written about the soldiers of the Light Brigade, and their state of mind; what they are supposed to do. Tennyson includes some repetition at this point, saying:

“Their’s not to make reply,

Their’s not to reason why,

Their’s but to do and die.”

These lines illustrate the soldiers’ duty – what they must and will do.

When the poem starts to end, the account turns to the tragedy of the charge and the memory of those who gave their lives for their courageous attack. During this point, all the wild shouts and chants, all the glory and victory of their charge is diminished; the Light Brigade are staggering and stuttering back, suffering and having suffered greatly. Death, malevolent enemies and firing gun are all around them:

“Cannon to the right of them,

Cannon to the left of them,

Cannon behind them.

The poem takes on a very melancholy, slow, quiet attitude, until the last verse.

For the duration of the last verse, the poem again picks up the honour and glory that came from taking part in the charge of the valley, and it uses another rhetoric question:

“When can their glory fade?”

This is designed to make us remember the honour of the attack, and what the charging soldiers have done for us. The final sentence of the poem is almost a command;

“Honour the Light Brigade,

Noble six hundred!

These leave us with good thoughts of the courageous brigade, who charged, without question a formidable foe.

Aside from the poem written by Tennyson, an extract of the film ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’, directed by Tony Richardson, was also studied, and the two sources are very different from each other. During the film, tension was mounting straight away from the beginning, especially around the young captain Nolan. The high officers, generals and leaders of the campaigns all seem inefficient, slow and somewhat incompetent to deal with the matters and situations that arise during this battle, and the war itself.

When the film camera changes from the Light Brigade to the leaders, who are safe on top of a nearby hill, it almost seems as if we have been transported away to a different place, far from where the compact, ready Light Brigade have been stationed, for they do not ever appear to be troubled or concerned at all by the war, as while their guns are being towed away, one of them is talking to a woman about her position in this war; and that he thought women should be dealing with ‘pretty things’. This seems worrying that he should be almost chatting to the woman, while their guns were being stolen, and the Light Brigade was needed to mobilize and attack the enemy to regain the use of their cannons.

All the way through this extract, the film attempts to get you to look up to, and admire the young people, such as Captain Nolan and the Light Brigade itself – and this reflects the time at which this piece of film was created. All the time, Richardson is subtly trying to side us against the established elders, affecting what we think of them, by portraying them as inefficient and incompetent. Often, the older officials would be slow with replying to Nolan’s quick questions, and seem to blunder about with sending orders and finishing what they are doing. As for Nolan, however, his image is one of heroic strength and courage.

He is pictured riding on a white stallion, rushing to and from the Light Brigade and elderly officials. When Nolan is charged with carrying the order to attack to Cardigan, there is a long panoramic shot of the young captain sweeping across a hill on his pure white steed, further burying the idea that he is a hero into us. Again, when Nolan reaches the two leaders of the Light Brigade, Cardigan and Lucan, he is calm at first, trying to reason with Cardigan and Lucan. The two older men start to shout, and Richardson quickly alternates between both their angry faces – having the two old men staring straight down the camera at us, inspiring us to dislike them already.

Under the intense pressure from the older men, Nolan almost gives up, and shouts back at them to just charge the valley, and throws his hand back to point, without looking, at the wrong valley – the valley he pointed at had fixed guns and artillery inside. Immediately, Lucan and Cardigan stiffened, as they both new what would happen if they were to charge that valley with cavalry. They both knew it was their duty make the Light Brigade charge the valley, and they complied without arguing with the order.

As the Light Brigade readies itself to charge, we begin to get a sense of awe; the camera view is based upon a nearby hill, and from what we can see of the preparing brigade, they look composed and compact, if slightly small, and possibly weak. Soon they all begin to move at a walking pace towards the valley designated by Captain Nolan, and soon pick up the pace slightly. During this, the camera is level with all the men’s faces, and soon you are able to pick out Nolan from the ranks. He is holding a bemused look on his face, and this soon turns to shock as he realises what has happened and that a mistake has been made.

At this point, Nolan attempts to ride out of his place, exceeding his rank to warn Cardigan and the rest of the Light Brigade about the mistake that was being made. This fails, however, as Cardigan is shocked by this display of bravado, but also disrespect towards himself and others who were leading Nolan. Seemingly ruffled, he carries on with the charge, shouting to the rest of the moving force to keep in rank, where they belong.

Soon after this happens, a loud gunshot is heard, and the camera immediately snaps into Nolan, and we see him fall from his horse, and die in a grotesque way – while screaming brutally. From the first time we see the young captain, Richardson has subtly changed our thinking and manipulated us to favour Nolan. This means that when he is quickly ripped away from us like this, it makes us feel sad, empty and slightly angry with the elderly generation of officials still stuck upon their hill, watching this ‘spectacle’.

After this, the Brigade soon speeds up again, still heading in the direction of the wrong valley. The camera then switches back to the hill, where the focus is directed mainly on Raglan and his other generals – while they sit staring in slight disbelief at the events unfolding beneath their eyes. Richardson again works us towards what he wants, making us irritated with the generals for sitting still doing nothing while innocent, loyal men charge towards their deaths in the valley beyond. Ever present in the film extract is the issue of who the blame lays upon – and Richardson has made sure that it is clear in our minds that the blame lays upon the seemingly incompetent, out-of-date leaders of this campaign.

As the charging brigade begin to get out of sight of the leaders’ hill, Cardigan orders the brigade to actually start charging, and gunfire starts to batter the brigade, bringing man and horse alike down to the ground. The film then begins to alternate between showing shots of Cardigan, his men or the Russian enemy as they cut down through the brigade. At this point, the camera is often at a low level, at the horses feet; showing the speed at which the people are travelling but also the dying and fallen dead, creating a strong feeling of horror but also helplessness – the Light Brigade are being shot down with no escape.

All the shots of Cardigan show him standing strong throughout the barrage and onslaught of gunfire – not once does he flinch, turn away or order a retreat. At first we may interpret this as courage, and think him a very brave man – but as the attack continues we start to see him under a different light. He does not seem bothered at all by all the gunshots and explosions around him, as if he does not care what happens to him during the charge.

Gradually, we see the Light Brigade battered, until they burst through to the fixed cannons, and there they brilliantly attack the Russians, proving that the Light Brigade would be worthy of such a task if not for the sprawling guns present. A retreat is called, however, and the severely reduced brigade staggers and stumbles back to it’s own territory – only to be greeted by a cacophony of old men arguing over whose fault the incident is. The Light Brigade was wounded and shattered, but all they could think about was with whom the blame was placed upon.

Both the poem and film portray something of what happened on the day the Light Brigade charged, but also include something of the time in which they were produced in – Tennyson’s poem does not address the issue of blame, and tries to keep up the country’s morale, whereas Richardson’s film shows characteristics from the 1960’s, where they began to question their establishment.

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