Reviews: Miscellaneous Topics

The Waterloo Collection -- DVDs

Saunders, Tim and et al. The Waterloo Collection. Barnsley: Pen and Sword Military, 2011.  4 DVDs each sold separately for £16. Each DVD is 90 minutes long.

Tom Dormer, Andrew Duff, Major Mike Peters, and Major Tim Saunders, with the assistance of experts from the Guild of Battlefield Guides (Graeme Cooper, Mike Peters and Frank Toogood) have undertaken an ambitious project of producing a comprehensive video study of the 1815 Waterloo Campaign.  It consists of four parts:

Part I: Quatre Bras and Ligny (ISBN: 5060247620022)

Part II: Hougoumont and D'Erlon's Attack (ISBN: 5060247620060)

Part III: Cavalry Charge: La Haie Sainte & Plancenoit (ISBN: 5060247620077)  

Part IV: Victory and Pursuit (ISBN: 5060247620084)

At the writing of this review, I had not seen Parts III and IV.  At first I was skeptical when I received the DVDs. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to spend my time watching a DVD on something that I had read many books about.  I decided to give it a shot and was pleasantly surprised by their quality and depth.  The narrators were engaging and had a good grasp of the subject.  Several things stood out that makes the Waterloo Collection worth the money.

-  The narrators take the viewer step-by-step through the whole campaign.  It begins with an overview of the political and strategic situation and what Napoleon was trying to accomplish. Each day of the campaign is discussed in detail, including where the various armies and their units were located at that time.

-  The perspective and actions of all participants (French, British, Prussian, Nassau, Dutch, etc.) are shown.

-   Whenever possible, re-enactors were used to provide period color and to illustrate the points the narrators were making.

Although all of this was nice, the best part was that the DVDs were filmed on the actual site where the battles were fought and about the same time of year.  Instead of hearing a description of the terrain, the crops, and various buildings, the viewer is able to see the various terrain features and how they affected movement, fire, and line-of-sight.  Much time is spent exploring the various buildings that were still survive almost two hundred years after the battle.  The Belgian farmhouses appeared almost impregnable and it is easy to see why they were so difficult to capture.  The second DVD covers the extensive fighting around Hougoumont and goes to great length to show the height and thickness of the walls.  A loophole in one of the walls still exists and a re-enactor was used to demonstrate how they were used and how effective they could be. Considerable time was also spent moving along the surviving farm roads and paths, many of which are still unpaved and meandered through fields.  Crops stood in most of these fields and were over a meter high.  It wasn’t hard to imagine the difficulty the armies marching through this heavily cultivated area, especially after the rains that occurred on 17 June.

The overall quality was good, but the viewer who is expecting a slick Hollywood production will be disappointed.  Occasionally the camera would shake or the lighting would be less than perfect.  When filming at locations in the various towns it was not uncommon to have an automobile drive pass the building being discussed. The re-enactors were a very nice touch, but the producers were not always able to get the re-enactors to cooperate!  In one case a French infantry unit was wearing bicornes instead of shakos, while my favorite had the highland piper in the correct uniform, but wearing modern sunglasses!

The narration was very good, but slightly biased in favor of the Anglo-Allies.  The most egregious case was the glossing over of the mauling Halkett’s Brigade received by French cuirassiers at Quatre Bras.  No mention was made of the lost of colours by the 69th Foot.  But this was the exception.  Overall, the narrators presented a balanced picture.

Bottom line the combination of being able to see what the terrain and buildings looked like, the numerous re-enactors, and an engaging narration, makes the Waterloo Collection well worth the money! It proves the old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words!  I look forward to viewing the other two DVDs when they are released.

Reviewed by Robert Burnham

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: October 2011

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