Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Gods and Generals: Part 2

I did manage to watch the rest of GODS AND GENERALS yesterday ... and it confirmed my feelings that it is a good (but not a great) film.

The battle scenes were portrayed particularly well (despite the 'explosion' of cannon balls so beloved of special effects departments and film directors!) and the use of the real town of Harper's Ferry to act as Fredericksburg meant that with the exception of those that were blown up, the buildings were original. This all added to the feeling that the producer had tried to get things as historically accurate as was possible within the constraints of a commercial film.

It has confirmed my desire to re-visit wargaming the American Civil War – and other wars that took place during the middle to end of the nineteenth century – sometime soon.

And now back to COW ...


  1. I would like to see this again. Its unfortunate that the beards stuck in my mind more than the battle scenes though I recall the latter as good despite some obvious painted backdrops, worth it for the big over views. I was also put off by some of the overt preaching of positions, Gettysburg worked presenting the pov stuff in much more naturally but then, it was a superior film all around.

    Still a fascinating period for gaming at various levels. With the participants being well versed in Napoleonic warfare (some having been active participants -thinking of Brits in Indian & Crimea) and having left many written works and having been a strong influence on the generation that fought the 1st world war and into the 2nd, I suspect has left a bigger imprint on our vision of past warfare than we give it credit for.

  2. Ross Mac,

    As I said, it is a good but not a great film. The battle scenes were impressive, but not as impressive as those in 'Gettysburg'. In my opinion, the fight for the Little Round Top in the latter is one of the best battle scenes ever made. The feeling of claustrophobia and limited vision that occurs when fighting in woods is very well presented.

    Having read some extracts from letters and diaries written at the time, the ‘preachy’ aspect of some of the things that are said do sound like they have been lifted verbatim from contemporary writings; they may sound very laboured to our ears, but were very much in the style that people used then.

    The American Civil War can be seen as both the last hurrah of the Napoleonic era and the harbinger of what was to come little more than 50 years later. Many of the commanders on both sides who had passed through West Point were steeped in the Napoleonic tradition, and sought to make the sorts of manoeuvres he had made; the fact that they were not possible with the troops then available, the terrain that had to be crossed, and in the face of newer, longer ranged weaponry did not stop them trying. At the same time gifted ‘amateurs’ who came to the problems of warfare with new eyes and new skills eventually reached senior positions on both sides. It was a period of rapid change, as so often happens in times of war. Many of the ideas were already there; what was needed was the impetus to put them into operation.

    The European wars that took place after the American Civil War provided many European armies with the opportunity to learn the lessons that the Americans had already learned. For example, the need to give your cavalry decent firearms so that you could use them to as a fast and hard-hitting mobile force that could seize objectives or disrupt communications; very much the forerunner of the role envisaged in the early 20th century for the tank and armoured infantry.

    All of the above – and much more – makes the American Civil War a very interesting area of study. My interest began in 1960, when I was ten years old. It was the Centenary of the outbreak of the war and I was just beginning to move from pushing toy soldiers around to actually trying to fight a primitive form of wargame with them. The arrival of the AIRFIX Union and Confederate figures fuelled my interest, and they were the first ever pair of proper wargames armies I ever had. Likewise, the first ever campaign I fought was one based on the American Civil War.

    All the best,


  3. Dear Sir,
    Only an idiot would comment on "beards," !!!!! When one attends a play it is all artificial, that's not the point. "Gods and Generals," is all history and emotion; thus not a "great," film. Certainly not a general audience film but the most "historic" film one could imagine. Almost all the dialogue is from primary sources.
    "Preachy,?" It's about Jackson; Richard Harris;in "Cromwell,?" Preachy? you bet. Jackson/Cromwell/Lee/Chamberlain-all preachy.
    The best of uniforms. Virginia and Maryland locations, quality actors, the best reenactors alive. Not a popular film? Of course not.
    I enjoy "Gettysburg," but it too is not "perfect,". "John Henry's" , Buster Kilrain,??? give me a break.
    Folks talk history but when it is presented to them they crave bread and circuses.
    David Corbett

  4. Jubilo,

    I suspect that other than the references to beards (which were a joke by the way, and something that reviewers commented on when the films were first released) we are in general agreement.

    The problem with the 'story' aspect of 'history' is that what some people find fascinating, others do not. Therefore to be a good 'historyteller' you sometimes have to take a middle road that does not always work as well for some parts of your audience (I write as someone who has taught history professionally for many years).

    I still think that the fight for Little Round Top is one of the best representations of combat in woodland I have ever seen, and that is what makes 'Gettysburg' a better film for me.

    All the best,


    PS. I have also had a beard for nearly forty years, and I have never, ever been able to get mine to look as neat and tidy as they seem to be able to do in films!

  5. Hi - I think Gettysburg is probably better as an all rounder but the portrayal of Fredericksburg in G&G is to my mind the best ACW battle scene on film. Exploding round-shot is a bit of a problem I guess but at least at that time they did use quite a lot of shell as well. As for beards, you just can't beat Longstreet's in the Gettysburg film...


  6. Stryker,

    I understand that the original version of 'Gods and Generals' was much longer than the version I have on DVD, and that the battle scenes were edited down. The version I have has good battle scenes, but one feels that they were probably better in the longer version. It looks like I have missed out as a result.

    I saw a Russian film where the effects of shell fire were portrayed quite realistically (see Turkish Gambit: The Storming of Pleven. From the point of view of someone interested in military history it looked very good; to someone who did not know what was happening it was probably inexplicable.

    As for the beards in both ‘Gods and Generals’ and ‘Gettysburg’ ... well I will make no further comments on that subject!

    All the best,


  7. For some reason the link I added to my last comment does not work. Lets hope that this one does! Turkish Gambit: The Storming of Pleven.

  8. I was going to ask if there had ever been a war movie that tried to mimic the true effect of solid, non-exploding roundshot (I remember an old article from MW called "Tricky Trundling Roundshot" that tried to model the way it bounced its way through formations of men). That's quite an impressive movie clip!

  9. Itmurnau,

    It certainly is an impressive film clip. If a DVD of the film were available outside Russia I would certainly buy it.

    Mind you, the book that the film is based on is also quite good if you like spy/crime stories set in the nineteenth century. It is part of a series written by Boris Akunin about Erast Fandorin and I must admit to being a bit of a fan.

    All the best,


  10. I'll cheerfully accept the idiot label but I feel that a drama, as opposed to a documentary, benefits from plot and character development, crisis and resolution, etc which I felt lacking during the one cinema viewing that I managed. Like the speechifying, I had no problem with it per se but felt more build up to each would have improved the flow but again, another viewing might change that. Which is another reason in addition to the spectacle that I would like to see it again. Like the bit about the beard, perhaps I just imagined the beard coming loose from the actors face and flapping around in several scenes, not relevant to anything but distracting and needing additional concentration to ignore.

    re artillery, the only 1 I can think of offhand is the Patriot which shows a ball hitting its target in graphic fashion. Not that I'm recommending the film.

  11. Ross Mac,

    Interestingly I though it was me who was the ‘idiot’ for mentioning the beards in the first place!

    I tend to agree that dramas do need plot and character development, especially for the viewer who does not know much if anything about the historical period the film is set in. For example, my wife would not have understood what was going on in GETTYSBURG if one of her favourite films had not been GONE WITH THE WIND. Sometimes docudramas can be both realistic and good stories, but they tend to be few and far between. This week I watched a docudrama about the ‘Bloody Sunday’ incident in Northern Ireland; I am sure that when it was made it was as realistic as it could possibly be BUT I have met several of the people who were portrayed in it … and the characterisation was very two dimensional because the emphasis was on the events and – with the exception of one or two major characters – not those taking part in them.

    I see both GODS AND GENERALS and GETTYSBURG as docudramas where the emphasis has been placed on the interplay of several important characters rather than the momentous events that unfold. That is not to say that the latter is poorly done; it is not.

    Thanks for the ‘heads up’ about THE PATRIOT. I have yet to see the film but will now try to find a copy.

    All the best,

    Bob (AKA The Bearded Wonder!)