When Art Meets War

If you want to make a good historical movie you should find yourself a good historian.

If one of the characters is a singer, make sure they sing in a contemporary style.

Now add in a stirring contemporary theme tune and you may well have a blockbuster.

A war movie which misses an opportunity to show the realities of war is just so much blood and guts.  The realities of war are not just the horrors of bloodshed.  There are realities of psychology, physics and philosophy: of human interactions, of weaponry and of theories of war.

War is a contest between human groups using political, economic and physical power.  Without the element of physical power it is trade war.  Without the element of economic power, war is futile.  With neither physical nor economic power, war can only be bluster.

Wrapped deep in the concept of political power is psychological power.  Whoever controls truth controls the battle.
In a few words, most reports are false, and the timidity of men acts as a multiplier of lies and untruths.

All things are connected

Military interest in the Arctic peaked during WW2 and again during the cold war.  Studies of the Arctic conducted by the military provide a very useful record of what the Arctic was like, a record of great use in determining if current Arctic climate is, or is not, abnormal.

The military and the intelligence community have also funded a great deal of research into disinformation science.  Disinformation science looks into the ways that language and other forms of communication are for purposes of gaining some form of  military or psychological advantage.

For every gun there is an ideal 'bullet proof' armor.  For every missile there is an anti-missile. 

For every lie there is a truth.

Truth, like a military installation, may be heavily camouflaged.  Just because something looks like a duck and flies like a duck, and maybe even quacks like a duck, that doesn't means it's a duck.  It may be a drake.  Is the difference important?  It is if you are a duck.

I have seen writings which claim that the current state of the Arctic is just part of a normal cycle.  If that is true, why was the Arctic usually described by Europeans as an icy waste?  Why did John Gay, in 1728, write these words?

 Were I laid on Greenland's Coast,
    And in my Arms embrac'd my Lass;
    Warm amidst eternal Frost,
    Too soon the Half Year's Night would pass.

Those lines about eternal frost were set to the same tune as:
    Tom, Tom, he was a piper's son,
    He learned to play when he was young.
    And all the tune that he could play
    Was over the hills and far away;

That song and tune are so widely known that it is a long-standing joke that a request be made to a bad musician to play over the hills and far away.

Firearms and science

After the invention of weaponry using gunpowder there was a great deal of scientific investigation into the basic principles of such weapons.  Barrel length, bore, shot weight, wadding materials, charge and prime quantities and granularities, all these and more were thoroughly researched.

The greatest leap in accuracy came from the invention of rifling.  The Baker rifle was by no means the first gun to use rifling.  But it is one of the most famous - deservedly so.

For a weapon to be of use in the field, it must work reliably in all weathers.  The scientists and engineers behind the success of the Baker rifle were quick to make all necessary modifications to ensure reliability in the field.

The Baker Rifle
image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

In battle, speed is of the essence.  It takes time to fully draw back the hammer of a flintlock.  It takes less time to draw back the hammer of a half-cocked rifle and fire.  A good soldier holds his hand over the pan and hammer, protecting the priming powder from the weather and ever ready to pull back the hammer fully.

Of course, you can't fire a flintlock unless it is primed.  It is easier and safer to prime a muzzle-loader at half cock than at full cock.   The discharge of a flintlock from the half-cock position gives a weaker spark.  The full cock position gives a stronger spark which is more likely to ignite the priming powder in the pan.  Going off at half cock has been done since the invention of the flintlock. The discharge of a firearm at half cock is deprecated.

Sharpe's Rifles

Sharpe's Rifles was1 a group of riflemen using Baker rifles.  Sharpe is the hero2 of a series of books and films set in the era of Napoleon Bonaparte and Sir Arthur Wellesley, best known under his later title Duke_of_Wellington.  The books were written by Bernard Cornwell.

When a team works well it works magic.  The team involved in the production of the Sharpe TV series worked historical magic.  The pairing of Sean Bean with Daragh O'Malley was either serendipitous or inspired.

I won't make this article over long by giving too many details - you can get those from the excellent3 Wikipedia articles: Sharpe (TV series) and Richard Sharpe stories.

Historical realism for me includes an aspect of warfare that is not usually well represented in movies: intelligence.  In the Sharpe series you get to see both intelligence gathering and BS dissemination. 

The whole package is wrapped up in a style reminiscent of the 'boy's own tales of derring do' books and comics, but without the crappy unrealistic 'with one bound he was free' kind of dialog.

Great stuff!

One of the characters sings the occasional song.  No surprise there.  It's what singers do.  John Tams adds another element of realism to the series.  He also sings the theme song.  The spoken introduction in this video sounds like Sean Bean:

The magic of movies

There was another kind of magic worked by the Sharpe series.  It has given rise to the establishment of a charity: Sharpe's Children

While filming the Sharpe series over a seventeen year timespan at various locations in Portugal, Ukraine, Crimea,Turkey and India the actors of Sharpe witnessed many atrocities against children. While filming  Sharpe’s Challenge and Sharpe’s Peril in India, actors witnessed little children living in the gutters of Jaipur and Jodpur in Rajasthan and on the streets of Kahjurho in the state of Madhya Pradesh,living in the most horrific circumstances.

Many of these children were orphaned, many abandoned but all  remain destitute. Though they seem to smile their days away, the reality is that these children live their lives unloved and unwanted and totally without love or hope.

The impact of the human devastation the actors witnessed resulted in the establishment of The Sharpe’s Children Foundation. The driving force behind The Sharpe’s Children Foundation initiative is Daragh O’Malley who played Sergeant Harper in the television series and Daragh has been joined by many of the 214 actors who appeared in the series down through the years.

Just as Bernard Cornwell's creation, Richard Sharpe, rose from the gutters to realise his dream and gain high rank in the British Army, it is The Sharpe's Children Foundation's intention to give children of perhaps a lesser god  the same opportunity.

You tube if you want to, I'll pipe

The thing I most dislike about YouTube is the many users who describe a theme tune as a theme song.  Chalk and cheese.

You've heard the song.  Now hear the theme.  C'mon! Feel the noise!


Some contemporary historical facts and video:



DVD movies source:



[1] - singular.  A group was - two groups were.  I don't care how many millions of people say 'a group of men were ... a group were ...'  They are wrong, and I'm an aging pedant. ;-)

[2] - the addition of the word eponymous is tautologous and is deprecated.

[3] - when I snarked them before it was over just one page out of many.  One error doesn't bring down the whole edifice.  Someone should explain that to the IPCC haters.