Wednesday, December 05, 2007

TV Film of the Week: The Charge of the Light Brigade

I was thrilled to be offered the role of Captain Nolan. Everything about the film gave it the air of a British classic - the subject matter, though viewed from a deeply unglorious perspective; the principal cast: John Gielgud, Trevor Howard, Harry Andrews and Jill Bennett - a roll-call of dramatic excellence; and, above all, the script.

My part as the renegade young captain was one that I loved and soon learned backwards. The screenplay was beautifully, sparely written by Charles Wood, and I read it with glee. It contained, in my view, some of the finest lines in cinema, dialogue that captures the period and attitudes to war with subtlety, grace and style.

Wood had shown us a whole new approach to dialogue in The Knack and for Charge he wrote in a mystical way, with short sharp sentences and what I call "fly-away buttons".

"He would do that. Would"

Or, from Trevor Howard, "I saw you, sir. Saw you. Black bottle. Drinking beer, sir. In this mess. Saw you."

Lines like this look odd on the page and are tricky to deliver - they can come out like gunfire or stumbles - but in the hands of Gielgud or Howard they were like droplets of pure colour on a backdrop of Victoriana.

So wrote David Hemmings in his memoirs. And it is Hemmings's presence in a star role as much as director Tony Richardson's left-wing politics that date this wonderful film to the 1960s. Look too for the Terry Gilliam-like animations.

And, most of all, listen for Gielgud's line:

"It will be a sad day for England when her armies are officered by men who know too well what they are doing. It smacks of murder."

The Charge of the Light Brigade is on Channel 4 on Friday 7 December at 2 a.m.

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