Flicking through the TV channels at the weekend, we were surprised to stumble across a screening of an amazing documentary, Peter Watkins' Culloden from 1964, which BBC4 had dug up from the archives.
What a brilliant, compelling film. It dissects the 1746 Battle of Culloden, but it's no dry historical account. Watkins shot it like a docudrama, as if a war reporter had entered the battlefield with a hand-held camera and was interviewing people from both sides of the conflict. Despite the lack of modern 'special effects' - or the fact that you don't actually see a lot of the violence - it was brutal and shocking, perhaps because Watkins captures the psychology of warfare so beautifully, gaining first-hand accounts from everyone - from the Duke of Cumberland (pictured above left) to the individual clansmen and their families.
If Watkins does come down somewhat heavily on the side of the Highlanders - butchered indiscriminately by the English, even after the conflict was over - it's an impressive work because it takes away the romantic notions of 'Bonnie Prince Charlie' and replaces them with the horrors of real war. What makes Watkins' film such a masterpiece is that you're no longer learning about history, as from a distance, but somehow inside the conflict in the most visceral way possible. I'm very interested in the Jacobites (and am writing about the '45) but have never seen anything like this before.