Friday, 24 October 2008

Here Comes the Cavalry

Charges in movies. Sometimes they can be moments of utter wonder. The attack on Aqaba in Lawrence of Arabia immediately springs to mind. The Battle of Stirling in Braveheart is another.

But one thing that particular scene has which seems to have become a requirement in modern movies is Wallace's "pep talk" to his men before they charge ( also, the real battle was over a bridge and the real Wallace drowned most of his enemy that time, but Braveheart is so full of historical liabilities it's futile to try and set it all straight). Those lines have now morphed into cliche, which is not surprising given the unsubtle nature of that script. Every time I see what looks to be a similar scene in an attempt at a modern epic, I start to hunch up, fearing the cheese approaching. I might as well stick a clothes peg on my nose. This is something I have been trying to avoid myself in my present project, which is a historical piece with battles, but no cavalry saving the day - just one desperate guy.

One moment I feared this was in The Return of the King, which features what I think is one of the best siege sequences on film. Theoden King of Rohan musters his Rohirrim riders as the city of Gondor is about to fall, overrun with orcs and genuinely brutal trolls, flinging people into walls. No nasty rhymes, turning to stone or cheesy fights - these fuckers will smash you to pieces. And there is what could be construed as Theoden's own pep talk.

But, unlike Aragorn later on at the Black Gates (where he does go a bit Wallace, but understandably as the odds are piled against them) Bernard Hill does not mess about. This is Yosser we're talking about now.

Whereas Wallace had the battle cry of "Freedom!", summing up the bleedin' obvious theme of the film, Theoden has a slightly different one. Far more to the point but screaming a bit less about any obvious theme.


And the men all shout it back. Over and over. Intent made clear - these grotty orcs are about to die en masse. And then they charge, slowly at first, the music rising as the horses gather momentum. Breaking through the front line of orcs. And the look on the face of the chief orc as he realises they're buggered.

This is how you lead a charge.

Dammit, if this just doesn't make the hairs on the back of my arm stand up. Can bring tears to my eyes as well. My favourite cavalry charge scene in any movie and probably my favourite scene in all three Lord of the Rings film (the Moria sequence comes close). Put them at their darkest hour before they are saved - good screenwriting.

This is Theoden's second time leading a charge, after heading to what he thinks is certain death in The Two Towers, before he himself is saved by the cavalry. Again, he only has one battle cry and no convoluted pep talk - "Forth Eorlingas!". It does mean something in Tolkien's lore, but what matters is the obvious sentiment, made even clearer on the Pellenor Fields in The Return of the King.

One of those moments I live for in movies.

If only Yosser had led a charge like that outside the DHSS in The Boys From the Black Stuff.

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