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 "The throne? You know what the throne is, Ney? The throne is an overdecorated chair. It's what's behind the throne that matters." -- Napoleon

Waterloo was a 1970 film produced by Dino Delaurentis that told the story of the events leading up to the climactic battle of the Napoleonic Wars. One of the most expensive films ever made up to that time, it was a box office failure of legendary proportions but has since gained substantially more respect as an exemplar of old-fashioned epic-style film-making.

The cast featured Rod Steiger as Napoleon, Christopher Plummer as the Duke of Wellington, and Dan O'Herlihy as Ney. Orson Welles had a well-paid cameo as Louis XVIII, the Bourbon monarch Napoleon overthrows. Director Sergei Bondarchuk recruited thousands of Soviet soldiers as extras and reshaped a large area of Russian countryside to match the topography of the Waterloo battlefield.


Tropes:

  • Anyone Can Die: Several officers, particularly on the British side, die almost as soon as they are introduced.
  • Battle Epic
  • Bling of War
  • Compressed Adaptation: According to Leonard Maltin, the original Russian version is close to four hours long. This may explain why the Black Duke of Brunswick is seen at the Duchess of Richmond's ball, but his death at Quatre Bras the following day is neither seen nor alluded to.
  • Crowning Moment of Awesome: Napoleon faces down an entire army and causes them to join his side.
  • Dances and Balls: The Duchess of Richmond's ball, featuring Scottish folkdancing and waltzes.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Wellington. Of course.
  • Death Seeker: To a degree, Napoleon by the end of the film. He's badly ill, and wanting something more than to do die in exile, he tries to accompany the Old Guard on their last march. His doctors and generals talk him out of it.
  • Defensive Feint Trap: Wellington successfully does this, getting Ney to lead the French cavalry into being decimated.
    • Although it would seem in the film that it happened accidentally (Wellington actually was forced to give ground). In reality it may even have been a rationalization thought up by the French after the battle.
  • Did Not Do the Research: Somewhat subverted, as by all accounts they did quite a lot of research, but historical accuracy often was trumped by Rule of Cool and Rule of Drama. Still, it would not have lost anything essential if they had left Marshal Soult out of the first scene at Fontainebleau in 1814 - he was actually in the South of France fighting Wellington at the time - or using what in 1815 was exclusively the Austrian anthem as a leitmotif for the Prussians.
  • Everything's Louder with Bagpipes
  • Epic Movie: 15,000 Soviet foot soldiers and 2,000 cavalrymen as extras, lead to some stunning imagery.
  • Fake Nationality: Quite a few. Blücher is played by a Georgian (from the Caucasus), Ney by an Irishman, Wellington by a Canadian, and Napoleon by an American.
  • Glory Days: Napoleon makes frequent references to past battles and triumphs, insisting that he can do the same again. Not at Waterloo.
    • To an extent, all of France sees Napoleon's rule as their glory days, and are eager to reclaim it when he escapes from exile.
  • Good Colors, Evil Colors: The Prussians seem to be in black mostly for the menacing, sinister effect it has. In actual fact their uniforms were mostly dark blue, rather like the French.
  • Grave Robbing: Shown briefly in the end, with locals rummaging through the battlefield taking valuables off the dead.
  • Heroic BSOD: Wellington and Napoleon are both in BSOD mode after Waterloo. "The only thing sadder than a battle won is a battle lost."
  • Historical Domain Character: The entire cast, essentially.
  • Leave No Survivors: A heroic (?) example from Blucher.

 "Raise high the black flags, my children. No prisoners. No pity. I will shoot any man I see with pity in him."

    • Obviously no such order was given in reality and none of the Prussian regiments at Waterloo had black flags. Also the film glosses over the fact that French were in no mood for taking prisoners on that campaign. Unlike Blücher's order in the film, the order given by one of the French Guard commanders, General Rouguet, at Ligny (two days before Waterloo) is authenticated: "Warn the grenadiers that the first man who brings me a prisoner will be shot!" (Henry Lachouque's The Anatomy of Glory notes approvingly: "His threat was superfluous. The last struggle of Europe against Napoleon, of the kings against the Revolution, was a struggle to the death.")
  • Leeroy Jenkins: Ney is the perfect man to lead a charge. He's also the perfect candidate to charge into a trap.
  • Mauve Shirts: Throughout the movie we follow a couple of veteran troops in Napoleon's Old Guard, giving an insight into these troops. Just before the end of the movie, we see their bodies among the dead.
  • Moment of Silence: Subverted. When an important supporting character dies, there is barely a pause. Only at the end does anyone reflect on the amount of blood that was shed.
    • The end makes things appear more quiet than they were, leaving out the pursuit - the film shows Napoleon boarding his coach, but not that shortly afterwards he had to jump out of it onto a horse to avoid being captured by Prussian hussars - and also the meeting of Wellington and Blücher at the inn La Belle Alliance.
  • My Country, Right or Wrong: Ney. Based on his perception of France's needs, Ney changes sides at least three times.
  • My Defense Need Not Protect Me Forever: Essentially the heart of the battle. Wellington holds the French off just long enough for the Prussian to arrive, and then both armies overwhelm the French.
  • Napoleonic Wars: Obviously.
  • Oh Crap: Quite a few, but particularly memorable ones from wellington upon being told just how low his men are running on ammo, and from Napoleon when he hears about the Old Guard's retreat.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: Looks like they were aiming for the Anglophone market most, so with the exception of a few non-speaking foreign officers on his staff, all you see of Wellington's army is English, Scottish and Irish officers and soldiers. The contingents from various German states and the Kingdom of the United Netherlands (Dutch and Belgian), who in actual fact composed roughly two-thirds of his army, are completely invisible.
  • Rule of Cool: Units with cool uniforms have a better chance of appearing, most notably the Polish Lancers of the Imperial Guard, who get to repulse the Scots Greys (in reality it was two regiments of line lancers) and the Prussian Leibhusaren (black jackets, silver skulls and crossed bones on the front of the shako), who were not even part of Blücher's army.
  • Rule of Drama: As the campaign opens, the Ball in Brussels on the evening of June 15 is intercut with the French Army of the North crossing the border on morning of June 14. Towards the end of the movie, the attack by the Prussian IV Corps at Plancenoit (in the back of the French army, which actually had been going on for the better part of the afternoon) and that of the I Corps near Frichermont (on the French right flank) are telescoped into one event.
  • Scenery Gorn: A lot of it.
  • Sequel: Waterloo followed hard on the heels of Bondarchuk's massive Oscar-winning War and Peace, for which they had already trained several divisions of the Soviet Army in Napoleonic tactics. These were now joined by the actual Gordon Highlanders.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: De Lancey and his bride.
  • Tear Jerker: Napoleon bidding adieu to his guard in the court of Fontainbleau.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: Subverted, after a fashion. A soldier decides to adopt this attitude in the middle of battle and is promptly cut down. Since this is a movie about a massive historical battle, you expect a lot of killing to go on, and it does.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Napoleon suffers one near the beginning when his marshals plead for him to abdicate the throne and surrender.
  • What a Senseless Waste of Human Life
  • You Shall Not Pass: A last division of Napoleon's troops attempt to buy time for escape by blocking the English and Prussian armies. When they refuse to surrender, Wellington has no choice but to let the cannons open up on them.
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