British theater and film director best known for his association with the "Angry Young Men" of the British theatre and film of the late 1950s and early 60s - Lindsay Anderson (If...) and Karel Reisz - who wanted to depict aspects of working class life (so-called "kitchen sink" realism). Educated at Wadham College, Oxford graduating in English, active in OU Drama Society 1949-51. Worked in BBC 1952-1955 and co-directed a short documentary about working-class youths ("Free Cinema" movement) and directed stage production of John Osborne's play about sterility of post-war British culture "Look Back in Anger". Further collaboration with Osborne led to film versions of his plays: Look Back in Anger (1958) with Richard Burton and The Entertainer (1960) with Laurence Olivier.


  • first real commercial success A Taste of Honey (1961) about working class life in Manchester
  • The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962)
  • Tom Jones (1963) his funny and ribald Academy Award winning film about life in 18thC England based on the Fielding novel
  • The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968) which debunks the romanticism surrounding the heroic defeat of the Light Brigade
  • Hamlet (1969)
  • Ned Kelly (1970) with Mick Jagger
  • worked on Diana Ross's film Mahoganny (1975) but fired for not "capturing the black point of view"
  • another film of a Fielding novel Joseph Andrews (1977) an unsuccesful attempt to repeat his Tom Jones success.
  • Other film adaptations of literary works include Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One (1965); Jean Genet's Mademoiselle (1965); Marguerite Duras's The Sailor from Gibraltar (1967); Nabokov's Laughter in the Dark (1969); Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance (1973).
  • In the USA his films include The Border (1982) about illegal Mexican immigrants; John Irving's novel The Hotel New Hampshire (1984); and numerous TV movies including a version of Phantom of the Opera (1990).


Meaning of the Title

A reference perhaps to the eponymous poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson written in 1855

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!' he said:
Into the valey of Death
Rode the six hundred.


  • Lord Cardigan - Trevor Howard
  • Lord Raglan - John Gielgud
  • Clarissa - Vanessa Redgrave
  • Lord Lucan - Harry Andrews
  • Mrs Duberly - Jill Bennett
  • Captain Nolan - David Hemmings
  • Gen. Airey - Mark Dignan
  • Screenplay - Charles Wood

Seen throught he eyes of a young professional officer with experieince in India, Cpt Nolan, who joins the Light Cavalry Brigade of the 11th Hussars and realises that the army is in great need of reform of abuses such as training of officers, field tactics, treatment of enlisted men by NCOs, and the arrogance and incompetence of senior officers. He is sent with the Light Brigade to the Crimea in 1854 where he participates in the slaughter at Balaklava which results from a misunderstanding of orders due to the bickering between Lord Cardigan and Lord Lucan. The Light Brigade is ordered to attack a well-fortified Russian position against artillery which kills over 400 of "the 600" immortalised by Tennyson's poem.


The Commander of the British forces in the Crimea, Fitzroy James Henry Somerset, First Baron Raglan (1788-1855), won the battles of Alma and Inkerman but was made the scapegoat for the decimation of the army at Sebastopol during the winter of 1854-55. George Charles Bingham, 3rd Earl of Lucan (1800-85), the brother-in-law of Lord Cardigan, was an imperious and over-bearing aristocrat who was promoted to high position over more proficient profesional officers because of his social connections. As commander of the cavalry in the Crimea he let his personal quarrel with Lord Cardigan reach such a point that their respective staffs refused to cooperate and an order from Lucan to Cardigan was misconstrued, leading to the defeat of the Light Brigade. He was subsequently promoted to Field Marshall. Thomas James Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan (1797-1868) was a "stupid, overbearing, arrogant, vindictive" general whose ancient title and great wealth overcame his inability to command in the eyes of the miltary leadership. He was placed under the command of his brother-in-law, Lord Lucan, with whom he could not get on.

The Times of London war correspondent, W.H. Russell, oberseved in his account of The British Expedition to the Crimea (1858) that:

It appeared that the Quartermaster-General, Brigadier Airey, thinking that the Light Cavalry had not gone far enough in front... when the enemy's horse had fled, gave an order in writing to Captain Nolan, 15th Hussars, to take to Lord Lucan, directing his Lordship 'to advance' his cavalry nearer the enemy. A braver soldier than Captain Nolan the army did not possess. He was known to all his arm of the service for his entire devotion to his profession, and his name must be familiar to all who take interest in our cavalry for his excellent work on our drill and system of remount and breaking horses. I had the pleasure of his acquaintance, and I know he entertained the most exalted opinions respecting the capabilities of the English horse soldier. Properly led, the British Hussar and Dragoon could in his mind break squares, take batteries, ride over columns of infantry, and pierce any other cavalry in the world as if they were made of straw. He thought they had not had the opportunity of doing all that was in their power, and that they had missed even such chances as had been offered to them - that, in fact, they were in some measure disgraced... He is now dead and gone. God forbid I should cast a shade on the brightness of his honour, but I am bound to state what I am told occurred when he reached his Lordship... When Lord Lucan received the order from Captain Nolan, and had read it, he asked, we are told, 'Where are we to advance to?' Captain Nolan pointed with his finger to the line of the Russians, and said, 'There are the enemy, and there are the guns', or words to that effect, according to statements made after his death...

At ten minutes past eleven our Light Cavalry advanced. The whole Brigade scarcely made one effective regiment, according to the numbers of the continental armies; and yet it was more than we could spare. As they rushed toward the front, the Russians opened on them from the guns in the redoubt on the right, with volleys of musketry and rifles. They swept proudly past, glittering in the morning sun in all the pride and splendour of war. We could scarcely believe the evidence of our senses! Surely that handful of men were not going to charge an army in position? Alas, it was but too true - their desperate valour knew no bounds, and far indeed was it removed from its so-called better part - discretion. (Wintle, p. 275).


Alfred, Lord Tennyson, "The Charge of the Light Brigade" in The Oxford Book of War Poetry, ed. Jon Stallworthy (Oxford University Press, 1988), pp. 115-116.

The Dictionary of War Quotations, ed. Justin Wintle (London: Hodder and Staughton, 1989).


  • The animation sections based upon contemporary political cartoons such as found in the humous magazine Punch: industrial England, off to war, Rule Britannia, the fall of Sebastopol, victory.
  • The references to contemporary (1968) events: war protesters told to "go back to Russia" (anti-Vietnam War protesters assumed to be in favour of communist revolution), Lord Raglan tells journalists about the danger of "dominoes" if Turkey falls to the Russians (American's used similar arguments to justify supporting anti-communist govts in SE Asia).
  • The classic 1936 version by Michael Curtiz starring Errol Flynn which is close in spirit to the Tennyson poem, celebrating heoric failure and hiding the fact of military blundering. One of the greatest film sequences of a cavalry charge.
  • The focus on both the social elite as well as the lower class members of the British army. Recruitment of working class men. The behaviour of the elite who are given commissions (or buy them) because of their social standing and not military competence. Contrast between the luxury of the officer's club and the squalor of the barracksroom
  • The critique of military justice, practices which the military retained in spite of the dramatic social, economic, and political changes which were transforming Victorian England. Compare with other critiques of military justice:
    • Beresford's Breaker Morant (1979)
    • Losey's King and Country (1964)
    • Kubrick's Paths of Glory (1957).
    • Another critique by Lindsay Anderson of public school punishment - If... (1969).
  • The "directorial voice" of the young officer who sees so much which needs reforming in the Victorian military system, just as the "angry young man" Richardson saw in post-war Britain..
  • The presence of Vanessa Redgrave, the director's wife 1962-67, as one of the prim Victorian ladies. An amusing reversal as VR is a committed left-wing actress who has been very outspoken in her support of various political causes.
  • Note the famous remark by the French Marshall in the Crimea, Pierre Bosquet, on the Charge of the Light Brigade: "It is magnificent but it is not war". And the comment by Benjamin Disraeli in the House of Commons 15 December 1855: "A feat of chivalry, fiery with consummate courage, and bright with flashing courage."