Peter Watkins, UK, 1964, DCP, 72′


The year is 1746, and the last pitched battle on British soil is fought on the moor at Culloden between government troops and Bonnie Prince Charlie’s rebellious Jacobite army, largely comprised of Scottish clansmen. The year is 1746, and a camera crew is there on the battlefield, sweeping across the young men’s faces. The re-enactment of the Battle of Culloden in seemingly authentic newsreel form is not only a landmark of TV and documentary history, but an enraged death cry of the ruthlessly suppressed and forcibly expelled Highland clans, as filmed by the radical pacifist Peter Watkins (Punishment Park).

“’This is round shot. This is what it does.’ A three‐pounder cannon fires its load; the camera moves into a tight focus on its victims. The wounded men – boys, really – are hard to make out amid the smoke of battle and the graininess of 16-millimetre film. An authoritative voiceover tells us their names, ages, and conditions. Alastair MacInnes, twenty years of age: right leg severed below the knee-joint. Malcolm Angus Chisholm, twenty-four years of age: disembowelled. Ian MacDonald, thirteen years of age: shot. The style is pure news‐reel: shaky photography, rough film-stock, confused action, on-screen interviews into camera. The battle was the last ever fought on British soil, in 1746, but we suspend our disbelief. Surely there wasn’t a camera crew on Culloden Moor?

/…/ Scenes like this established Watkins’ precocious mastery of his medium: he was not yet 30 when he directed Culloden. /…/ Peter Watkins shows what cinema can do in the hands of a director who confounds centuries and genres: revolutionize the relationship between history and film. He is the most important historical film-maker most historians have never heard of; indeed, I would go so far as to say that Watkins is the most important historical film‐maker of the twentieth century.”
– David Armitage, “The Anarchist Cinema of Peter Watkins” (Perspectives on History)