A bloody battle revisited

10th August 2007 at 01:00
It was where the butcher defeated the pretender... Culloden 1746. Jean McLeish reports on a new film about the civil war

WHEN DEIRDRE Smyth watched the ground-breaking documentary Culloden cross legged on the floor at Inverlochy Primary more than 30 years ago, it began a lifelong fascination with the history of Scotland.

Today, as property manager at Culloden Battlefield and Visitor Centre, she's about to witness another generation of pupils watch a new film of the iconic 1746 battle. And this time, the children will experience it as if they were in it.

Culloden Moor, near Inverness, is one of the most evocative historical locations in Scotland. Govern-ment forces led by the Duke of Cumberland (the butcher) crushed the army of Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie, or the young pretender) within an hour of battle and ended Jacobite hopes of restoring the Stuart dynasty to the throne.

The National Trust for Scotland runs the battlefield and visitor centre, which has struggled to cope with growing visitor numbers for some time. The film is one of many projects in the multi-million pound new centre due to open at Culloden later this year to mark Highland Year of Culture.

A short promotional trailer for the film can be viewed on YouTube. But Colin Mac-Connachie, the National Trust for Scotland's head of education, says he has already received a letter of complaint: "I've had one, I'm expecting more from people who don't like to see violence portrayed, even for a microsecond," he said.

The 46-minute film by Edinburgh-based filmmaker Craig Collinson, cost around pound;170,000 and was filmed at Lauder Com-mon in the Borders, using hundreds of re-enactors who travelled from all over Britain and Europe. "You need an isolated spot and it looks similar to Culloden. We couldn't stage it on Culloden as there are visual intrusions such as the cairn and flagpoles. Also, we didn't want to film there. It's a war grave, a place of pilgrimage we didn't want to turn it into a film set," said Mr MacConnachie.

Most of the re-enactors gave their services free and are eagerly awaiting the film's release. "Can't wait to see the whole production. I am lurking around in the back of the redcoat ranks," says one on YouTube. "My only fear with this is that the NTS will try and re-write history," another comments.

Ms Smyth believes the pound;9.5m venture will be a fantastic resource, providing more exhibiting space, a restaurant and a dedicated education area for schools. "There is an atmosphere here. You would have to be devoid of imagination not to stand in the fields for a few minutes and think about what went on there," she says. "People are moved by it, especially those who have come a long way. It's like a pilgrimage to them.

"The new exhibition will be telling the story from both sides. A lot of people have a pre-conceived notion that it was a battle between Scotland and England, or Catho-lics and Protestants, but it wasn't.

"Those issues had a major part to play in it, but that wasn't what it was about. It was a civil war with Scots and Highland Scots on both sides, and there were English and Irish on both sides. So we want to get across that message that families were divided in their loyalties.

"We do find that and Scots probably worst of all they come in and don't have the right story. So we aim to put that right and get away from the romanticism and present the facts as they are known."

The film is described as an immersion experience and will be suitable for children, but will be accompanied by a warning so parents, teachers and adults can choose whether to watch. "It's not going to be all blood and guts, but it is going to be quite shocking and with the noise and the battle it will be an experience," says Ms Smyth.

Mr MacConnachie adds: "What this is about is myth-busting. This is not about 'Bannockburn was where we won and Culloden was where we lost'. This was not Scotland-England, this was brother against brother, this was civil war and it was a pivotal moment in world history. A few years later, people who were on the opposite side would be fighting together on the same side in America."

Battlefield archaeologists have been working at Culloden over the years and their findings will inform new interpretations for the exhibition. Local volunteers using metal detectors assisted in site surveys and uncovered musket balls, cannon shot and part of a bayonet.

"It's not that long ago as a historical event," says Mr MacCon-nachie. "It's certainly within family memory. We meet a lot of people who can tell you exactly where their relatives were and what they did and the after-effects of what happened."

* www.nts.org.uk

* www.culloden.org.uk

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