Charles Wood, The Great Experimentalist



As Roger pointed out in Comments Section yesterday, Charles Wood had another problem as a writer – his plays were expensive to stage, which was fine when the UK put huge amounts of money into brave original theatre works but no good for modern times.

Even when Wood worked on a traditional subject he still experimented. His script for ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ is nothing like the Errol Flynn version, and deliberately ends on a freeze frame before the charge itself begins. The dialogue is extraordinary and actually feels Victorian language, as opposed to a BBC TV series peppered with anachronisms.

The script concentrates more on the background and surrounding figures involved. Wood wrote it from an uncredited first draft  by John Osborne. It aimed to be brutally authentic and anti-war, based in part on Cecil Woodham-Smith’s dissection The Reason Why (1953). Throughout the film there are political newspaper cartoons which come to life, setting the scene of each stage in the Crimean war.

These were created for director Tony Richardson by Richard Williams, head of the creative powerhouse that used to be housed in a green and white building on the North side of Soho Square. Here are Wood’s animated scenes in full.

5 comments on “Charles Wood, The Great Experimentalist”

  1. Charles (another one) says:

    Those animated scenes are extraordinary, and make me want to see the film again (I haven’t seen it for years) especially after your additional comments both here and in the earlier entry on Charles Wood.

    I had a look around to see if there was a good version available of the whole film, given it seems quite relevant in a scary sort of way with current events in Crimea, Syria and Turkey. All versions available seem to have been cut to the original US release; cuts of 7-10 minutes seem quite dramatic. How is this allowed? And does this happen a lot with DVD/Blu-ray releases, where I would have thought releasing the cut version would seem unnecessary? Presumably, as ever, it’s a matter of money beating art? Or is it just down to laziness?

  2. Charles (another one) says:

    Thinking on, I remember being played the haunting recording of Tennyson reading his original poem on the events, a sad and mournful, and very distorted, recording. Our English teacher was his great (?) granddaughter, or some such, and had the recording. She said, I think, that it had been left on a radiator, or something similar, but it may have just been down to the technology. Oh well.

  3. Vivienne says:

    Yes, absolutely extraordinary. Renders one speechless.

  4. Roger says:

    You could regard Errol Flynn’s ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ as the non-traditional version. It moves the charge to the North-West Frontier and makes the charge itself a brilliant strategic ploy and an heroic success.

    It’s interesting and depressing to wonder how many superb plays – not just Wood’s – were given a few performances at the NT or RSC and then abandoned or forgotten for good.

  5. snowy says:

    It seems it falls to me to dabble in the arcane, [no change there, then]. And in reply to Charles “There’ll never be” (another one)…. [sorry I tried resisting, but then I just weakened.]

    Films can appear to have been cut when none of their content has been removed. i will try not to get too deeply into the subject because it is rather dull*, but film shot at 24fps shown at 25fps has a running time 4% shorter than advertised. And film converted to PAL for DVD release suffers the same contraction.

    There have been cuts to TCotLB to remove some of shots of horses being brought down, because it was shot using the tripwire system. And there is thought to be a scene with David Hemmings missing which just repeats his ‘lower status’ in the social hierachy as an Officer from the Indian Army.

    The extremely keen might find something more exact in either:

    Tony Richardson’s Autobigraphy “The Long Distance Runner”.


    A very short study of the filming and production [100pp-ish] by Mark Connelly in the British Film Guide series. [But don’t go spending silly amounts of money].

    [*and our host who knows all the technical aspects; will if I make a mistake in explanation, mock me like Ming…. mercilessly.]

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