Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Revisiting "Admiral: Command and Conquer"

A few days ago I published links to two reviews of the Dutch film "Michiel De Ruyter" which has recently been released in this country as "Admiral: Command and Conquer." (Makes it sound like a computer game, but never mind. For the rest of this post I'll refer to the film as Admiral: C&C.)

Here is the trailer:

The reviews which I referred to were, respectively, by British historian and author  J.D. Davies at

and by eminent Dutch naval historian Gijs Rommelse, at

Both these reviewers know vastly more about 17th century naval history than I do, so if you want a detailed account of it's accuracy follow one of the above links, but having now watched it myself I did have a few further comments.

As it happens, the previous film I had watched was the British film "The Imitation Game" about the mathematician and WWII Enigma codebreaker Alan Turing, what most struck me about "Michiel de Ruyter" was the way the film industry in two different countries had done many of the same things to two completely different stories.

So much so that Comparing "The Imitation Game" and "Admiral: C&C" is like one of those "what's the difference between" jokes.

E.g. Question: "What's the difference between "Jurassic Park" and what the Labour party will be like if Jeremy Corbyn wins?"

Answer: "One's a theme park full of dinosaurs - and the other is a successful film."

So in this case

Question: "What's the difference between "Admiral: C&C" and "The Imitation Game"?

Answer: "One is a film about a remarkable hero who helped save his country from one of the greatest threats it ever faced: it tells his story and suggests that he was betrayed by the very country he saved. It's a brilliantly dramatic film which scores ten out of ten for excitement and presents some aspects of the historical story very well but takes serious liberties with other aspects of history, particularly with how it presents the hero's final downfall. And it stars Charles Dance as the villain, depicting a historical figure in a much less favourable light to that in which he is usually presented.

And so is the other film."

As I mentioned before, the cover of the DVD box of "Admiral: C&C" gives the impression that Charles Dance is the central character: actually he is the villain. Of course, since this is a Dutch film about a Dutch national hero, and Britain and Holland were at war for almost all the timeframe of the film, making the king of an enemy nation the villain was not a controversial or surprising thing.

Both Davies and Rommelse praised the depiction of 17th century "fighting sail" combat. They had some fun teasing the film-makers about the fact that the Union Flag on British ships was shown in the wrong place (as an Ensign at the stern rather than a Jack at the masthead) though at least they did use a historically accurate version of the flag. The first Union flag created in 1606 following the Union of the English and Scottish crowns was a combination of the Cross of St George and the Saltire and this is correctly shown in the film. The diagonal red bars of St Patrick's cross were not added until 1801.

Davies and Rommelse have referred in their reviews to the fact that the film covers a period of 23 years but the viewer could be forgiven for assuming it was a much shorter period of time. Just as the time is rather shortened the enemy commanders are rolled together.

The same actor plays the French admiral in command both at the battle of the Texel and at de Ruyter's last fight, the Battle of Augusta. That character is named in the cast list at the end of the film as Abraham Duquesne, which is indeed the name of the Admiral in command at Augusta, one of the most successful French naval commanders of all time. Perhaps fortunately for the Dutch, Duquesne was not in command of the French fleet at the Texel: the French commander at that battle was Jean D'Estrees. The film presents the French ships at the Texel as suffering a fate remarkably like what in real history happened to D'estrees' fleet five years later in the Caribbean.

Similarly the British are shown as having the same command team, George Monck and Prince Rupert, at the Four Days battle in 1666 and the Texel in 1673. In reality Monck was the British Commander in Chief at the former battle, which Prince Rupert of the Rhine's squadron only joined on the last day. Prince Rupert then took over as commander of the British fleet, and he was in overall command of the British and French combined fleet at the Texel.

In the above trailer the words "I think it would be unwise to underestimate de Ruyter" are taken from the film's depiction of a briefing of allied commanders before the Battle of the Texel. In the film they are spoken by George Monck, or perhaps by his ghost, as in real history he had died of natural causes three years before in 1670.

Without wishing to spoil the ending of the film by explaining exactly how, the depiction of de Ruyter's final campaign in the Mediterranean in 1676 and of the battle of Augusta is a travesty of the truth. William the Third of England and the Netherlands and Second of Scotland was no saint, but the idea that he betrayed de Ruyter in the manner depicted in this film is risible. The iconic depiction near the end of the film of de Ruyter leading his fleet into battle against the French at Augusta is great as drama but complete nonsense as history.

Having said all that, the depiction of 17th century naval warfare was both very dramatic and generally well done, and the presentation of the interaction between the fight to preserve Dutch independence and the power struggles within Dutch politics - between supporters of the Republic and of the House of Orange - was both clever and, I am told, accurate. It doesn't pull punches and the grisly fate of the Republican leaders Johan and Cornelis de Witt is presented in gory detail.

All characters are shown speaking in the appropriate languages, with suitable subtitles for the relevant releases of the film: in the UK release the British characters speak English and there are subtitles for the French and Dutch characters.

It's an entertaining film and many parts of it are excellent. A pity that one or two others, particularly the depiction of de Ruyters' final mission, are so utterly inaccurate. But if you are interested in the age of fighting sail, you can no more miss this film than you could miss "Master and Commander."


Jim said...

I have been asked many times before how to tell if the Union Jack (its a myth that its only called the Jack when its on a Jack pole, it can be referred to as either the Union Flag or the Union Jack, where ever it is) off on another tangent there, anyway where was I, Oh yeah

How to tell if the Union Jack is upside down or the right way up.

well, the trick is to look at the side nearest the flag pole that's supporting it. The left side of it if its drawn, by convention all flags are drawn so the left side is the side of the Flag pole.

ok, now the flag is not drawn so the Diagonals of St Patrick would meet. you can see that behind the diagonals of St Patrick, the Diagnosis of St Andrew have a thick side and a thin side.

To tell if the flag is the correct way up, then the thick side of the white St Andrew diagonal should be above the red diagonal of St Patrick.

To remember this simply just remember that a certain golf course is nearer to the north pole than most of the UK is.

SO --- St Andrews is up by the pole.

there you go, some nice info so if you see someone has accidentally got it upside down you can now look all big and clever by pointing it out.

Chris Whiteside said...

Thanks for that - must admit I could never remember how to tell whether the flag was the right way up or not.