First, I have to report that yesterday I went to the National Film Theatre to see a rarely (well, hardly ever) shown British film The Reluctant Widow, based on one of Georgette Heyer's Regency novels. Both Wikipedia and IMDB give a bizarre misinterpretation of what happens in the film, even calling the heroine Helena when she is Elinor. It is a little perplexing why anyone should put up a plot summary of a film they had not seen or know anything about. The summary of the book's plot shows that the film kept close to it with a few changes, some of which work and some of which are superflous.

Georgette Heyer disliked all that she heard about the film or saw when it was being made and she refused to see the finished product or sell the film rights ever again. That is a great pity as her books really cry out for dramatization. The film had all the Heyer atmosphere and characteristics as well as being highly entertaining (as are the novels). In addition, and Miss Heyer would have appreciated this, it is meticulously researched as far as design, clothes, uniforms, architecture and views of London is concerned. The Art Director responsible for that was Carmen Dillon, a woman of great stature who made her name in what was then a man's world, was the Art Director on some of the best known British films like The Importance of Being Earnest (for which she won the Best Production Design Award in Venice) and Richard III as well as winning the Oscar for the Art Direction of Hamlet, the first woman ever to do so.

The plot, which revolves round espionage during the 100 Days with an urgent despatch to the Duke of Wellington in Brussels stolen in London and having to be retrieved by the hero and, as it turns out, the heroine, inevitably takes one back to the subject of Waterloo. (Though, it would seem that the book's plot is about Wellington's plan to march in the Peninsula in 1813. Unquestionably, I shall have to read the book.)

Fortunately, there are many events and exhibitions that have to do with the anniversary and an excellent one is a free exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, entitled Wellington: Triumphs, Politics and Passions.

As one would expect, much of the exhibition revolves round various portraits from very early ones to the famous 1844 daguerreotype. One of the big draws is the panoramic view of Wellington's state funeral in 1853 by Henry Alken and George Augustus Sala, which will be displayed in full for one hour on Thursday, June 18. At present one can see sections of it in the display case and in full on the screen above.

The funeral was watched by an estimated million and a half people and, as the notes say, reminded people of Wellington's days of glory, the somewhat more ambiguous record as a Prime Minister having been forgotten. One can draw certain parallels with the Churchill funeral of just over fifty years ago, as this blog wrote about it on the day of the anniversary. There is one important difference between the two farewells, both to great men, both symbols of their age: Wellington's victory in 1815 ushered in an age of British supremacy in the world in matters political, economic and ideological; Churchill's victory in 1945 saw the end of that age. Farewell to him was also a farewell to that.

Of particular interest were portraits and paintings by soldiers and young officers who were with Wellington in the Peninsula. Edmund Wheatley, a junior officer in the King's German Legion kept a diary and sketchbook for his fiancée, later wife, that has since been published. Wheatley was at Waterloo as well and left his account of that, too, as well as some pictures.

Thomas Staunton St Clair, an officer in the 94th Regiment of Foot, sold his sketches to a consortium of London publishers.

Other officers invited artists to paint battle scenes or portraits.

The most interesting couple of exhibits in the section on Waterloo are the two prize winners in a competition announced in 1815 by the British Institution on the theme of "successes of the British army". The winning entry was a truly hideous work by James Ward, entitled Waterloo Allegory for which I can only find the design as an illustration.

Possibly, the sheer hideousness of the work made the British Institution re-think matters and, unexpectedly, they announced a second prize, which went to George Jones, a former soldier though also a professional artist, who produced an interesting and fairly realistic painting that centred on the Duke of Wellington. George Jones, it seems, was so taken by the theme that he kept painting it over and over, earning the nickname "Waterloo Jones". To be fair, he also painted other wars and campaigns.


  1. Tricia Says:
  2. This is very interesting Helen. I didn't know the film existed. I have a large collection of Heyer books which I love. I did have The Reluctant Widow, but lent it to someone, and you will guess what happened. Funnily enough the plot you outline does not jog my memory at all. Obviously going senile!

  3. Helen Says:
  4. Glad to know another Heyer fan. I have a reasonable collection of her books and try to add to it from time to time. Not this one, as yet, though.

  5. dfordoom Says:
  6. I've read one of Georgette Heyer's detective novels (which was rather good) but I've not read any of her Regency novel. I should give them a go, given that I'm a fan of historical fiction.

  7. Helen Says:
  8. The detective novels are great fun though the plots are terrible. I believe they were constructed by her husband. Still, they are fun to read as are the Regency novels. I hope you will have a go.

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