Birth of United States of America is fascinating topic, but, at least judging by films dealing with that particular subject in past decades, not that suitable for spectacular screen treatment. In the past those films were often in danger of succumbing to American nationalist mythology and chauvinistic chest-thumping (like Emmerich’s Patriot), while in today’s times that period of US history might receive “woke” deconstruction. More measured or realistic approach to those events, however, doesn’t guarantee a good film either, and one of the more telling examples is Revolution, 1985 epic directed by Hugh Hudson, known as one of the worst box office disasters in the history of British cinema.
The plot begins in 1776 New York, shortly after North American colonies have declared independence from United Kingdom. Like in many such situations, population is divided – Patriots support independence while Tories are still loyal to the Crown. Most of people, however, try to mind their own business and stay out of increasingly bloody conflict. That includes protagonist, fur trapper Tom Dobb (played by Al Pacino), who arrives in the city with his young son Ned (played by Sid Owen) in middle of Patriot euphoria and has his boat requisitioned by Continental Army. Left penniless, both father and son are forced to join Continental ranks and take part in battle during which British forces, made out of professional soldiers, make short work of inexperienced volunteers and occupy New York. For Tom that should be the end of whole affair and he takes job in New York factory. However, British Sergeant Major Peasly (played by Donald Sutherland) forcefully recruits Ned to serve as drummer boy. Tom is forced to infiltrate British camp and rescue Ned, who has suffered terrible injuries due to Peasly’s disciplinary action. Father and son are forced to hide in countryside with the help of friendly Indians before they re-join Continental Army in which ranks they would remain for the rest of war.
Made by Goldcrest Films, British studio specialised in prestigious historic epics (including some “Oscar” winners), Revolution is very ambitious film. The general idea was to depict the momentous event like American Revolution from the perspective of an ordinary person, as well as to offer more nuanced approach and show that political affiliations of the time were complex and far from black-and-white. Good example are characters that belong to McConnahays, single New York family that would have its members on opposite sides. Daisy (played by Nastassja Kinski) is enthusiastic and almost fanatical Patriot; her mother (played by Joan Plowright) is a Tory who can’t wait for British to re-take the city in order to have her daughters married off to British aristocratic officers; her father (played by Dave King) is pragmatic businessman who would co-operate with both sides in order to make profit. The film was almost completely made on British locations and it had a lot of sense, because it was much easier to reconstruct late 18th Century New York in old English port town of King’s Lynn. Large amounts of money were spent in this film and it tells in mass scenes with hundreds or thousands of extras wearing period clothes, as well as battle scenes that look spectacular despite being shot with the help of handheld camera – style rather unusual for 1980s.
Great ambition and large amount of money, however, decided this film’s fate less than some questionable creative choices. It all started with messy script by Robert Dillon, which had to cover almost entire length of American Revolutionary War, forcing the character of Ned (who is introduced as pre-teen boy in 1776) to be re-cast in the scenes near the end, when he is played by Dexter Fletcher, actor in his late teens. Characters of two British officers, played by Richard O’Brien and Paul Brooke, are portrayed as complete buffoons, turning Revolution into unintentional comedy. Even worse decision is casting of Al Pacino, who again used this relatively simple role of an ordinary man as an excuse to indulge in irritating overacting. Even worse is his accent, which is not only completely unconvincing, but make his lines (and much of the plot) incomprehensible for much of the film. Accent seems to problem even for Donald Sutherland who otherwise plays character of no-nonsense working class villain well. Kinski, cast mostly because of her great looks, on the other hand, lacks chemistry with Pacino and the obligatory romance between their characters seems unconvincing. Revolution failed at box office and was savaged by critics on both sides of Atlantic. Those who watch this film today will probably agree that such fate was quite deserved.
RATING: 3/10 (+)
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