Socialist Worker

All The King's Men: They didn't march back down again

by Simon Wehbe
Issue No. 1672

All The King's Men is a fictionalised retelling of the Sandringham Brigade, which went missing at the Battle of Gallipoli in the First World War. The battalion was raised from among the servants and day labourers of the Sandringham estate of Queen Alexandra (played by Maggie Smith). The green soldiers are swept away with the enthusiasm for war under the command of the queen's upright yet naive estate manager (David Jason). Her 14 year old footboy lies about his age to enlist, while the one objector is set upon by a patriotic mob.

The film hints strongly at an approaching disillusionment. It nods to our present day concerns. It portrays homosexuality in the ranks, the loosening of sexual mores, and even the brutal rape of a woman prisoner by a British soldier. But then it turns to a condemnation of the Turks.

The brigade is last seen disappearing into a mist. None return. A commissioner is sent to investigate the story after the war. He discovers that the brigade were all wiped out in an attack, save for a few who surrendered. Each prisoner was then executed. In a particularly harrowing scene the footboy, grabbed like an errant child, is cruelly shot.

'Lunacy, the whole campaign, thousands upon thousands killed or wounded and for nothing,' the commissioner exclaims to his Turkish counterpart. 'Leave the miracle intact,' he is advised. In so doing the film draws a veil of myth over Gallipoli.

The reasons for the campaign, however, are far from obscure. The battle was the first salvo in the war for oil If Gallipoli fell, so would Istanbul, opening up the road to Mosul, Baghdad and the Caspian oil city of Baku. All the King's Men never strays beyond acceptable criticism of Gallipoli, despite its promise.

All the King's Men is broadcast on Sunday on BBC1 at 9pm.

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Article information

Sat 13 Nov 1999, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1672
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