Monday, February 26, 2007

Toby Stephens in The Wild West - Custer's Last Stand

If you missed this on Friday, I've got a few screencaps to brighten your day.

The programme explored the story of General George Armstrong Custer's final battle against the Native Americans who had settled on land that was thought to be gold rich. As the Indians would not either sell or relinquish the land to the American government, the decision was made to reclaim the land by force; with disastrous consequences for Custer and his men as well as ultimately the Native Americans.

The programme is actually a drama-documentary, which means that the reconstruction- dramatic scenes are broken up by historical experts explaining the situation, the historical context and why the actions of the army and the Indian braves had the outcome that it did.

We start with Custer and his men mounted and searching for the nomadic Indians who they were to later fight. The sky is leaden and overcast and the soldiers look drawn and nervous as does Custer.

The casting of Toby Stephens as Custer really shouldn't suprise anyone when you consider that Toby does actually resemble Custer in a small way. They share the same colouring and despite the sepia picture, Custer looks like he had freckles too! While they both have high cheekbones, Custer has a slightly bigger nose and far more verdant facial hair than Toby does. It is also apparent that Toby's moustache is stuck on. Oops. And he's wearing a wig. But hey, at least it isn't hair extensions.
Custer is leading his small band of men into battle and along for the ride is a journalist called Mark Kellogg. It is his journalists notebook that probably provides the clearest account of what occurred at Little Bighorn. Custer despite being given orders not to talk to journalists, invites Kellogg to come along for the ride. This behaviour is attributed to Custer's self publicising nature.
And if the glory and excitement of writing a sensational story about a famous Civil War hero wasn't enough, Custer both smirks and then tries the old Rochester trick of beguiling Kellogg with his tightly clad thighs. (Sorry, couldn't help myself).

Meanwhile, Sitting Bull, the head of the Indian tribe, performs a ceremony that results in a vision of the attack and he ominously warns of the impending attack and also states that no plunder or booty is to be taken from the bodies of the fallen or bad luck will befall them.

The ceremony is particularly bloody, in Native American belief, all that you own is your body, so therefore to be granted a vison, you must give something that you own to the greater power, in this case flesh was incised over two days (!) before the vision was forthcoming. Sitting Bull's arms ran with blood.The soldiers got ready to do battle and many of them had fine and luxuriant facial hair as you can see. It's nice to see a decent beard on TV occasionally.
Toby meanwhile decided to get rid of his. I like his little smirk here.
Toby has an American accent in this programme and while I'm not qualified to say whether or not it was entirely authentic, to my British ears it sounded quite solid. There were no odd vowel sounds that occur when you assume an accent, and I didn't hear his British accent break through. And Toby also does not sneer at all.

This is Custer and his scout Fallon serveilling an Indian village, Custer's plan being to kidnap the women and children and hold them to ransom. While this sounds like a slightly dishonourable act, it makes a great deal of sense when you think it through. Major bloodshed should be avoided on both sides, the Indians do not attack as they are afraid of harming their sisters and wives, who are venerated as life givers and are protected at all costs, and the soldiers do not attack the Indian Braves as the situation should now be solved by negotiation of the hostages. And this mode of attack payed dividends for Custer previously, and he was very happy to try it again.

(Toby (looking through telescope): "Hey I can see Jane from here...")

A couple of Toby looking good in a hat.

Custer doesn't smile much in the programme, but when he does, Toby looks great and it's a lovely moment.

After the battle, lost in some part due to bad luck: Custer and his men couldn't ford the river to take the hostages and partly due to Custer splitting his band into four sections and not having enough men to fight the Indians. And then when the message came to the remaining men to hurry to his aid, the commander, who was not Custer's greatest fan, instead of riding fast to back up his comrades, ambled along leisurely and arrived too late to save Custer and his section of men.

Thus Sitting Bull's premonition came true and the Indians won, but his warning that nothing be taken from the dead men was not adhered to and the subsequent action taken by the American government meant that despite the victory over Custer, he sadly ended his life in a reservation instead of open land.

In summary: I am not really a history buff, and I wasn't really aware of Custer, but the show was very informative and the actions scenes were suitably gory and despite the small scale, absorbing. The drama of the reconstruction was somewhat diluted by the interjections of the experts, Michael Donahue and Ron His Horse Is Thunder (fab name!), who is a descendent of Sitting Bull. And the narration was beautifully read by Michael Praed.

Note: I have now added tags to all my posts!


La Nouvelle Heloise said...

Thanks Penny! I was not able to catch this but reading your review did the trick. I am now hoping and waiting for Toby to show up on-stage in London. I am a patient woman so he can take his time...

pennyforyourdreams said...

I'd love to see Toby on stage, in fact I did a long time ago, but it would be nice to have him do something now.

If you haven't already, go to the Royal Shakespeare Company webpage and do a search for Hamlet. Lots of clips of Toby rehearsing Hamlet. Much time spent by yours truly there, unsurprisingly.

fifi said...

I think it should be made an 11th commandment that henceforth Toby Stephens shall only ever be cast in parts that require him to wear breeches and boots.



lsucntrygrl said...

Thank you for the screen caps! Unfortunately I don't have BBC America but I WILL look for it on Fo'sho! Holla back youngin!

pennyforyourdreams said...

Hi Fi,

Toby sure fills those britches out nicely doesn't he. A few contemporary roles wouldn't go amiss though!


pennyforyourdreams said...

Hey lsucntrygrl,

I'm sure you'll be able to find the DVD on Amazon, but if you go to YouTube, and search for Custer and Toby, believe me, you won't be disappointed!

Happy watching!


robin hood said...

I placed a link to this post here:

and trust that will be okay.

Unknown said...

I reenact this battle every year in HARDIN ,MT and at river crossing at MEDICINE TAIL COULEE, at the REALBIRD show. Good show (must add to my collection), BUT BENTEEN was NOT a colonel, just a CAPTAIN