The Last Valley
Like most wargamers, I’m a fan of war movies. I’m sure many have watched and rewatched movies like Zulu, A Bridge Too Far and Gladiator several times. Okay, I daren’t call them ‘Historical Movies’, as the history is not ‘spot on’ or in some cases completely off kilter. I’m sure we could have several interesting blogs on the lack of accuracy of 300 or Braveheart... One film I hadn’t heard of until quite recently was The Last Valley made in 1971.
Set in the heart of the 30 Years War, the film tells the tale of the clever mercenary captain (played by Caine, we never learn his name, he is called ‘The Captain’) whose warband discovers a village in a hidden valley, untouched by the war. Instead of pillaging it, they are persuaded by a wandering teacher called Vogel (played by Sharif) to make a temporary peace with the villagers and stay the winter in the valley. There is tension between the villagers and soldiers with dissent in the ranks. The scene is set for a gripping tale as both men try to keep the bitter factions from turning on one another. I won’t mention any more, as you really want to watch the film if you can.
I only heard about the film by accident watching an interview with Michael Caine. He was asked what were his favourite movie roles and The Last Valley was one of his strong favourites. I’m really glad I tracked down a copy - there is even a young looking Brian Blessed in it. The clash of ideology between Catholic and Protestant is pretty strong in the film, with other heretical factors thrown in. The Captain’s views on religion are particularly interesting - he openly states in Nietzschean fashion ”Don’t talk to me of God. We killed God at Magdeburg.” Vogel is a humanist and chooses to work with The Captain even though we learn Vogel’s family were killed at Magdeburg. Throw in a mad catholic priest, protestant soldiers & withchcraft and you have a volatile mix of views.
There are one or two scenarios you could pull straight from the film and put on the tabletop. Hmm, maybe that’s an idea for a bitesize battle scenario in a future issue. I don’t have an army specifically for this period but I have do have a generic English Civil War army (which seems to change sides depending on who I’m playing against). I think, however, they will need to be joined by a German mercenary captian and his men…
As for rule sets, I’m a fan of Warhammer English Civil War (written by John Stallard of Warlord Games fame) but tend to use the Warlord Pike and Shotte rules nowadays. With the recent release of The Devil’s Playground (an excellent book covering the 30 Years War period very well), this would be my preference nowadays. The scenarios depicted in the film probably require a decent skirmish set of which there are several ‘swashbuckler’ genre ones which are avaliable (Donnybrook, En Guarde or perhaps Olivier Peronny’s Un Pour Tous with a small adaptation). Oh and go watch the film!