OPENS JULY 4, CERT 12A, 231 MINS
The title of writer-director Ron Maxwell’s prequel to his equally lengthy Gettysburg (1993) sums up his attitude to America’s Civil War?as a conflict between moral giants and holy armies. Like Spielberg’s recent hits inspired by Stephen Ambrose’s patriotic history books (Saving Private Ryan, Band Of Brothers), Maxwell suggests even this most terrible of America’s wars is part of a wider heroic narrative for God’s chosen nation.
Moving from secession through the Confederate successes preceding Gettysburg’s apocalypse, this is largely the South’s story, focusing on their brilliant General “Stonewall” Jackson (Stephen Lang). Though Jackson’s military faith in bayonets unfortunately recalls Corporal Jones, his higher trust in the Lord adds to a daringly Biblical tone, maintained in a mighty new Dylan theme song. But despite Lang’s driven performance and Robert Duvall’s almost mystical Robert E Lee, that spirituality is dully doubt-free and sanitised, as is slavery, and the bloody carnage wrought by these generals in their stirring chessboard battles.