The 1970 American poster from the original release of the film “Waterloo” is probably the most high profile piece of media about the battle. The determined faces of Napoleon (played by Rod Steiger) and Wellington (played by Christopher Plummer) dominate the poster as they had dominated the military face of Europe over more than 20 years.
Napoleon, who rose from artillery officer to become Emperor of France, had been defeated and exiled to the Isle of Elba in 1814 but subsequently returned to France in a blaze of glory in the spring of 1815. He would face Wellington, the dogged Commander of the Allied Army, in a final showdown at Waterloo: Napoleon, the master of mobile warfare and conqueror of Europe against Wellington, who as a result of his time fighting in India was despised by Napoleon as that “sepoy general”.
Between the faces of the two protagonists, the top half of the poster shows all the glory and expectation of the Napoleonic battlefield: the colours and dash of the combatants, the solid ranks of the infantry and the massed squadrons of cavalry. The lower half shows the reality of warfare: the sheer carnage and loss of life, the smashed artillery, the lifeless bodies of the French Cavalryman and the Scottish Highlander and the vain attempt to raise the French Eagle.
As the poster says, the Battle of Waterloo, fought on a narrow 2½-mile front on 18 June 1815, would change the face of the world and define the political map of Europe for the next 100 years, until the outbreak of World War 1.
Of course, there is one major omission in the poster, Marshal Blücher, Commander of the Prussian Army allied to Wellington. He was to play a decisive part in the battle during the late evening, when the French and Allied Armies had fought themselves to a virtual standstill. The Prussians, who had been heavily defeated two days previously at Ligny, had regrouped and, by attacking the right wing of the French, provided Wellington with the final means to complete the defeat of Napoleon.
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This object is in the collection of National Army Museum