The War of 1812, by PBS, 2011, 120 minutes, $24.99
The War of 1812 remains among the least remembered of modern-era wars, and this bicentennial retrospective may have hit on the reasons. Between the bumbling American maneuvers, British humiliations on the water, North American Indian losses of both life and land, mutual atrocities and the eventual stalemate, it’s no wonder people wanted to forget this war—everyone, that is, but Canadians, who fostered a proud military ethos that only the trench warfare of World War I could check. That may explain why the first half of this production, drawing on Canadian talking heads, feels more like a CBC tribute than a PBS film.
While the commentators tar and feather figures on both sides, the Americans (after all, the invaders) bear the brunt of their ire. President James Madison, for example, comes off as bookish and disconnected, while Generals William Hull and James Wilkinson are branded (properly?) as cowards. The British-allied Shawnee confederacy skates by with little scrutiny, though Tecumseh deserves his due as a military leader. And nods go out to such deserving officers as Isaac Brock, William Henry Harrison, Winfield Scott, Oliver Hazard Perry, Thomas Macdonough and Charles-Michel de Salaberry.
A companion book, The War of 1812: A Guide to Battlefields and Historic Sites (Turner Publishing, $24.95), presents a basic history with modern-day travel tips.