REVIEW: Docudrama 'Battle of Bunker Hill' Defends Truth and America


In his farewell address, the late President Ronald Reagan reflected on the state of America as his country entered the 1990s:

“Younger parents aren’t sure that an unambivalent appreciation of America is the right thing to teach modern children. And as for those who create the popular culture, well-grounded patriotism is no longer the style. Our spirit is back, but we haven’t reinstitutionalized it. We’ve got to do a better job of getting across that America is freedom–freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of enterprise. And freedom is special and rare. It’s fragile; it needs protection.”

His words ring as true today as they did then. Reagan understood that what we teach children about America’s past directly influences the country’s future course. “So, we’ve got to teach history based not on what’s in fashion but what’s important,” he said. Americans need to focus “more attention to American history and a greater emphasis on civic ritual.”

Newcomer production company Light A Candle Films has made Reagan’s plea their creed. Combining documentary footage with a dramatic story in a docudrama format, Light A Candle hopes to portray American history in a dynamic and accurate way. Their first docudrama focuses on The Battle of Bunker Hill.

The Revolutionary War began with the gunshots “heard around the world” fired at Concord and Lexington, Massachusetts. Following these battles, the British were besieged in Boston by colonial militia men. When the colonists learned that the British planned to expand their control to Charlestown, they massed at Bunker Hill and Breed’s Hill in front of it, building fortifications in a single night. The next morning, the British attacked. The battle of Bunker Hill ensued, and was the first major battle of the Revolutionary War, America’s war for independence. It was at Bunker Hill that the British learned of America’s resolve to cling to their self-evident rights, even in the face of death.

In high school I first heard the idea that American colonists were somehow wrong for revolting against the British. That the British were simply taxing the colonists to cover some of their expenses from the French and Indian War, which was fought on behalf of the colonists, sounded plausible.

Matthew Spalding defeats this argument in his recent book “We Still Hold These Truths.” He writes on page 31 (his emphasis):

The American Revolution began as a tax revolt. But it is important to understand from the start that the debate was never really over the amount of taxation (the taxes were actually quite low) but the process by which the British government imposed and enforced these taxes. As loyal colonists, the Americans had long recognized parliament’s authority to legislate from the empire generally, as with colonial trade, but they had always maintained that the power to tax was a legislative power reserved to their own assemblies rather than a distant legislature in London.

Spalding continues, “In making this argument, the colonials were objecting to being deprived of an important historic right.” This right was laid down in the English Bill of Rights of 1689, which forbid taxation without legislative consent. The colonists argued that since they had no representation in parliament, these taxes “violated the traditional rights of Englishmen.”

The film clearly points this out. Without representation, Parliament’s taxation amounted to little more than robbery. And that’s what unrepresented taxation–and in my opinion, much of the “represented” taxation that occurs today–amounts to: theft, no matter how justified a government believes it is.

What the film did right was avoid trying to create a feature-length full-scale production. This film accomplishes what it sets out to do: defend the truth of what happened that day and keep the audience interested, delivering facts in an entertaining and informative manner. It would serve well as an educational tool. I would recommend the filmmakers avoid trying to make jokes or use cliché terms too often. No need to call a grown man “lad,” as one of the officers does.

Light A Candle does not shy away from the fact that they work on a budget, a fact that is apparent when watching the film. The website reads:

Now, we’re a small company … completely self-financed. We’re doing this because we believe in the subject matter and the mission. So we’re not beholden to anyone, and no one has a say in how we style our content. And because we are also self-distributing, we don’t have to ‘adjust’ historical facts to sell to a particular region or school system.

Producer and director Tony Malanowski hopes it will educate young people about the true history of America. “We want to be the alternative to the revisionist, anti-American views that are being presented in many of our schools today,” he said. “By presenting the information in a narrative docudrama style, we make it easier to remember the facts, while also helping to offer a rich texture that can really make the historical period come alive, instead of just being dry dates and facts with no flavoring.”

So far he has received good reviews from viewers, many of whom have told him that they watched the film with their children.

“If we can keep doing that in subsequent DVDs then I feel we will have hit the mark,” he said.

While quality is often in the eye of the beholder, and the dramatic portion of the film could use some work, the documentary portion is solid, and the experts cited deliver thorough, informative historical commentary.


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