|Prussian advance at Kunersdorf|
In one telling scene early on, Prince Heinrich criticizes his brother Frederick to his face, saying that under his rule, their enemies have increased every year to the point that Prussia was opposed by all of Europe. This, of course, was mostly true as historically, at this point, Prussia was opposed by almost everyone with the British as their only major ally. In a fury, the King also says that he had intended for the first regiment that fled to be sacrificed, basically that he ordered them to attack an Austrian position he knew they could not take but that as they would be shot down, others could shelter behind their corpses and prevent any counter-attack until the artillery arrived to open a breach in the Austrian lines. After soberly listening to a tirade against him by Luise Treskow, whose family mill was destroyed in the battle (she thinking the King was just an elderly major), we see in this scene that the King, while mindful of the suffering of ordinary people, was fully prepared to order men to certain death in order to win the larger victory. However, at Kunersdorf, it did not work because the regiment in question had fled.
|Graf von Laudon, the Austrian commander|
Frederick is, however, ill and rages against his brother when he suggests making peace and an alliance with France. The King tells him that the French are not to be trusted and want to keep Germany as a collection of small, powerless states that can all be easily dominated, as it was, he says, after the Thirty Years War. That issue is put aside in favor of the next battle, the Battle of Torgau, which is a great victory over the Austrians of Daun. The Bernburg Regiment is restored to favor, however, the coordinated attack was carried out by bugle calls and when the adjutant who was supposed to order the attack on the front where the Bernburg Regiment was stationed was killed, Sergeant Treskow (recently married to Luise), sees the enemy approaching and blows the bugle himself. King Frederick is outraged when he learns that a lowly sergeant ordered the attack, though one might wonder why an attitude of “all’s well that ends well” was not in order. Well, believe it or not, this is. The King says that if the end result had not been a victory, he would have had the sergeant shot immediately. Instead, he orders him spread eagle to a wagon wheel for three days as punishment. Obviously, this does not endear him to Luise Treskow who had been fuming against the King since her family mill was destroyed.
|"Old Fritz" and his generals|
However, Frederick figured out what the Russians were up to, takes General Chernyshov prisoner and orders that, while he doesn’t expect the Russians to fight alongside him, they will still march to their assigned position so that the Austrians under Daun will have to divide to meet them. This culminates in the Battle of “Schweidnitz 1762” (if you can find that one) where we see Prussians advance, artillery bow up a tower and Sergeant Treskow is killed as he did not desert after all. A victory parade is held in Berlin but the King does not attend. The non-religious man checks on the widow Treskow and then goes to a large cathedral, not to pray, but to cry some manly tears before a brief song of tribute sings us out and the film ends.
Frederick the Great, while a Prussian nationalist of a sort, was not as xenophobic as this films seems to me to imply that he was. This was a monarch who usually spoke French rather than German, had an army made up of men from many different countries and who took in a number of foreign exiles, a notable example being the Jesuits who he said he would sell back to the Catholic countries when they regained their senses. It is all the more strange considering that, while this film is set during the reign of the Austrian Empress Maria Theresa, her successor, Emperor Joseph II, would seem to have been more of a German nationalist than Frederick was, going so far as to try to impose German as the primary language of all Habsburg lands (which did not go over well as one can imagine). However, while it seems to show an anti-Habsburg bias that was more in line with Hitler than Frederick (who often expressed his admiration for his Habsburg opponents, particularly Joseph II) it is, overall, a well made, well acted and entertaining film. Perhaps knowing when it was made distorts my view as it does others, it simply seems at such times to be casting the views of Hitler on to the person of Frederick. And Hitler, after all, while admiring Frederick the Great immensely, was certainly no traditionalist, no monarchist and no friend of the ‘old order’ but was, in fact, quite an egalitarian other than in the area of race. It may also be noteworthy, given Hitler's opinion of the Jews, that neither King Frederick nor Empress Maria Theresa were particularly fond of them and not a few would likely say Frederick was more tolerant of them than the Habsburg Empress was. However, Hitler's opposition to the Habsburgs was clearly irrational and no facts would have changed it.