Horse-drawn teams in cinema (2)

Rebuilt vehicles

The vehicles of Antiquity, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance have all disappeared. The rare examples from the 17th or 18th century held in museums are too fragile and valuable to be exposed to the risk of accidents arising from filming conditions. Filmmakers have therefore had to rely on modern constructions approximating the models of the time periods in which the action takes place, or use authentic 19th-century carriages, which are relatively numerous, transformed and adorned according to the film’s needs.
As regards driving, cinema generally ignores historical accuracy. The shape and decoration of the carriages made for films are often approximate or even far removed from truth. Anachronisms are very frequent. In many films taking place in the 17th or 18th century there are 19th-century vehicles recognisable by their tong-spring or eight-spring suspension systems – the former not invented until 1804 and the latter in 1818 – and horses bearing English horse-collars, virtually unknown until the start of the 19th century.

However, every now and again a carriage is made and team assembled that are credible in their ensemble or even in the details:

  • the Egyptian chariots in Pharaon, by Jerzy Kawalerowicz, 1966 (with Jerzy Zelnik),
  • the quadrigas of the chariot race — in Ben Hur, by William Wyler, 1959 (with Charlton Heston and Stephen Boyd),
  • or those in Gladiator, by Ridley Scott, 1999 (with Russell Crowe),
  • the Grand Siècle coaches arriving in procession at the Prince of Condé's Château de Chantilly, the little, open park carts and vehicles carrying fresh fish to the market , in Vatel, by Roland Joffé, 2000 (with Gérard Depardieu, Uma Thurman, Arielle Dombasle),
  • the rococo state coach spreading gold pieces behind, in Delusions of Grandeur, by Gérard Oury, 1971 (with Louis de Funès and Yves Montand),
  • the turgotine and lounge chariot in The Return of Casanova, by Édouard Niermans, 1991 (with Alain Delon and Fabrice Luchini),
  • the travelling coach and lounge chariot from the late 18th century in That Night in Varennes, by Ettore Scola, 1982 (with Marcello Mastroianni, Jean-Louis Barrault and Anna Schygulla),
  • the stagecoach in L’auberge rouge by Claude Autant-Lara, 1951 (with Fernandel, Françoise Rosay, Carette).

Carriages built out of dreams and imagination

Like film sets, certain carriages are purely creations which contribute to the charming or poetic character of certain films:

  • a white state coach adorned with silver foliage, the tomb of the heroine, slipping and disappearing at night into a river's waters. Final scene in Cartouche, Philippe de Broca, 1962, with Jean-Paul Belmondo and Claudia Cardinale.
  • a "Fellinian", completely fantastic horse-drawn coach: Casanova, Fellini, 1976, with Donald Sutherland.
  • in Donkey Skin (Jacques Demy, 1970, with Catherine Deneuve, Delphine Seyrig, Jacques Perrin) the white and gold coach internally lined with white ostrich feathers, moving at the trot of two white horses with gold harnesses, hitched in tandem and self-leading without a coachman.
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