Frodo Versus Robespierre

If a thing is worth doing at all, it’s worth doing badly.

This paradoxical witticism of Chesterton was on my mind as I sat down to watch The War of the Vendée, a new film about the forgotten martyrs of the French Revolution. I was pleased that a film had been made to honour the heroes of the Vendée but I feared that it would be a really bad film. Certainly everything seemed to suggest that it would be awful. It was made with a miniscule budget and a cast of dozens as opposed to thousands. How could a couple of dozen actors realistically depict a battle scene or the slaughter of thousands of Catholics by Robespierre’s terrorists? Worse still, the film’s director, Jim Morlino, had decided to use only child actors. Wasn’t this a recipe for disaster? Oh well, I thought as I hit the play button, if a thing is worth doing at all, it’s worth doing badly …

Fearing the worst, I found myself charmed by the film, and was moved to tears of sorrow for the fate of the martyrs of the Catholic Resistance but also to tears of laughter at the moments of comic relief.

As I watched the child actors playing husbands and wives, and even grandparents, I realized that you had to see the film through the eyes of a child in order to see it at all. This is emphatically not to suggest that the film is childish but that we adults have to become childlike in order to enter the kingdom of truth that the film presents to us. We have to suspend our disbelief, walking through the wardrobes of our imagination into a world where the eternal verities shine forth with innocence and wonder.

As I allowed my own imagination to wander through the wardrobe of wonder, I found myself, to my surprise, not in Narnia but in Middle-earth. The romantic and rustic depiction of life in the villages of the Vendée became, for me, a reincarnation of the Shire. Once this connection had been made, the child actors became hobbits, halflings who faced the French revolutionary dragons with an unsophisticated innocence. I am sure that something of this vision was in the mind of Morlino, who depicts the evil Robespierre as being demonically possessed, as no doubt he was. Robespierre is as unsophisticatedly evil as the peasants of the Vendée are unsophisticatedly good.

There is a price to pay for this unabashedly pure approach to the problem of evil, such as a loss of the nuanced niceties that historical accuracy demands (and should demand), but the price is well worth paying. Deep down, at the bedrock level of truth, the French Revolution was as evil as anything that the Fellowship of the Ring had to face. Its bloodthirsty secular fundamentalism set the scene for the bloodletting of the next two centuries. In its insatiable war on the Faith, secularism began with the guillotines and the Great Terror and metamorphosed into the Gulag and the gas chamber. Today, of course, it attacks the Faith and the Family and is systematically exterminating the weak and disabled members of society through the plague of abortion.

Make no mistake, Robespierre was one of Satan’s greatest servants and the villagers of the Vendée were certainly on the side of the angels. As such, we can be sure that both sides in this epic struggle between good and evil now have their reward. Robespierre would be killed by the same orcs that he had unleashed on the Vendée and his fate after death might be too horrible to contemplate. The heroic villagers of the Vendée, butchered in their thousands by the hordes of revolutionary orcs, are now in the company of the saints, martyrs and angels.

By the time that I had finished watching this wonderful film, I had forgotten about the Chesterton paradox that had been on my mind ninety minutes earlier. Instead, another Chesterton quote came to mind. On his death bed Chesterton had emerged from a sort of reverie and had said: “The issue is now quite clear. It is between light and darkness, and every one must choose his side.” In the war between light and darkness, the peasants of the Vendée had chosen the right side. In this film, all shades of shadow are removed so that we can see things in the clear light of everlasting day. To see things in this way is to see them as Chesterton saw them and as the people of the Vendée saw them. In spite of all appearances to the contrary, The War of the Vendée shows us that to see things through the childlike eyes of Chesterton, or Frodo, or the people of the Vendée is to see them as they really are.

Joseph Pearce


Joseph Pearce is Writer-in-Residence and Director of the Center for Faith and Culture at Aquinas College in Nashville, TN. He is also the co-editor of the St. Austin Review, executive director of Catholic Courses and series editor of the Ignatius Critical Editions. His book on Alexander Solzhenitsyn received the prestigious Pollock Award for Christian Biography.

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  • Rosered13

    I love The War of the Vendee!

    • Puaultm

      Pardon ?
      Vous l’aimez en quoi ?

  • helgothjb

    My son is an aspiring actor. So, I bought him the film for Easter. I had reservations, but though it would be a decent childs play. It turned out to be so much more. I can’t help but think providence was involved with the timing of this release as well is the release of For the Greater Glory. Many people in the USA seem to have this feeling in their gut that we too are on the brink of something. I think our Lord may be trying to tell us something with theses films.

  • Christopher Check

    I had the immense good fortune to spend an evening in beautiful Waterbury, Connecticut last month with Jim Morlino and his wonderful cast last month.  I can tell you that these young hearts are as charming in real life as they are on the screen.  Navis pictures is more than a candle in the darkness; it’s a raging bonfire!  The heroic and often tragic–but always glorious–stories of the history of our Faith are too little known even by reactionary Catholics.  God Bless Jim Morlino and the Navis company for doing so much to restore them to our imaginations.

    Christopher Check
    The Rockford Institute

  • Jeanphilippe Rouillier

    I come from Vendee, and have always lived here. Until a few decades ago, farmers in the area often came across skulls as they ploughed their fields. Our ancestors died for their faith, in what historically came to the first genocide in Western Europe, then followed by a memoricide, as all memories were carefully buried and removed from history books. This is still widely the case today, but there are clear evidences, embarrassing ones for the republic of France.

    • Deacon Ed Peitler

      Time for the Church to declare the “Martyrs of the Vendee” as Saints of the Catholic Church.  It would send a message for our day.

  • Rouxfus

    THe parallels between the Vendee war and the Cristero war fought in Mexico are interesting to ponder. Bot revolutions were Masonic in their leadership. both sought to destroy the Catholic Church. Both faced counter-revolutions of the faithful. Both saw buckets of martyrs blood flow.

  • reets46

    Just ordered the DVD.  Can’t wait to see it.  I’m soooo tired of the French Revolution gettting good press.  Napoleon crowning himself Emperor in front of the Pope says it all…

    • Jeanphilippe Rouillier

      Absolutely. The thing is, in France, nobody in the political sphere dares openly criticize the revolution. People claim their “heritage” when this was no more than a gigantic bloodbath. I mean, there are thousands of streets and squares bearing the names of those men as Carnot, or other butchers and in Paris, one of the underground stations is actually called Robespierre… I mean, honestly! In the end of the day, after ten years of bloodshed, the new powers that be became the national assembly and the politicians, who still live off the fat of the land, earning a good $ 15.000 a month (even more for those in Brussels) paying very little tax, and as most of those are retired already, enjoying their pensions on top of that. Practically all are Freemasons, by the way…which will come as no surprise.

      • pamelanak

        Are you at all interested in the return of  monarchy in France? Louis XX for example–who claims to be the heir to the Throne of France? This is an interesting movie on the Vendee of which very little is known to the general public.  And as George Orwell once said “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past”, surely true in this case as in others.

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  • David Simpson

    Joseph Pearce’s review of this movie hit the nail on the head.  It is the purity and charm of this movie that wins you over.   Would that we had any Catholic communities today with such heroic innocence?!?  God bless Navis Productions…as He most assuredly will.

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  • Paul Schumann

    If Pearce is a fan, then that’s good enough for me.