Trevor Howard did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a BAFTA, for portraying Lord Cardigan in The Charge of the Light Brigade.
Trevor Howard plays the pivotal role of Lord Cardigan who lead the titular charge that led many British soldiers to their deaths, but without any actual ground gained on the battlefield. The film acts as a build up towards the titular event where we meet the unit and the various personalities in the battalion. The unit includes the somewhat rebellious yet seemingly heroic Captain Nolan (David Hemmings), the amiable yet ineffective leader Lord Raglan (John Gielgud), and Howard's Cardigan. Howard's a natural fit for the character who is a brash and bold leader which is a quality Howard is obviously quite capable in realizing. Howard's performance is fairly broad in his approach but it does make sense for the role of Cardigan. After all Cardigan is a man who in the film, and in real life, demanded punishment for bringing a black bottled wine, to a champagne only dinner. Howard's work makes sense of this insane sort of mentality as he gives the part this innate intensity fitting to such a man. Howard always keeps Cardigan with underlying strictness to the idea of soldering.
Howard's approach is rather clever though in that he shows this idea to be very egocentric as it is to Lord Cardigan. In that Howard always gives himself this stiff manner always in his physical portrayal particularly in his rather tight jaw throughout, along with delivery that is most often this very exact bark as though he is always giving orders even when he is not. Howard does not present this as a man being a great soldier though instead he presents it as a man very much abusing his power as a commanding officer, in that he shows a man so caught up in himself that he only cares about the soldiers in the context that they do not reason why they just do or die. Howard in his approach effectively creates the internal logic in the man that manages to realize the mindset behind such a man who would hound one of his men merely for not for drinking what he's drinking. Howard in that intensity presents the weakness and sensitivity in a way, since Howard shows with a man so wound up that the outrage just seems to come so naturally.
Now this is a film where you can tell it was cut up by studio mandates as there are scenes that indicate subplots that either having been started or are not properly resolved. It makes for a messy film, though it does give us a scene where Howard gets to play more with Lord Cardigan. That is a moment, a historically inaccurate one, where Cardigan goes about having an affair with the wife of one of his fellow officers. Howard makes the most of it by portraying the awkwardness of the career soldier in the scene, as he portrays it with all the needed vigor but in a most improper way. Howard again maintains Cardigan as always the officer and treats the woman less as a woman, and more a horse he's breaking in. Now that scene seems somewhat arbitrarily thrown in but at the very least Howard thrives with Cardigan in different circumstances. That scene though is just a moment before leading to the titular event, which is a strangely muted scene for the most part, and does not deliver the impact it should, like say maybe the ending of Gallipoli does. One can barely sense the climax as it occurs. Howard is consistently good even in the ending though and stays with the terrible man that he has set up Cardigan as even through the charge. In that he still shows the man staying true to who he has always been. When the time comes to name the blame Howard gives just the right bit of final bluster to a man who has learned absolutely nothing from his experiences or from the deaths of his men, adding actually the right bit of cruelty to it all. This is a good performance, in fact most of the performances in the film are good, though it's a shame it is part of a film that almost wastes the great potential of the story.