Breaker Morant – an Aussie film that goes too unnoticed

When I am asked to list my favorite movies, I will usually include a film made in 1980 in Australia called “Breaker Morant.” The movie did not get enough airplay here in the US, so if you missed seeing it, that would not have been a difficult task. The movie was directed by Bruce Beresford, but starred several terrific actors who would go on to fame – Edward Woodward (an English actor), Bryan Brown and Jack Thompson. A key role was also played by a younger actor, Lewis Fitz-Gerald. Woodward would play in the US television series called “The Equalizer” while Brown would appear in a number of films like “Fx” and “Australia.” Thompson would also appear in “The Man from Snowy River,” another favorite of mine from Australia.

The movie is about three men who were convicted as scapegoats for committing war crimes they had been authorized to perform during the Boer Wars in South Africa. The men were part of a guerilla team called the Bushveldt Carbineers, who had to resort to unusual tactics to remain safe and be effective. It is based on a true story from the novel “Scapegoats of the Empire” by George Witton. Lt. Harry Morant, played by Woodward was a former horse-breaker on which the title is based. He is a former Englishman of society who is forelorned over a lost love, so he has devoted his career to helping the military fight in faraway places. He is also an acclaimed poet, which is part of his fabric and the movie.

Brown plays Lt. Peter Hancock, who is Morant’s trusted friend, but a man with faults and desires which make him less than perfect like everyone else. Fitz-Gerald plays a more naïve young soldier who gets caught up with the others just doing as he is told. Thompson plays the second lead character as Major J.F, Thomas, an unprepared, but eventually very capable and practical attorney who defends the three in a court-martial trial. He was picked because the leaders wanted someone not to defend them well, but the opposite occurred.

The three are on trial as the British leadership wanted to distance themselves from the Bushveldt Carbineers’ tactics, which were successful. They also were on trial for killing a priest who was a Boer spy before he could get back to share his reconnaissance. The tactics included placing the captured military leaders in the front of returning horse soldiers from battle, as it dissuaded the Boers from attacking them. This was a guerilla type war, where new practices were being done and confirmed at the higher ranks.

Yet, as the war was winding down, the British leadership needed to provide a peace-offering, so the three were put on trial as scapegoats. I will hold off on the conclusion, although some of it is obvious from the title of the book. If you do watch it, and you can with the link below*, know that the movie shows the horror of war, the lack of humanity that can be all-encompassing and how soldiers just doing their job often pay for the sins of their leaders. I also like the fact that they do not promote the three on trial as better men than they are, especially Hancock and Morant. These are cynical and worldly men who realize what they are up against.

If you have seen it or take the chance to do so below, I would love to hear your feedback and thoughts.

* http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/breaker_morant/

 

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2 thoughts on “Breaker Morant – an Aussie film that goes too unnoticed

    • They are complex. It shows how reasonably good, but imperfect men can make decisions in war that look less than pristine when looking back. The dilemma is leaders approve actions and then distance themselves from those actions. This is played out routinely on both sides of war. My guess is German soldiers in WWII had little idea that their leaders were gassing Jews. They are just fighting for their country and trying to stay alive, just like the other side. Also, in the Middle East when the enemy hides among the civilians, the stress placed on a soldier on being on guard and to make sure they don’t kill civilians is huge. Leaders put our soldiers in these circumstances, so they should not be surprised when people blow a gasket, make a mistake or end up with PTSD. This is why it is important to have legitimate war crimes prosecution from people who understand the stressors, but will hold all accountable, including and especially the leaders. This is why I hold Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rove accountable for going into Iraq based on a lie (they knew their data was faulty). American and allied soldiers died along with many Iraqis. If we are going to fight, make sure we know why and have a clear mission for success. Thanks for your note, BTG

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