Breaker Morant (1980) or An Australian Look at the Second Boer War

The Australian movie Breaker Morant is one of those movies that leave you thoughtful and pensive for quite a long time. It leaves you feeling helpless and infuriated as well by unmasking the hypocrisy of those in charge. It brilliantly illustrates the absurdity of war and deserves to be named together with the most important anti-war films ever done.

The movie is based on the true story of the court-martial of three Australian officers Lt Harry “Breaker” Morant, Peter Handcock and George Witton by a British court. They were accused of having shot first one, then six POWs and subsequently a German missionary. Their defense attorney Jack Thompson who was inexperienced and soon tried to accuse those in charge of the trial as well.

The movie tells the storiy alternating court-room scenes with flashbacks.

The second Boer war (1899-1902)  was by far worse than the first. The Dutch started to fight a guerilla war against the British who then fought back and organized a special troop, The Bushveldt Carabineers, for wich they appointed Australian soldiers. The idea was to fight the Boer with their own means.

Harry Morant volunteered to go to South Africa because he believed in the British Empire. How utterly tragic.  In Australia he was famous as a breaker of horses and poet. Edward Woodward plays this proud, upright and poised character with an excellence I have rarely seen. This is such a brilliant actor I wonder why he never made it to more fame.

The longer we watch the trial the more we realise that it is a sham. The British need scape goats to save their reputation. What those officers are ultimately accused of is what they were told to do. Only now no one wants to take responsibility for it. Of course this is also a meditation on what is good or bad during war.

Breaker Morant is interesting for cinema historic reasons as well since it is part of the so-called Australian New Wave, of which Gallipoli and The Lighthorsemen are other great examples.

This is without any doubt a 5 star movie.

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