Australian War Movies: A List

Australia, like so many other countries, has participated in many wars and  it is actually amazing that, even though it hasn’t done all that many war movies, has done some that are considered to be the best of their kind. I am talking about the three movies of the Australian New Wave, Gallipoli, Breaker Morant and The Lighthorsemen. They are very different but all three are outstanding. When just starting this blog I watched and reviewed another, much more recent movie, Kokoda. It is flawed but still a very good movie. I started to wonder if there are any other ones and found a few that I haven’t seen. The latest one on the list is from 2010.

Whoever is familiar with my blog knows that I make lists that I often consider to be a work in progress. It is very possible that this list will change over the months and years.

40’000 Horsemen (1941): WWI

The Rats of Tobruk (1944): WWII; North Africa.

The Odd Angry Shot (1979): Australians in Vietnam.

Breaker Morant (1980): Second Boer War. True story. The court-martial of Breaker Morant. Three officers are accused of a war crime. Outstanding legal drama and a truly tragic story (see my post on Breaker Morant).

ANZACS (1985, TV mini-series): Thanks to Soldier’s Mail I can add this one to my list. WWI, ANZACs are followed from Gallipoli to the battlefields of the Somme, Vimy Ridge etc.

Gallipoli (1981): WWI, ANZACs on the Turkish front. Intense infantry combat. Magnificently displays the senselessness of it all.

The Highest Honor (1982): WWII. True story. British and Australian raid on Japanese occupied Singapore harbour.

Attack Force Z (1982): WWII, Southwest Pacific.

An Indecent Obsession (1985): WWII, Pacific (?)

The Lightorsemen (1987): Australian cavalry. WWI. There aren’t many movies on cavalry combat that are truly outstanding. This is one of them (see my post on The Lighthorsemen).

Blood Oath (1990): WWII, Indonesia. Australian POWs suffers abuse from Japanese captors.

The Last Bullet (1995, TV): WWII, South Pacific

Changi (2001, TV mini-series): WWII, Singapore, Australian POW’s.

My Brother Jack (2001, TV): Outbreak of WWII.

Kokoda (2006): The war in the Pacific. On the Kokoda trail. Pretty gruesome look at an untrained group of volunteers who meet a fierce enemy in the jungle. Focuses on the story of two brothers. Not bad at all (see my post on Kokoda).

Beneath Hill 60 (2010): WWI, Western front. Australian miners fighting in the tunnel systems.

Any important movies that I left out?

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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.