Breaker Morant



Edward Woodward………….Lieutenant Harry 'Breaker' Morant
Jack Thompson……………...Major J.F. Thomas
John Waters………………… Captain Alfred Taylor
Bryan Brown……………….. Lieutenant Peter Handcock
Charles 'Bud' Tingwell…….. Lieutenant Colonel Denny
Terence Donovan…………...Captain Simon Hunt
Vincent Ball………………...Colonel Ian Hamilton
Ray Meagher……………….. Sergeant Major Drummond
Chris Haywood………….…. Corporal Sharp
Russell Kiefel………………. Christiaan Botha
Lewis Fitz-Gerald…………...Lieutenant George Ramsdale Witton
Rod Mullinar……………….. Major Charles Bolton
Alan Cassell…………………Lord Horatio Kitchener
Rob Steele………………….. Captain Robertson
Chris Smith………………….Cameron Sergeant
Bruno Knez………………… Reverend H.V.C. Hess
John Pfitzner……………….. Boer Leader
Frank Wilson……………….. Dr Johnson
Michael Procanin……………Visser
Ray Ball……………………..Court Reporter
Wayne Bell…………………. Lieutenant Reed


Director…………………….. Bruce Beresford
Producer……………………. Matthew Carroll
Screenplay………………….. Bruce Beresford
Jonathan Hardy
David Stevens
Novel (The Breaker) by……. Kit Denton
Original Music………………Phil Cunneen
Cinematography……………. Donald McAlpine
Film Editing…………………William M. Anderson
Art Director………………… David Copping
Costume Designer………….. Anna Senior
Makeup…………………….. Julie Lovell
Sound/Sound Designer…….. Gary Wilkins
Production Manager…………Pamela Vanneck

Production………………….. South Australian Film Corporation
Australian Film Commission
7 Network
Pact Production Pty Ltd
Distributors………………….Star Video (Australia)
Belle & Blade Studios (video)
New World Pictures
New World-Quartet (USA)


Bruce Beresford was born in Sydney, Australia, on 16 August 1940 and graduated from the Sydney University in 1962. He served as Film Officer for the British Film Institute Production Board from 1966 – 1971 and as Film Advisor to the Arts Council of Great Britain. Below is a list of films that Bruce has been involved in.

Credit as Director
Evelyn (2002)
Boswell for the Defence (2001)
Bride of the Wind (2001)
Ataturk (2000)
Double Jeopardy (1999)
(aka Doppelmord 2000 Germany)
Sydney: A Story of a City (1999)
Paradise Road (1997)
Last Dance (1996)
Silent Fall (1994)
A Good Man in Africa (1994)
Rich in Love (1992)
Black Robe (1991)
(aka Robe noire 1991 Canada: French title)
Mister Johnson (1990)
Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
Her Alibi (1989)
Aria (1987)
The Fringe Dwellers (1986)
Crimes of the Heart (1986)
King David (1985)
Tender Mercies (1983)
Puberty Blues (1981)
The Club (1980)
(aka Player 1980)
Breaker Morant (1980)
Money Movers (1979)
The Getting of Wisdom (1977)
Don's Party (1976)
Side by Side (1975)
Barry McKenzie Holds His Own (1974)
The Adventures of Barry McKenzie (1972)

Credit as Writer
Paradise Road (1997)
Curse of the Starving Class (1994)
Aria (1987)
The Fringe Dwellers (1986)
Breaker Morant (1980)
Money Movers (1979)
Side by Side (1975)
Barry McKenzie Holds His Own (1974)
The Adventures of Barry McKenzie (1972)

Credit as Producer
Curse of the Starving Class (1994) Executive Producer
A Good Man in Africa (1994)
Barry McKenzie Holds His Own (1974)
Paradigm (1970)
You're Human Like the Rest of Them (1967)

Release Dates

Australia 16 May 1980
USA 16 May 1980
Finland 6 August 1982
Czech Republic 28 February 2000

Released on DVD 29 June 1999

Box Office

Box Office figures were no-where to be found, even on the Internet Movie Database, although there is a general consensus that it was a Box Office hit.

Awards and Nominations

1980 AFI Awards
Best Achievement in Cinematography – Donald McAlpine
Best Achievement in Costume Design – Anna Senior
Best Achievement in Editing – William M. Anderson
Best Achievement in Production Design – David Copping
Best Achievement in Sound – Jeanine Chiavlo
Phil Judd
Gary Wilkins
William Anderson
Best Actor in a Lead Role – Jack Thompson
Best Actor in a Supporting Role – Bryan Brown
Best Director – Bruce Beresford
Best Film – Matthew Carrol

Best Screenplay – Bruce Beresford
Jonathan Hardy
David Stevens

Best Actor in a Lead Role – Edward Woodward
Best Actor in a Supporting Role – Lewis Fitz-Gerald
Charles 'Bud' Tingwell

1980 Cannes Film Festival
Best Supporting Actor – Jack Thompson
Golden Palm – Bruce Beresford

1981 Golden Globes
Best Foreign Film – Australia

1981 Academy Awards
Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Another Medium


There were no interviews that I could find in relation to Breaker Morant, however, there were some interesting interviews with Bruce Beresford where Breaker Morant is mentioned. These can be found at the web site below.


Reviews could be found everywhere, but critical reviews were few and far between. Two of the better ones are listed first while the ones that follow are reviews from fans of the movie.

Data Collection

At first I was a bit overwhelmed by the amount of information on the web for Breaker Morant. Using the Alta Vista search engine, I typed in Breaker Morant, and it came back with 1845 pages found. Unfortunately, as I waded through page after page, I discovered very little in the way of good, critical information about the film. There are numerous fan sites and people who rate Breaker Morant as one of their favourite films, but I was unable to locate much information at the time of the films release. I imagine this has to do with the fact that all the newspapers I search rarely archived beyond 1997 and certainly not as far back as 1980. I was disappointed in Urban Cinefile who although they had the title under their Australian Films section, didn't have a review of the film. The Internet Movie Database was a Godsend and the place where I obtained the bulk of my information. The rest was taken direct from the movie itself. One thing I did notice during my search was the discrepancy with the date of the film – some had 1979 while others had 1980. I could not find this information on the actual film itself so I'm going with and calling it 1980, for the reason that the rest of their information was spot on.

Film Synopsis

From the back jacket of the video.


When they speak of heroes, of villains, of men who look for action, who choose
between honour and revenge, they will tell the true story of an Australian they called
The Breaker, Lieutenant Harry Morant.
It is 1901, South Africa. The British war against the Boers has deteriorated into bitter
guerrilla warfare. A grim precursor of wars to come. A unit of the Bushveldt Carbineers
made up mainly of Australians, is ordered by the British High Command to fight the
Boer on their terms and take no prisoners. Orders that were to prove fatal for
Harry Morant.
This classic Australian motion picture of injustice and the horror of war, has swept the
world to become one of the most acclaimed Australian movies ever made.

My Synopsis

Harry 'Breaker' Morant is an Englishman living in Australia at the end of the 19th Century. When war breaks out in 1899 between Britain and the Boers (descendants of Dutch colonists) in South Africa, Morant signs up for duty. He and the other Australian volunteers are absorbed into the non-regular units of the British army. When it becomes clear that the British 'gentlemanly' way of fighting is not effective against the guerrilla tactics of the Boers, the British army forms a unit called the Bushveldt Carbineers, and commissions them to fight the Boers 'on their own terms'. The unit is made up of mostly Australians, who, in the spirit of 'Australianness', distil bootleg alcohol, call their commanders by their first names, only salute those they like and generally lack the discipline the British soldiers are used to. Acting under orders from his commanders, Morant oversees the execution of Boer prisoners. When it comes to light that a German missionary has been killed, the British agree to court-martial Morant, along with Lieutenant Hancock and Lieutenant Witton, in order to appease the Germans and prevent them from entering the war. In a biased courtroom, with the British looking for a scapegoat, Morant and Hancock are eventually sentenced to death, while Witton gets a commuted sentence of life imprisonment.

The story is told in retrospect with flashbacks to relevant events. It starts out in the courtroom and as evidence is given we are taken back to the event being described, sometimes twice but from a different perspective. This technique works well for this movie. It is done quietly without drawing attention to itself and helps the narrative unroll at a good pace.

The movie makes its stand against the British from the outset. It shows them at formal dinners in grand mansions while 'the colonials' are out winning the war for them. The anti-British sentiment helps define the Australian identity of mateship and masculinity. By using Morant and Hancock as scapegoats, the British proved they were untrustworthy – they were willing to sell out their mates. Morant, although English, proves himself as Australian by refusing to escape when given the chance, not willing to leave his 'mates' behind. The British are continuously shown to be lying. When Lord Kitchener is discussing the case with Major Bolton, the prosecuting attorney, he tells him that Morant and the others 'picked one of their own fellows' to defend them. In truth, Major Thomas is picked for them and primarily for his lack of experience in the courtroom. While Major Bolton has six weeks to prepare his case for the prosecution, Major Thomas arrives the day before the court-martial is due to start, and is refused an ajournment to allow him to prepare properly.

Throughout the court-martial the British have little digs at the Australians. Major Bolton calls Major Thomas 'my learned colonial colleague' and Major Thomas is also told, 'this is a British court-martial, not a back-blocks pub.' The objections brought up by Major Thomas are over-ruled more often than those brought up by the prosecution. Most of the witnesses that could give evidence that would help the defence had been sent to India. At one stage when Lieutenant Colonel Denny says to Lord Kitchener that Major Thomas is putting up an 'unexpectedly good defence' and that two are the court members are showing sympathy towards the Australians, Kitchener replies, 'Can't they be sent to India too?'

Despite a good defence, the British are determined to have their scapegoats and find all three guilty. Throughout the film, Morant, Hancock and Witton face the court-martial together. However, when their sentences are being given to them, they are taken one by one to receive them. Witton is taken first and told that he has been found guilty and sentenced to death; however, Lord Kitchener has seen fit to commute his sentence to a lifetime of penal servitude. Morant and Hancock are both sentenced to death. As Morant walks back past the cells, Witton rushes to the window and yells Harry's name, questioningly. Morant simply says, 'shot tomorrow morning'.

One of the best quotes in the film comes from Major Thomas as he is giving his closing statement to the court. He says, 'the barbarities of war are seldom committed by abnormal men. The tragedy of war is that these horrors are committed by normal men in abnormal situations.'

As Morant and Hancock are about to be taken out to the firing squad, they are asked if they want the padre. Morant says, 'No thank you, I'm a pagan.' When Hancock is asked if he wants the padre he asks Morant what a pagan is. 'It's somebody who doesn't believe there's a divine being dispensing justice to mankind', Morant replies. Hancock turns back to the guard and says, 'No thanks, I'm a pagan too.' Morant requests Matthew 10:36 as his epitaph which reads, 'And a man's foe shall be they of his own household'.

The most quoted line in the movie would be when Morant and Hancock are sitting in their chairs in front of the firing squad and Morant yells, 'Shoot straight you bastards, don't make a mess of it.'

At the end of the movie there is a sentence or two about some of the men involved in the court-martial and what happens to them after. Lieutenant George Witton is returned to England where he serves only three years of his sentence. When he is released he writes a book called 'Scapegoats of the Empire'.

Breaker Morant would be classed as a quality film like those made during the 1970s such as Picnic at Hanging Rock (Weir 1978) and The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (Schepisi 1978). It was critically acclaimed around the world and was a box office success here in Australia. Coming only six years after the Barry McKenzie movies, Bruce Beresford shows a remarkable talent, coming from the crass 'ocker' movies to a wonderful tale of Australian mateship that everyone can relate to.

The fact that information can still be readily found about a movie that is over twenty years old says something about the quality of the film itself and the message it carries. It is a good ambassador for Australian cinema and proof that big budgets and great special effects are not always needed to make a lasting, poignant film.