Part one: Film Information
Edward Woodward Lieutenant Harry 'Breaker' Morant
Jack Thompson Major J.F. Thomas
John Waters Captain Alfred Taylor
Bryan Brown Lieutenant Peter Hancock
Charles 'Bud' Tingwell Lieutenant Colonel Denny
Terence Donovan Captain Simon Hunt
Vincent Ball Colonel Ian (johnny)Hamilton
Ray Meagher Sergeant Major Drummond
Lewis Fitzgerald Lieutenant George Ramsdale Witton
Chris Haywood Corporal Sharp
Russell Kiefel Christiaan Botha
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 Commander
Frank Wilson Dr Johnson
Micheal Procanin Visser
Wayne Bell Lieutenant Reed
Bridget Cornish Hunts Sister
Dick Henderson Captain Nicholson
Barbara West Mrs Vanderberg
Judy Dick Mrs Shiels
Norm Curren Boer Singer
Director Bruce Beresford
Producer Matthew Carroll
Cinematography Donald McAlpine
Music Phil Cuneen
Production Designer David Copping
Production Manager Pamela Vanneck
Camera operator Peter Mass
Editing William Anderson
Art Director David Copping
Sound Gary wilkins
Costume Designer Anna Senior
Screenplay Bruce Beresford
Production: South Australian Film Corporation
Australian Film Corporation
Pact Production Pty Ltd
Release Dates: Australia 16 May 1980
USA 16 May 1980
UK 12 nov 1980
Finland 6 August 1982
Sth Africa 14 Feb 1985
Distribution: Australia: Roadshow and Star Video
USA: New World Pictures/Quartet
Breaker Morant was a Box office success grossing $4,735,000 in Australia and
was quite successful in the US where it grossed $7,142,857.
Australian Screen Education 29 winter 2001. Breaker Morant
Mark Enders pp 192 - 195
Breaking the Rules. The West Australian. Saturday 6th March Weekend Section
Gregg Ross pp 58 - 41
Give The Man a Break: Breaker Morant and a matter of justice.
The Sunday Times, 14th March 2004 News Review. Nick Bleszynski pp 41 - 43
these two newspaper articles do not directly deal with the film but are connected through the travesty of justice that was the trial and the film is a frequent refence point in relation to how accurate it was to the true life events.
Blesynski Nick; Shoot Straight You Bastards. The Killing of Breaker Morant 2003
this book deals with the whole story of Breaker Morant and the Bushveldt Carbineers in extreme Detail and outlines the trail, subsequent execution and proves how accurate the screenplay and characters actually were.
the online presence of this film online was huge. The internet was where I did most of my research and therefore articles, interviews and essays purely based on the film were hard to find pre mid 90's. ( the Breaker Morant story is a military and political controversy which is still being debated today. There is quite a large amount of information regarding the man himself, his poetry and lifetime antics.)
there were many online reviews and critical reviews. Many interestingly from foreigners, mainly Americans and Central Europeans who held the film in high regard. Especially with its relevance to the more modern conflicts which involve guerrilla warfare such as the Vietnam War and the current situation in Iraq.
I was unable to find any online interviews with any of the crew where Breaker Morant was the sole subject. Bruce Beresford and the Producer did have some interesting comments but nothing really substantial. Some of the cast members have fond memories and recollections of the film but no substantial interviews regarding this film solely. The Internet movie Database was very helpful as well as the Australian Film corporation website for box office figures and how it rated at its time of release in relation to other Australian box office successes. Here are some of the websites which were helpful and insightful.
I found that international websites had more of a presence of this film than websites originating in Australia. The movie is more critically acclaimed today by an overseas contingent of reviewers and audiences.
Breaker Morant swept the 1980 Australian Film Institution awards winning ten categories.
Best Film Matthew Carrol
Best Director Bruce Beresford
Best Screenplay Bruce Beresford
Best actor in a lead role Jack Tompson
Best actor in a supporting role Bryan Brown
Best Achievement in Cinematography Donald Mcalpine
Best Achievement in Costume Design Anna Senior
Best Achievement in Sound Jeanine Chiavlo
Best Achievement in Production Design David Copping
Best Achievement in Editing William M Anderson
Breaker Morant was also nominated for the following.
Best Actor in a lead role Edward Woodward
Best Actor in a supporting role Lewis Fitzgerald
Charles 'Bud' Tingwell
1981 Academy awards
nominated for best adapted screenplay based on a stage production
1981 Golden Globes
Nominated for Best foreign Film.
1980 Cannes Film Festival
Jack Thompson won Best Supporting actor and Bruce Beresford was nominated for the Golden Palm Award.
Part Two: Film Synopsis and Review
The film takes place near the end of the Boer War in South Africa 1899 - 1902. The Boer war was fought between English forces and the Dutch South African Boer's (Afrikaans Dutch for “farmers”) over control of various parts of South Africa. The Boers fight using non conventional Guerrilla methods of warfare such as hit and run sabotage and suprise attacks behind enemy lines. This is the first time in which this type of fighting has been encountered in warfare so the English create a special fighting unit called the Bushveldt Carbineers to fight the Boers at their own irregular tactics. Commanded by Captain Simon Hunt (Terence Donovan) and mostly manned by Australian Volunteers famed for their skill with horses and outdoor survival. After a series of controversial events which follow Captain Hunts death and mutilation in a Boer ambush three Carbineers are charged with murder - Lieutenant Harry 'Breaker' Morant (Edward Woodward), Lieutenant Peter Handcock (Bryan Brown) and Lieutenant George Witton ( Lewis Fitzgerald). The three men are accused of murdering captured Boers and a German Missionary who may have witness the men being shot. The English who want an end to the war and no reason for Germany to enter it use the trio as scapegoats. Major J.F. Thomas (Jack Thompson) is an inexperienced but as it turns out really determined country lawyer who fights for the three defendants proving that there were orders given to kill prisoners, but to no avail. The three soldiers are made into political pawns and the trail is far from just.
BREAKER MORANT is a film which along with GALIPOLLI deals with the tragic events from Australia's military history. Basically where Australians paid the price for being loyal to their Sovereign the British Empire. Its about Australia finding its own separate identity from a English dominated past. At the same time its Ironic as they are fighting the colonists of another British colony. The Boers in a country very similar in environment to that of Australia. The film was shot in South Australia but the terrain is distinctly similar to that of Northern South Africa where the film is based. The film does not allow you to take sides as on one hand you have the English and their dastardly ways and on the other you have the Racist redneck Boer commandoes.it kind of makes you see that whatever perspective you look at there are no good or bad,brutal or humane people in War and no one is immune from its evils. There's Just people trying to do their jobs and fight for what they think is right whether it be your homeland or your king. It can be said that BREAKER MORANT to a small extent is a patriotic and “Pommy Bashing” film because of the feeling of resentment towards the English through all their hypocrisy, lies and court and jury fixing. Because its seen as a good cause to the British who control the “Kangaroo Court” and tend to see the Australians throughout the movie as undisciplined hooligans. you are left with a bitter aftertaste but the film is more complex than this and raises many more issues which are still prevalent today. Issues such as politics, morality and war, where those in power are willing to sacrifice people for their own cause and whether or not men in combat should be judged by civilian rules. Captain Taylor in the film makes the comment “this is guerrilla war not a debutante's ball. There are no rules here”.war is ruthless and lawless. “like the line in the movie apocalypse now :charging a man with murder in this place is like handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500”.
Although the film is biased towards the Australians it doesn't make Hancock and Morant out to be saints, they are neither heroes nor anti heroes and are aware that in this new era of war new rules are needed to combat the enemy. They are not innocent of their crimes and even though they were following orders to kill prisoners some were carried out with malice and in revenge. They are good soldiers who seem to do their job but don't have any real sense of loyalty or patriotism for England and see it as a way to make a living. This is highlighted when Witton asks Morant if he believes in the empire to which Morant asks the rhetorical question “do I George” as he throws his shaving water into the dirt as if symbolized the empire.The English aren't simply portrayed as outright villians either. Lord Kitchener makes the statement that “ the war could be ended and the lives of potential thousands could be saved at the sacrifice of three soldiers” this is true if you are dealing with nameless martyrs but its not the case and never is as Colonel Hamilton points out to Kitchener that. “the Australians would beg to differ”. the whole film is full of immoral acts and characters. Just about the only true hero in the film is Major Thomas. He is the only morally just person trying to do the right thing in the film and mounts a good defense for the three protagonists against overwhelming odds. Witton is the victim in this movie always believing that what he is doing is fighting a war for the honourable British.
This is a classically Australian film in that it uses all the elements which are a trademark of Australian cinema at the time. The story ending in a more than often negative way and similar in location to the way it began. The opening scene shows the band playing the same song that Edward Woodward sings at the end. There is the last shot of the musical rotunda empty and lifeless where it has served as a kind of motif throughout as perhaps a metaphor for their lives.
Australianess elements such as Mateship are brought to light when Morant Refuses Captain Taylors offer of escape. He wont leave his mates. Continuing ,Larrakinism and wise cracks in the face of terrible adversity(mainly from Handcock) is also another national classic australian national identity “myth” . Extreme bravery and competent skills in horsmanship and the ability to live off the land. Hancock even seems to mock the British in death as they battle to get his body into the coffin.
Thjs film is full of irony. Especially where the three protagonists are asked to help defend against a boer attack. When they have repelled the Boers they are put back in their cells and in the next scene are being tried for killing. It shows how stupid it is to try theme for murder when they are soldiers who are supposed to kill. Also the film had a distinct lack of music or score that could add to its dramatic effect. There was a little bemusing classical brass music but only three songs were played. The opening and closing song, God Save the King and the Boer love song that was also sung by the Boer singer at the dinner table, all there for ironic purpose. mostly it was Morants poetry that was well placed and gave semi ironic and relevant commentary on the events unfolding. The military and anal marching of the British also adds to effect to this.
BREAKER MORANT was really well written and directed. It excels in narrative script and cinematography. Donald McAlpine creates great effect with his vast sunrises so similar to South Africa its unreal. Believe me I was born there. His in the field shots show distance, coldness and loneliness. Bruce Beresford has told a great story and brought it to life using ,flashbacks, good pacing and creating believable characters. The Acting was outstanding and make the characters human. Woodward is great as the poetic, war weary, fiery Morant, Brown as the high energy, classic joking larrikin Handcock and Thompson as the strong willed lawyer Major Thomas.
The most metaphorical line of the film is its last. Morant echoes “shoot straight you bastards! Don't make a mess of it”. which in colloquial Australian means “Tell the truth”
this is an anti war film. Men are casualties of war which is begun and finished for political purposes. And the current situation in Iraq and previously Vietnam show that we will never learn from history or our mistakes.
BREAKER MORANT was one of the most critically acclaimed movies for its time. It swept all before it at the Australian Film awards not taking out the female lead and supporting roles because of lack of in the film. It was a huge success and even though Australian was not as quirky as some Aussie films were which international audiences found it hard to relate to. it was the beginning of a really good period for Australian cinema in which films such as MAD MAX , GALIPOLLI were made and made the world take notice of our interesting and different, budget but quality approach to films. BREAKER MORANTSuptake when it was released did create an increased interest in the events that the story was based on. (According to court writings much of the speech in the courtroom was extremely accurate. Especially Major Thomas's well put summary at the end) there were two books written about the events and the film was adapted from a play by Kenneth Ross. There has always been some debate on the Breaker Morant subject. It was well received in the US and did fairly well at the box office. I wouldnt say it put Ausrtralia on the film map but it made some sit up and notice that big budgets and money cant beat raw filmaking talent. It did launch Bruce Beresfords career. Today it still is a prevalent film. Although perhaps lost in the crazy wilderness of movies we are confronted today it is undoubtedly one of the finest critically acclaimed Australian productions ever made. Many of the reviews that I found regarding the movie were from foreigners who were big collectors of “anti war “cinema and they rated this as one of the finest.
BREAKER MORANT sits in the archives of Australian film as a classic movie with a resounding message that can still be heard and has relevance today. Although possibly it is not a household name in film circles and relatively unknown to youth. It is the sort of film that from the cover does looks boring and lacks today's slickness but once you start watching is intriguing and compelling. Information was not hard to find on it but you had to know where to look on the net. Talking to people under twenty and no one has a clue about it even those who know something about film. Many youngsters know of mad max because of its cult status as a violent, petrol headed vigilante adventure. Breaker is not this sort of film but in my mind greater! as it is simple, smart, and uses good acting /characterization and good filmaking technique to portray a powerful narrative and message. This film is the source of a new debate as to whether the Australian Government should get the verdict scrapped and Morant and Handcocks names cleared and put in to the rubbish bin that is history. Now you don't see too many films that are as poignant as that…