The Guns at Batasi

DirectorJohn Guillerman
StarringRichard Attenborough
Jack Hawkins
Mia Farrow

This is a film that illustrates some of the complexities and difficulties that faced the British Army as they were forced to retreat from the empire. This particular film was set in an unspecified African colony at the beginning of the 1960's. The complexities refer to the divided loyalties of the African troops as they are forced to choose between competing new local governments. Caught up in the middle of these political uncertainties are a small group of British Non-Commisioned Officers. They were in command of the African regiment that mutinies on the
night of their independence from the British. The film revolves around the powerful character of the Regimental Sergeant Major played by Richard Attenborough. He plays the arch-typical British NCO; the stalwarts and backbone of the British Army for a century and more. His world is a very black and white one that revolves around the concepts of honour and discipline. Unfortunately, these concepts cause more problems than solutions in the murky world of post-independce Africa. The film has a simple but effective format. It is carried by the performances of the main characters who all play stereotypical roles but surprisingly believable ones for all that. The film is also worth watching in order to see the complex views that the British held about the Africans who were replacing them: swinging from simplistic racism to paternalism to outright equality. At the end of the day, the NCO's were only concerned with their own strict understanding of a meritocracy where soldiers who obey orders are better than those who do not; whatever the colour of their skin. This film is an interesting film that throws light on a number of what were then contemporary attitudes and ideas. The film is not exactly a classic in its field and is a little simplistic in places, but it did prove to be strangely prophetic on a number of counts as African colony after colony gave way to military dictatorships. This films is a valuable one to watch in order to get some idea of the processes involved in decolonisation.


Media | Silver Screen

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by Stephen Luscombe