Breaker Morant

DirectorBruce Beresford
StarringEdward Woodward
Stanley Baker
Jack Hawkins
Running Time107 mins

There are two ways to judge this film; as a piece of art or as a piece of history. As a piece of intelligent film making, Breaker Morant is a wonderfully gripping military courtroom drama. Three soldiers fighting in the Boer War are charged with executing unarmed Boer soldiers and for the murder of a German missionary. The film recreates the atmosphere of a military tribunal. When the accused are to be represented by an inexperienced colonial lawyer, they realise that the trial is a sham one and that they are going to be made scape-goats for the terrible deeds being conducted by Kitchener's army toward the Boer population.

The acting by the characters is quite superb. The scenery and period costumes all feel genuine and authentic. The cinematography certainly seems to capture the essence of the trials and tribulations of irregular soldiers fighting in the latter stages of the Boer War. As I said, as a piece of entertainment, you should watch this film.

That brings us to the historical accuracy of the film. In many ways, this film is to Australian nationalism as 'Braveheart' is to Scottish nationalism: A highly romanticised view looking through rose-tinted glasses and not entirely based in the realms of truth and accuracy. The film is based on a true story; that much is true. Unfortunately, it was based on the account of one of the accused whose book was entitled 'Scape-goats of Empire'. Now, for reports of the actual trial, it is hard to think of a more biased source to base your work on. The man was found guilty after all. Independent research agrees with the contemporary view point that Morant was little more than a thug who killed and looted on numerous occasions. His murder of six prisoners was only one of a number of dreadful deeds committed by him and his troops in South Africa. In many ways, Morant was indeed a trend setter for how wars would be fought in the late Twentieth Century - with little regard being paid to the niceties of war. He was one of the first soldiers to face the new style and frustrations of dealing with guerilla tactics. He stooped to the level of the guerillas he was fighting and often fell below even their standards of decency. Of his guilt and his conduct, there can be little doubt.

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by Stephen Luscombe