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During the Boer War, three Australian lieutenants are on trial for shooting Boer prisoners. Though they acted under orders, they are being used as scapegoats by the General Staff, who hopes to distance themselves from the irregular practices of the war. The trial does not progress as smoothly as expected by the General Staff, as the defence puts up a strong fight in the courtroom. Written by
Kasper Sevaj <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The name of the song sung by the young Boer was 'Sarie Marais' (it is also known as 'My Sarie Marais'). Phonetically, the title is pronounced "May Sah-ree Mah-reh". It is a traditional Afrikaans folk song thought to have been first heard during one of the two Anglo-Boer Wars. The song is heard sung in this film by John Pfitzner who plays a Boer leader. See more »
The band plays an excerpt from Franz Lehár's The Merry Widow, which premiered three years after the trial took place. See more »
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The question raised in this film is the same as that raised in the Nuremberg trials following World War II and at the trial of Lt. William Calley during the Vietnam War, namely should a soldier be punished for following orders?
The answer to that question depends not only on what the orders were--that is, were they legitimate orders consistent with the "rules of war"--but also on who is asking the question and why they are asking it. After WWII the Allies asked the question and the reason they asked it was because so many people were horrified by Nazi atrocities and wanted someone to punish. If the Axis powers had somehow won the war they might have tried US President Harry S Truman and others for the atomic bombings of the Japanese cities, or indeed for the fire bombings of Dresden. In Vietnam we asked the question of ourselves during the war because our government and military were being accused both at home and abroad of waging a unjustified war and going against our own value system.
Here the story goes back to the Boer War a hundred years ago in South Africa, as the British command for political reasons puts Lt. Breaker Morant, an Australian soldier fighting with the British forces, and two of his fellow Bushveldt Carbineers on trial for shooting Boer prisoners. Their defense is the same as the Nazi soldiers and that of Lt. Calley: they were just following orders.
The superb direction by Bruce Beresford (from the play by Kenneth Ross) makes us identify with Morant (Edward Woodward), Lt. Peter Handcock (Bryan Brown) and the third soldier because we can see that the horrors of war pervert the usual logic of right and wrong so completely that we can appreciate what drove them to do what they did. Jack Thompson, playing defense attorney Major J. F. Thomas, expresses this when he tells the court that war changes us and that therefore the usual rules of conduct no longer apply. Incidentally this film is based on actual events.
Regardless of which side of this very vexing question you come down on, I can promise you will enjoy this outstanding film, winner of 10 Australian Film Institute Awards. In the annuals of war films and courtroom dramas this ranks with the best of them.
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