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Breaker Morant (1980)
"'Breaker' Morant" (original title)

 -  Drama | History | War  -  3 July 1980 (Australia)
7.9
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Ratings: 7.9/10 from 9,286 users  
Reviews: 85 user | 32 critic

Three Australian lieutenants are court martialed for executing prisoners as a way of deflecting attention from war crimes committed by their superior officers.

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Title: Breaker Morant (1980)

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Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 14 wins & 5 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
...
...
...
Capt. Alfred Taylor
...
Charles 'Bud' Tingwell ...
Lt. Col. Denny (as Charles Tingwell)
Terence Donovan ...
Capt. Simon Hunt
Vincent Ball ...
Col. Ian 'Johnny' Hamilton
Ray Meagher ...
Sgt. Maj. Drummond
...
Cpl. Sharp
Russell Kiefel ...
Christiaan Botha
Lewis Fitz-Gerald ...
Lt. George Ramsdale Witton
Rod Mullinar ...
Maj. Charles Bolton
Alan Cassell ...
Rob Steele ...
Capt. Robertson
Chris Smith ...
Sgt. Cameron
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Storyline

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 <kaspsev@dorit.ihi.ku.dk>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

They were ordered to "take no prisoners" See more »

Genres:

Drama | History | War

Certificate:

PG | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

 »
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Details

Country:

Language:

|

Release Date:

3 July 1980 (Australia)  »

Also Known As:

Breaker Morant  »

Box Office

Budget:

AUD 650,000 (estimated)
 »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Color:

(Eastmancolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

David Stratton in his book 'The Last New Wave' said of this film that director Bruce Beresford ". . . added a great more material to the [Kenneth G. Ross source] play after extensive research into Morant's story, both in Australia and at the Army Museum in London. And in London he met Welsh actor Kenneth Griffith who turned out to be an authority on the Boer War with a large file on Morant which provided additional material for the screenplay." See more »

Goofs

During the Morant trial, a military band is heard playing Edward Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1." The march was premiered in England in October 1901, and it is very unlikely that an arrangement for military band was available less than two months later when the trial took place. It wasn't until later in 1902 that the words "Land of Hope and Glory" became permanently wedded to the tune. See more »

Quotes

George Wittow: [Saying his goodbyes to Morant and Handcock] Harry! Peter!
Peter Handcock: See you in hell, mate!
Harry Morant: [Gripping George's hand] Goodbye, George.
George Wittow: [Sobbing] Why did they do this to us, Harry? Why?
Harry Morant: They have to apologize for their damned war. They're trying to end it now, so they need scapegoats.
George Wittow: [Being dragged away by prison guards] HARRY! PETER!
Harry Morant: George! We're scapegoats to the bloody empire!
George Wittow: [Being led past the soldiers preparing their rifles for Morant and Handcock's firing squad] Jesus...
See more »

Crazy Credits

Introducing Lewis Fitz-Gerald as George Witton See more »

Connections

Featured in The 100 Greatest War Films (2005) See more »

Soundtracks

The British Grenadiers
Traditional - British
Arranged by Eric Cook and his Orchestra
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

 
Magnificent, thought-provoking (albeit depressing) courtroom drama
16 September 2003 | by (King Co., WA, United States) – See all my reviews

"'Breaker' Morant" is based on true events, and deals with the court-martial of three subalterns during the closing stages of the Second Boer War (1899-1902). The officers are members of a mostly Australian unit called the Bushveldt Carbineers, created to fight the Boer commandos (in the original sense of the word) by employing their own tactics against them. The charges against them are that they committed murder by summarily executing captured Boers. That they have done so in not in question, but in their defence they argue that they were acting in accordance with standing orders, not least because the operational nature of the Carbineers would be hampered by having to keep prisoners under guard. The British command is keen to distance itself from this claim for various reasons; it might galvanise Boer resistance, and give Germany an excuse to provide material support to the Boers (thus extending a war which was already a serious drain on the British Empire's resources), and (though this is left unsaid in the film) cause discontent about the conduct of the war in those parts of the Empire supplying the manpower for the war, i.e. Britain, Australia and Canada. Instead, the British command clearly wishes to portray the three protagonists as "rogue elements" and sacrifice them for the sake of political expediency.

"'Breaker' Morant" is about injustice, hypocrisy and incomprehension. The injustice is not that lieutenants Morant, Hancock and Witton are innocent of the charges brought against them--they're not. The Second Convention of The Hague may have been only two years old at the time, but the custom of not killing prisoners was well-established long before, and at no point do we see any of the protagonists object to the standing orders. The injustice lies in the fact that the body which is trying them for their crimes--the British army--is the very body which ordered them to commit these crimes in the first place.

The incomprehension is that of the home front; in a brief flashback of Witton's relatives giving a going-away party, we see the expectation among the civilians that "our boys will knock 'em for six" but behave like gentlemen while doing so. Brief as the scene is, it is plain that the civilians understand only in the most abstract way, if they understand at all, that war is a messy business in which winning requires killing people in unpleasant ways. As Major Thomas, the protagonists' defence counsel, comments, "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." While I can agree with this observation, it does not alter the fact that the acts committed by the protagonists were of such a nature as to be have been formally outlawed, even within the context of war, two years previously.

Another trope, which occurs in this film but repeated in every war of the 20th century, is that "only a combat soldier can judge another combat soldier." As it happens, I am a former soldier (who never saw combat) who later helped prosecute war criminals while a civilian; I think this line is unadulterated bullsh*t. That said, this opinion comes with a caveat, which is that those civilians and non-combat soldiers who would pass judgement should understand that expecting soldiers to both fight cleanly and to win may be (and often are) mutually exclusive.

Of course, standards have changed somewhat since 1901; when Morant remarks "it's a new kind of war, George; it's a new war for a new century," the difference he indicates is that it is the first time white men visit atrocities upon each other which both had been quite content to inflict upon non-whites for most of the previous century. At one point in the film, Lt. Hancock pulls a dum-dum round from a Boer's ammunition pouch as an indication of the Boers' disregard for the laws of war. However, a (somewhat apocryphal) story from the opening stages of the Boer War (not in the film) tells of how the Boers lodged a protest with the British after finding dum-dum rounds in a killed British soldier's ammunition pouch; the British reportedly apologised profusely, explaining that the soldier had been issued these rounds in error, as these were intended only for use against blacks. The Boers accepted this explanation without further complaint.

But however you may feel about the politics underlying this film, it is a joy to watch. The quality of the production values is top notch, and had I not been familiar with Edward Woodward and Bryan Brown, I could have believed this film was made this year, rather than in 1980. The directing and acting are also superb. At the heart of this is the script, which carried no dead weight of unnecessary scenes; likely, this is due to the fact that it was originally written (and written well) for the stage. The story might easily be transposed to any number of conflicts since the Second Boer War in which military victory demands taking nasty measures; it could easily be rewritten to Iraq in 2003 ("Well, Peter, this is what comes of empire-building."), and for that reason it deserves more recognition than it's received. Magnificent; see it ASAP.


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