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The story of a group of young Australian men who leave their various backgrounds behind and sign up to join the ANZACs in World War I. They are sent to Gallipoli, where they encounter the resolute Turkish army whose ally Germany had organized the defenses along the peninsula, Kemal Ataturk comes to the fore during this campaign. Written by
Murray Chapman <email@example.com>
A stranger seeing the title Gallipoli might think one was going to view a kind of docudrama along the lines of The Longest Day. That's certainly a film waiting to be made. Instead one's going to see the friendship of two sprinters, Mark Lee and Mel Gibson, and how they join the Australian Army which sent a lot of its best and brightest to fight in a faraway war in Europe which really Australia had nothing to do with.
Australia was a nation at that point for only 14 years in 1915. The various colonies and the great unsettled middle united and achieved independence from Great Britain in 1901. It had developed no real traditions as a nation up to that point. The USA had some similar growth pangs, many historians hold that we didn't become a nation really until the end of the Civil War.
The Aussie fascination with sports is shown here. Part of the recent frontier tradition is the explanation usually given. Mark Lee is a sprinter, training to represent Australia in the Olympics to come. Mel Gibson is also a sprinter, but takes a rather more casual attitude towards it. Reference is made to Harry Lascelles who was an Australian track star of the period. In fact Lee when he enlists adopts that as a last name and lies about his age. In Australia sports stars aren't just athletes with inflated egos and paychecks like they are in America. From Harry Lascelles, to Rod Laver, to Murray Rose, right down to Ian Thorpe, these people are national icons.
Gibson and Lee's army service and the Gallipoli campaign only occupy a third of the film. In the next World War, Winston Churchill who had a big hand in conceiving this operation called the landings at Anzio a "beached whale". The difference there though was that eventually the Allied Armies did hook up with the Anzio beachhead in a few months. You had a similar beached whale at ANZAC cove on the Gallipoli peninsula with Aussie and Kiwi troops from the ANZAC countries with these troops established on a beachhead, but unable to move in any direction.
The idea behind Gallipoli was to seize it and march forward and seize control of the straights of the Dardenelles and Bosporus so supplies to Russia would get through and knock the Ottoman Empire out of the war. To rescue this operation which was in trouble, the Allied commander Sir Ian Hamilton landed another army at Suvla Bay on the other side of the peninsula. Those two armies never hooked up and now there were two beached whales on Gallipoli and no other Allied Army looking to hook up with them.
It's this particular action and what happens to Gibson and Lee as two of the thousands still stuck at ANZAC cove that is the heart of the story.
Mel Gibson of course became an international star shortly. I'm surprised Mark Lee didn't though he's had a successful career in Australia. In fact I was most impressed by the touching performance he delivers here.
All the young men who died in that operation who bonded together on those beachheads and those who survived took back a national identity with them. No one was from Victoria, New South Wales, Western Territory etc. they were all Aussies now, but it was a terrible price. And in a war that really had nothing to do with Australia. That fact entered into the thinking in Australia and New Zealand come the second war when there was very much a threat to the continent/island nation's very existence. Bitter lessons from Gallipoli impressed on that generation of Australia's best and brightest.
Though a Longest Day type film about Gallipoli should be made, this one will do quite nicely. I recommend it highly, especially for us Yanks who want to know what makes a great nation tick.
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