Breaker Morant (1980) - Plot Summary Poster


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

  • 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.

  • Late 1901, South Africa. Lieutenants Harry "Breaker" Morant, Peter Handcock and George Witton are senior officers of the Bushveldt Carbineers, part of the Australian Army under the command of the British Army in the Boer War. The Carbineers' reason for being is largely to battle the loose collection of Boer guerrillas who are not part of the Boer army, but who are fighting against the British military regardless. The three are facing a collective court martial, for Morant allegedly ordering, as the officer in charge, the execution of six Boer prisoners, Witton allegedly killing one of those six before they were to be executed, and Handcock's alleged associated killing of a German missionary, Reverend Daniel Heese. Morant and Witton admit to their killings, but Morant, an ex-pat Brit with a poetic streak, claims that it was on an order issued indirectly by Lord Kitchener through his friend and former commanding officer, now deceased Captain Simon Hunt, and Witton, the young somewhat naive officer, claims he killed in self-defense as the prisoner charged him. And the charge against Handcock, the brash cocky one, is all circumstantial as there are no eyewitnesses. In reality, all charges were issued by Kitchener, using the three as scapegoats in a measure of political expediency to end the war, not caring that convictions could and probably will lead to sentences of execution. The British military stacking the decks against the three is further demonstrated by prosecutor Captain Alfred Taylor having six weeks to prepare, while defense attorney Major J.F. Thomas only having one day, in addition to Thomas having no trial experience, let alone no court martial experience. Regardless, a defiant Thomas vows to find out the truth and to defend his clients to the best of his abilities, which is better than most expect.



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