The Cepia Club Blog

The Cepia Club Blog: The Cepia Club believes individual awareness and activism can lead to a peaceful and prosperous world. This blog contains the pertinent literature, both creative and non-fiction, produced by the Cepiaclub Director and its associates.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Review of: Breaker Morant.

Review of: Breaker Morant. Starring; Edward Woodward & Brian Brown. Directed by: Bruce Beresford. Adapted from the Stage Play written by Kenneth Ross. 1980. (Australian).

At the beginning of this 1980 “hidden” Australian film classic, Lieutenant Harry “Breaker” Morant, an Australian colonial volunteer in the British Army, testifies on the circumstances of the death of his friend, Captain Hunt. The information (the “intelligence”) on a group of Boer guerillas was wrong or deliberately planted. There were many, not few. They were not weary, tired and resting after recent raids against the British Empire in Southern Africa. Instead, they waited in ambush for Captain Hunt’s patrol out to destroy the “Commando.” Captain Hunt is shot down, his body later found by Lt. Morant’s patrol out avenge him. Hunt had been mutilated while still alive, his body naked of clothes.

The Boers, Dutch settlers in Southern Africa who emigrated to the “veldt” during the time of Napoleonic Wars, were simple, tough, self-sufficient farmers; ranchers, expert horseman, skilled at survival on the vast grasslands without trees and little water. The Boers also had the instincts of protecting their homes, their lands, and their liberties, for their families on isolated farms and small villages. During Great Britain’s war to subdue these stubborn farmers, although mostly ill-equipped, ill-supplied, and often hungry, the few thousand Boer insurgents formed their militia units, called “Commandos,” for ad hoc defense, or raids, against a British imperial army of one-half million men struggling to conquer them.

In this Boer War, which took place in the last two years of the 19th Century and the first few of the Twentieth, the Boers fought the British with hit and run attacks, the small-sized irregular formations, using mobility, and supported with supplies and food, and most importantly, with information, by their families, friends and neighbors. To finally “win” this war, secure the rich farm and ranch land, own the gold and diamond mines, and garrison the ports to its distant empire in the Indian Ocean, the British Army resorted to herding the Boer families into concentration camps, burning the farms, building forts, stringing thousands of yards of barbed wire, and hunting down the near-starving Commandos. In the end, the Boers got home-rule, a measure of independence within the empire. Britain could claim a “victory.” But there had to be scapegoats to account for the atrocities. Lambs had to be sacrificed.

Enter Harry Morant (played by Edward Woodward, of Tv’s The Equalizer fame), a well-known, real-life poet (this movie is largely a true story, by the way), who volunteered perhaps for adventure, honor, or boredom, but who was engaged to Captain Hunt’s sister. On trial with Morant for three counts of murder is Peter Hancock (Brian Brown who later made the movie F/X), who joined because the army paid wages during an Australian economic depression. Hancock has a wife and child to support. Also, defending his life in docket, the young George Witto naively volunteered for the Army to “see the world.” He is intoxicated with the romance of empire. He believes in it--the empire, the war, the whole ungodly thing.

In Morant’s words, this is “ a new kind of war, George. A new war for a new century.” It was the barbarities of this frustrating struggle that the plot of Breaker Morant develops. Did Morant’s understanding of Captain Hunt’s order to shoot Boer prisoners come from Morant who might lie to save his life, from Hunt on his own volition, or from a personal order delivered to Hunt by the Commander-in-Chief, Lord Kitchener? As Hunt tells Morant, in one of the flash-back scenes, “No prisoners, the gentleman’s war is over.” The court martial proceeds, and the film editing technique of well-developed story by flash-back and recall plays in this high drama with a mix of action and revealing dialogue. Such as the rules of war? “Rule .303.”

The dialogue driven court-room scenes, where major parts of the action are replayed, captures with no surprise the absurdities of the charges. All the defense witnesses have been “transferred” to India. Lord Kitchener sends an aide to testify instead of himself. Who gave the orders? That is the indictment of the court martial. But ultimately, who followed them? And why? Those two questions are the indictment of the movie against war fought against common people and amongst them. Did Morant exceed the boundaries of morality in an immoral war, fought without pity and, in the end, without rules or justice? If it was a conflict between immoral empire and the a-moral Boers who conquered Southern Africa from others, is anyone right? It probably doesn’t matter.

But scapegoats there must be for this war that took place over a hundred years ago. A movie buff need not know more than the background provided here on the actual history of the Boer War to enjoy this magnificent film. And, as mentioned, “Breaker” Morant was a real poet, and so this is a “real” story, whether in fiction or in fact. The drama is as old and as true as Sophocles. The ending is as poetically true as the verdict itself.