Morant" is the true story of Lt. Harry "Breaker" Morant (Edward
Woodward) who, with two comrades Lt. Handcock (Bryan Brown) and Lt. Witton (Lewis Fitz-Gerald), is put on
trial for killing prisoners and a German missionary during the Second Boer War.
They become pawns in an unpopular British war.
BACK-STORY: “Breaker Morant” was released in 1980 and was the first of three films made in Australia that marked the arrival of Australian cinema as a force in war movies. The other two films were “Gallipolli” (1981) and “The Lighthorsemen” (1987). The film was directed by Bruce Beresford, has an all-Australian cast, and was shot in Australia. It is based on the play by the same name which tells the story of the court-martial of Harry “Breaker” Morant, a well known warrior/poet. It was a box office success in America and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.
TRIVIA: Wikipedia, imdb, Criterion essay
1. It is based on a play by Kenneth Ross.
2. It was voted Best Picture by the Australian Film Institute.
3. It was one of the first of the Australian New Wave that continued with “Gallipoli” one year later. These war movies, which included “The Lighthorsemen”, were typified by manliness, comradeship in dilemmas, and anti-It
4. Considering its anti-British vibe, it premiered at the Royal Charity Film Premiere in London. Prince Charles attended.
5. The “Rule .303” refers to the .303 caliber bullet used in their rifles.
6. The poem at the end is “Mafeking” by Sir Alfred Austen, a British poet Laurette.
7. Breaker was a reference to a breaker of horses.
8. The Morant poems were: 1. “At the River’s Crossing” – in the jail cell 2. “Westward Ho!” - the night before the execution 3. “Butchered to Make a Dutchman’s Holiday” – in the execution scene. The song he sings was based on his poem “At Last”.
9. It is a good companion to “Paths of Glory” and “King and Country”.
Belle and Blade = 5.0
Brassey’s = 3.0
Video Hound = 5.0
War Movies = 3.8
Military History = #91
Channel 4 = #78
Film Site = yes
101 War Movies = no
Rotten Tomatoes = no
OPINION: I’ll go out on a limb and proclaim that this is the best movie ever made about the Boer War. You get a feel for the war, although looking it up in an encyclopedia will help with the big picture. It also helps if you are familiar with the Vietnam War because you can transpose that war for much of ”Breaker Morant”. The closing speech by Thomas could have been given by Lt. Calley’s lawyer at his My Lai trial.
“Breaker Morant” is one of the great anti-war movies. I recently got into a debate about whether all war movies are anti-war. Realistically, they should be, but actually a lot glorify war without showing any of the seamier side. The themes of prisoner abuse, never-ending guerrilla war, and scape-goating lower echelon soldiers resonate today. I sure hope this movie is being shown at West Point these days! It would not hurt for cadets to be told to focus on the “war corrupts good men” theme. Officers coming out of West Point are in many ways our “Breaker” Morants. It is the second best “soldiers on trial as scape-goats for command decisions” movie. After watching “Breaker Morant”, pair it off with its sister – “Paths of Glory”.
The only problem I have with the movie is if you really think about it, Morant was guilty of war crimes. Before the death of Hunt, he was clearly conflicted about the verbal orders from higher-up to kill prisoners. When he takes over, he did not have to obey those orders even if he thought they were official and it is clearly implied he became vengeance-minded. It is one of the strengths of the movie that even the death of the missionary seems like a railroaded charge when, of course, it was an egregious breech of the rules of war. How many in the audience see it as it is accurately depicted – an assassination of a priest for choosing the wrong side and for potentially informing on a war crime?
This is a great movie. The scenery is beautiful as Australia stands in for the unbroken horizons of the Transvaal. The acting is fantastic. In the courtroom scenes, watch the facial expressions of the actors. You can read a lot from those faces! Woodward is seething, Brown is roguish, Fitz-Gerald is naïve, and Thompson is outraged. Denny (the head of the tribunal) and Kitchener are appropriately hissable.
As a history lesson and a lesson in military ethics, the movie is valuable and should be viewed by a public that is at war in a war similar to the Boer War. Let’s say, Afghanistan. Clearly the film should be mandatory viewing for soldiers involved in a counter-insurgency situation and for the leaders who are fashioning that counter-insurgency policy.