Breaker Morant


1h 46m 1980
Breaker Morant

Brief Synopsis

When his commanding officers make a mistake, an Australian soldier faces court martial.

Film Details

Also Known As
Héros ou salopards
MPAA Rating
Genre
Drama
Historical
War
Legal
Release Date
1980

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 46m

Synopsis

During the Boer War three Australian officers are courtmartialled for murdering prisoners.

Crew

William Anderson

Sound Editor

Alison Barrett

Casting

Bruce Beresford

Screenplay

Fran Burke

Titles

Brian Burns

Other

David Burr

Other

Lee Carey

Carpenter

Matt Carroll

Producer

Jeanine Chialvo

Assistant Editor

David Copping

Production Designer

David Copping

Art Director

Phil Cunneen

Music Arranger

James Currie

Boom Operator

Jenny Day

Location Manager

Ruth De La Lande

Wardrobe Assistant

Kit Denton

Other

Kevin Duggan Qc

Technical Advisor

Mark Egerton

Assistant Director

Ross Erickson

Key Grip

Monte Fieguth

Special Effects

Glen Finch

Carpenter

Mike Giddens

Photography

Stan Green

Technical Advisor

Jonathan Hardy

Screenplay

Heath Harris

Stunts

Heath Harris

Stunt Coordinator

Phil Haywood

Sound

Dennis Hunt

Stunts

Moya Iceton

Assistant

Ken James

On-Set Dresser

Phil Judd

Sound

Catherine Lamey

Hair

Harold Lander

Story By

Peter Langveldt

Technical Advisor

Toivo Lember

Assistant Director

Judy Lovell

Makeup

Donald M. Mcalpine

Director Of Photography

Jenny Miles

Production Assistant

H H Morant

Song

Robin Morgan

Grip

Peter Moss

Camera Operator

Catherine Murphy

Assistant Editor

Chris Murray

Special Effects

Jim Parsons

Liaison

John Pfitzner

Song Performer

Herbert Pinter

Construction

Peter Richards

Photography

Kenneth Ross

Play As Source Material

Anna Senior

Costume Designer

Tony Smart

Stunts

Greg Smith

Stunts

Simon Smith

Other

David Stevens

Screenplay

Ralph Storey

Assistant Director

Peter Templeton

Carpenter

Pamela Vanneck

Production Manager

Gary Wilkins

Sound

Christopher Williams

Assistant Director

Colin Williams

Best Boy

Bill Willoughby

Stunts

Edward Woodward

Song Performer

Rob Young

Gaffer

Film Details

Also Known As
Héros ou salopards
MPAA Rating
Genre
Drama
Historical
War
Legal
Release Date
1980

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 46m

Award Nominations

Best Adapted Screenplay

1980

Articles

Breaker Morant


Based on a true story from the Boer War in South Africa (1899-1902), Breaker Morant (1979) was an unexpected hit that helped usher in the spate of commercially successful and critically acclaimed Australian films that took the U.S. and the world by storm in the early 1980s. Made for only $800,000, this drama about the extraordinary and tragic circumstances faced by men at war struck a chord with audiences, especially in an America that had recently come out of the Viet Nam war. The film racked up several Australian Film Institute Awards, as well as many nominations in other countries, opening up a wealth of opportunities for director Bruce Beresford. He became one of the hot new directors from Down Under and went on to direct such hit films in the U.S. as Tender Mercies (1983), which netted Beresford the Golden Palm at Cannes, an Oscar and the Golden Globe for Best Actor (Robert Duvall), and Driving Miss Daisy (1989), an Academy Award winner for Best Picture, Best Actress Jessica Tandy and Best Adapted Screenplay (by Alfred Uhry).

Breaker Morant chronicles an incident in 1901 when three Australian soldiers fighting on the side of the British in South Africa were court-martialed for executing enemy prisoners. Acting under orders from British high command during a brutal guerrilla war (the first of its similarities to Viet Nam), Harry "Breaker" Morant and his fellow soldiers in the Australian Bushveldt Carbineers exact revenge for the murder and mutilation of one of their officers by the Boers, South African farmers of Dutch descent revolting against the British in the century's first colonial war. Several Boer prisoners and a German missionary the trio believe to be a spy are killed. Because the British are aware Germany is looking for an excuse to enter the war on the side of the Boers (to position themselves favorably for access to South Africa's gold and diamond riches), the command orders the three Australians to be brought to trial as scapegoats, denying the deaths were ever part of an official but covert military policy.

Breaker Morant is unflinchingly a polemical film, skillfully manipulating audiences into sympathy with its protagonists, who are clearly guilty of the act for which they are condemned. In this respect, it has been compared to Stanley Kubrick's brilliant anti-war film Paths of Glory (1957) and was seen by many reviewers of the time as a parallel to the story of Lt. Calley and the 1968 My Lai massacre in Vietnam. Early drafts of the screenplay depicted the Australians as innocent of the executions. Beresford rewrote the story to place the focus not on their guilt or innocence but on the far more compelling theme of the extreme acts soldiers are driven to commit and the double-dealing politics of the military elite. In the biography Bruce Beresford: Instincts of the Heart (Angus & Robertson, 1993), author Peter Coleman quotes the director talking about his uncle who fought in World War II. "I asked him about the treatment of Japanese prisoners. He said: 'We used to shoot the lot of them.' 'But that's dreadful!' I said. 'You weren't there, you wouldn't know,' he answered ­ and he is a pleasant, educated, rational man. I was shocked, but it did give me an insight."

The story is aided in no small part by the honest and affecting performances of its leads. British actor Edward Woodward, who later appeared in the American TV series The Equalizer (1985), plays Morant as a flawed but essentially warm and decent man, in contrast to his pompous, hypocritical superiors. Acting honors are shared by two major Australian stars: Bryan Brown, who went on to great success in America in the TV mini-series The Thorn Birds (1983) and the thriller F/X (1986), and Jack Thompson, who played a Japanese POW in Nagisa Oshima's Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983) and the sympathetic father in the gay-themed The Sum of Us (1994). As the harried and increasingly emotionally involved defense attorney, Thompson won the Australian Film Institute Award for Best Actor and the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Supporting Actor.

It's interesting to note that despite its implied link to one of the most shameful aspects of American military history, the film received a special screening by President Ronald Reagan in 1981. Even more noteworthy is that Breaker Morant, with its very overt anti-British sentiments, was chosen for a Royal Command Charity Premier in London in October 1980. Prince Charles, who attended the event, then arranged for it to be shown to Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace.

Director: Bruce Beresford
Producer: Matt Carroll
Screenplay: Bruce Beresford, Jonathan Hardy, David Stevens (based on the play by Kenneth Ross and the book The Breaker by Kit Denton)
Cinematography: Donald McAlpine
Editing: William M. Anderson
Production Design: David Copping
Music: Phil Cunneen
Cast: Edward Woodward (Lt. Harry Morant), Jack Thompson (Major J.F. Thomas), Bryan Brown (Lt. Peter Handcock), Lewis Fitz-Gerald (Lt. George Witton), Alan Cassell (Lord Kitchener).
C-108m.

by Rob Nixon

Breaker Morant

Breaker Morant

Based on a true story from the Boer War in South Africa (1899-1902), Breaker Morant (1979) was an unexpected hit that helped usher in the spate of commercially successful and critically acclaimed Australian films that took the U.S. and the world by storm in the early 1980s. Made for only $800,000, this drama about the extraordinary and tragic circumstances faced by men at war struck a chord with audiences, especially in an America that had recently come out of the Viet Nam war. The film racked up several Australian Film Institute Awards, as well as many nominations in other countries, opening up a wealth of opportunities for director Bruce Beresford. He became one of the hot new directors from Down Under and went on to direct such hit films in the U.S. as Tender Mercies (1983), which netted Beresford the Golden Palm at Cannes, an Oscar and the Golden Globe for Best Actor (Robert Duvall), and Driving Miss Daisy (1989), an Academy Award winner for Best Picture, Best Actress Jessica Tandy and Best Adapted Screenplay (by Alfred Uhry). Breaker Morant chronicles an incident in 1901 when three Australian soldiers fighting on the side of the British in South Africa were court-martialed for executing enemy prisoners. Acting under orders from British high command during a brutal guerrilla war (the first of its similarities to Viet Nam), Harry "Breaker" Morant and his fellow soldiers in the Australian Bushveldt Carbineers exact revenge for the murder and mutilation of one of their officers by the Boers, South African farmers of Dutch descent revolting against the British in the century's first colonial war. Several Boer prisoners and a German missionary the trio believe to be a spy are killed. Because the British are aware Germany is looking for an excuse to enter the war on the side of the Boers (to position themselves favorably for access to South Africa's gold and diamond riches), the command orders the three Australians to be brought to trial as scapegoats, denying the deaths were ever part of an official but covert military policy. Breaker Morant is unflinchingly a polemical film, skillfully manipulating audiences into sympathy with its protagonists, who are clearly guilty of the act for which they are condemned. In this respect, it has been compared to Stanley Kubrick's brilliant anti-war film Paths of Glory (1957) and was seen by many reviewers of the time as a parallel to the story of Lt. Calley and the 1968 My Lai massacre in Vietnam. Early drafts of the screenplay depicted the Australians as innocent of the executions. Beresford rewrote the story to place the focus not on their guilt or innocence but on the far more compelling theme of the extreme acts soldiers are driven to commit and the double-dealing politics of the military elite. In the biography Bruce Beresford: Instincts of the Heart (Angus & Robertson, 1993), author Peter Coleman quotes the director talking about his uncle who fought in World War II. "I asked him about the treatment of Japanese prisoners. He said: 'We used to shoot the lot of them.' 'But that's dreadful!' I said. 'You weren't there, you wouldn't know,' he answered ­ and he is a pleasant, educated, rational man. I was shocked, but it did give me an insight." The story is aided in no small part by the honest and affecting performances of its leads. British actor Edward Woodward, who later appeared in the American TV series The Equalizer (1985), plays Morant as a flawed but essentially warm and decent man, in contrast to his pompous, hypocritical superiors. Acting honors are shared by two major Australian stars: Bryan Brown, who went on to great success in America in the TV mini-series The Thorn Birds (1983) and the thriller F/X (1986), and Jack Thompson, who played a Japanese POW in Nagisa Oshima's Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983) and the sympathetic father in the gay-themed The Sum of Us (1994). As the harried and increasingly emotionally involved defense attorney, Thompson won the Australian Film Institute Award for Best Actor and the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Supporting Actor. It's interesting to note that despite its implied link to one of the most shameful aspects of American military history, the film received a special screening by President Ronald Reagan in 1981. Even more noteworthy is that Breaker Morant, with its very overt anti-British sentiments, was chosen for a Royal Command Charity Premier in London in October 1980. Prince Charles, who attended the event, then arranged for it to be shown to Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace. Director: Bruce Beresford Producer: Matt Carroll Screenplay: Bruce Beresford, Jonathan Hardy, David Stevens (based on the play by Kenneth Ross and the book The Breaker by Kit Denton) Cinematography: Donald McAlpine Editing: William M. Anderson Production Design: David Copping Music: Phil Cunneen Cast: Edward Woodward (Lt. Harry Morant), Jack Thompson (Major J.F. Thomas), Bryan Brown (Lt. Peter Handcock), Lewis Fitz-Gerald (Lt. George Witton), Alan Cassell (Lord Kitchener). C-108m. by Rob Nixon

Breaker Morant on DVD


The Australian New Wave was knocking on America's box office doors when Bruce Beresford's military courtroom drama Breaker Morant became a 1980 crossover hit. Beresford's movie crossed over from arthouses into mainstream theaters here around the same time George Miller's Mad Max scored as an exploitation film and Peter Weir's Gallipoli was an arthouse hit. The success of these imports led to the first of many American movies by their directors - Beresford's was the vivid heartland drama Tender Mercies - as well as those by such other Aussies as Fred Schepisi and Gillian Armstrong.

Wellspring's new Masterworks Edition of Breaker Morant shows that, 24 years later, the movie hasn't lost any of its power. It would be nice to report that its tale of wartime injustice is no longer so universal or timeless. But, sadly, that is not the case. Based on a real incident and adapted from Kenneth Ross's stage play of the same name, Breaker Morant chronicles the court-martialing of three soldiers during the Boer War, which pitted the British Empire against the Dutch population in South Africa at the turn of the last century.

The three soldiers come from a mostly-Australian squad established to combat Boer commandos, who fought guerrilla-style and did not wear uniforms. The British commanders unleashed the squad from the "gentlemanly" tactics of war; the squad was freed to take no prisoners, and sought to kill all of the enemy it encountered. When one of those killed is a German missionary, and pro-Boer Germany protests and threatens to enter the war, the British find convenient scapegoats in three lieutenants: naïve young Witton (Lewis Fitz-Gerald), brash Handcock (Bryan Brown) and Morant (Edward Woodward), the horse-breaker, poet and English-born black sheep whose nickname supplies the movie's title.

Beresford, who co-wrote the screenplay, uses a flashback structure to open up the courtroom action. He cuts between testimony and events such as the incident in question, the Boer ambush that led up to it and the life of the three defendants before the war. Such a structure might have come off as mechanical and overly literal. Yet it never does in Breaker Morant, because Beresford puts a lot into those scenes outside the trial: the smug sense of entitlement of the English higher-ups, the brutality of the war action and the dashed hopes of the defendants, who'd thought the war might bring them status (Witton), riches (Handcock) or redemption (Morant).

Of course, the court-martial scenes also pack a punch, with brawny Jack Thompson (currently co-starring with Sean Penn in The Assassination of Richard Nixon) bringing passion to the small-town solicitor the Brits assign to represent the defendants and mistakenly think will be a pushover. The disdain with which the English political higher-ups treat the rank-and-file soldiers who carry out their violent orders in Breaker Morant doesn't just mirror the relationship between England and Australia in 1901. It also reflects the war that had ended a few short years before the movie's filming, Vietnam, in which foreign forces once again had its soldiers use extreme measures to combat native guerrillas. And you only need two words to prove the movie¿s continued relevance: Abu Ghirab. The drama¿s tragic deflection of charges from the higher-ups and politicians who make controversial policies onto the underlings who carry out those policies is eerily similar to recent headlines.

Although Breaker Morant is a message movie, it never stoops to sloganizing or mere melodrama. There's not a second of grandstanding in anyone's performance, either. Like Thompson, Woodward and Brown give fierce yet controlled performances. As with Beresford, Breaker Morant would bring them opportunities to work in America, with Woodward playing the cranky old crime-fighting title character in the 1985-89 TV series The Equalizer and Brown starring in the F/X movies.

The new Breaker Morant DVD includes a 15-minute interview with Woodward, which appears to have been shot in the actor's home, and an audio commentary by Beresford. Both are pleasingly informal, with each man having pleasant memories of the movie, despite its low-budget and tight schedule. Beresford's commentary offers several amusing tidbits, including the fact that he eavesdropped in pubs to pick up lines for the soldiers' colorful dialogue and that Mel Gibson turned down the role of Witton, preferring to keep his spot on the Aussie TV series, The Sullivans.

For more information about Breaker Morant, visit Wellspring Home Video. To order Breaker Morant, go to TCM Shopping.

by Paul Sherman

Breaker Morant on DVD

The Australian New Wave was knocking on America's box office doors when Bruce Beresford's military courtroom drama Breaker Morant became a 1980 crossover hit. Beresford's movie crossed over from arthouses into mainstream theaters here around the same time George Miller's Mad Max scored as an exploitation film and Peter Weir's Gallipoli was an arthouse hit. The success of these imports led to the first of many American movies by their directors - Beresford's was the vivid heartland drama Tender Mercies - as well as those by such other Aussies as Fred Schepisi and Gillian Armstrong. Wellspring's new Masterworks Edition of Breaker Morant shows that, 24 years later, the movie hasn't lost any of its power. It would be nice to report that its tale of wartime injustice is no longer so universal or timeless. But, sadly, that is not the case. Based on a real incident and adapted from Kenneth Ross's stage play of the same name, Breaker Morant chronicles the court-martialing of three soldiers during the Boer War, which pitted the British Empire against the Dutch population in South Africa at the turn of the last century. The three soldiers come from a mostly-Australian squad established to combat Boer commandos, who fought guerrilla-style and did not wear uniforms. The British commanders unleashed the squad from the "gentlemanly" tactics of war; the squad was freed to take no prisoners, and sought to kill all of the enemy it encountered. When one of those killed is a German missionary, and pro-Boer Germany protests and threatens to enter the war, the British find convenient scapegoats in three lieutenants: naïve young Witton (Lewis Fitz-Gerald), brash Handcock (Bryan Brown) and Morant (Edward Woodward), the horse-breaker, poet and English-born black sheep whose nickname supplies the movie's title. Beresford, who co-wrote the screenplay, uses a flashback structure to open up the courtroom action. He cuts between testimony and events such as the incident in question, the Boer ambush that led up to it and the life of the three defendants before the war. Such a structure might have come off as mechanical and overly literal. Yet it never does in Breaker Morant, because Beresford puts a lot into those scenes outside the trial: the smug sense of entitlement of the English higher-ups, the brutality of the war action and the dashed hopes of the defendants, who'd thought the war might bring them status (Witton), riches (Handcock) or redemption (Morant). Of course, the court-martial scenes also pack a punch, with brawny Jack Thompson (currently co-starring with Sean Penn in The Assassination of Richard Nixon) bringing passion to the small-town solicitor the Brits assign to represent the defendants and mistakenly think will be a pushover. The disdain with which the English political higher-ups treat the rank-and-file soldiers who carry out their violent orders in Breaker Morant doesn't just mirror the relationship between England and Australia in 1901. It also reflects the war that had ended a few short years before the movie's filming, Vietnam, in which foreign forces once again had its soldiers use extreme measures to combat native guerrillas. And you only need two words to prove the movie¿s continued relevance: Abu Ghirab. The drama¿s tragic deflection of charges from the higher-ups and politicians who make controversial policies onto the underlings who carry out those policies is eerily similar to recent headlines. Although Breaker Morant is a message movie, it never stoops to sloganizing or mere melodrama. There's not a second of grandstanding in anyone's performance, either. Like Thompson, Woodward and Brown give fierce yet controlled performances. As with Beresford, Breaker Morant would bring them opportunities to work in America, with Woodward playing the cranky old crime-fighting title character in the 1985-89 TV series The Equalizer and Brown starring in the F/X movies. The new Breaker Morant DVD includes a 15-minute interview with Woodward, which appears to have been shot in the actor's home, and an audio commentary by Beresford. Both are pleasingly informal, with each man having pleasant memories of the movie, despite its low-budget and tight schedule. Beresford's commentary offers several amusing tidbits, including the fact that he eavesdropped in pubs to pick up lines for the soldiers' colorful dialogue and that Mel Gibson turned down the role of Witton, preferring to keep his spot on the Aussie TV series, The Sullivans. For more information about Breaker Morant, visit Wellspring Home Video. To order Breaker Morant, go to TCM Shopping. by Paul Sherman

Quotes

Trivia

Miscellaneous Notes

Winner of the 1981 AFI Award for Best Picture.

Released in United States Winter December 1, 1980

Released in United States October 1997

Shown at Denver International Film Festival October 23-30 1997.

Released in United States Winter December 1, 1980

Released in United States October 1997 (Shown at Denver International Film Festival October 23-30 1997.)

The Country of Australia