A film by Bruce Beresford
1980/ Australia / 107 mins / Col
5.45 pm; 15th Feb ; Perks Mini Theater
When war breaks out in 1899 between Great Britain and the Boers (African settlers of Dutch heritage), a number of Australians volunteer to serve in the British army. In the heat of battle, a group of Boer prisoners and a German missionary are killed by an Australian unit, and three men – including Lieutenant Harry "Breaker" Morant (Woodward) – are court-martialed for murder, to placate both the Germans and the Boers, who may be ready to make peace.
The film is impressively and seductively structured, built around the court martial and employing flashbacks to gradually reveal the truth or otherwise of witness statements. An instant engagement with the characters is helped in part by their status as prisoners and victims of the system, brought home by the bumbling inexperience of their assigned defense lawyer, Major J.F. Thomas (Jack Thompson).
One of the high points in Australian cinema, Beresford's devastating film accurately depicts the injustice visited upon these three "colonials" by their British commanders. "Morant" is also a magnificent character study. Thompson is terrific as the lawyer who defends the men, but Woodward's resonant, heart-rending performance in the title role is reason enough to see this stunning film.
Handsomely directed, brilliantly edited by William Anderson (four times winner of the AFI award for Best Achievement in Editing, including for this film), it pulls off that rare trick of telling a dramatically compelling true story without ever wandering that far from the facts, right up to the emotionally stunning (and accurate) ending.
Breaker Morant remains to this day one of the shining examples of the New Australian Cinema of the late 70s and early 80s, a beautifully executed and performed tale of injustice in an unjust world, and one that, as nations continue to do battle and place young men in positions of potentially abusive power then play politics with the results, is as relevant as it ever was.
Bruce Beresford was born in Australia and graduated from Sydney University in 1962. He served as Film Officer for the British Film Institute Production Board from 1966-1971 and as a Film Advisor to the Arts Council of Great Britain. Beresford returned to Australia in 1970 to make his first feature film, The Adventures of Barry McKenzie, and spent the next 10 years working in Australia's developing film industry. He established his reputation as one of Australia's best directors with a series of notable films in the 1970s, including Don's Party, The Getting of Wisdom, The Club and Breaker Morant.
Following the critical success of Breaker Morant (widely regarded as a classic of Australian cinema) Beresford moved to Hollywood. His first film made in the US was Tender Mercies in 1984. He also directed Driving Miss Daisy which won the Academy Award in 1989, and Black Robe, considered one of the best of his later films. In 1995, his film Silent Fall was nominated for the Golden Bear at the 45th Berlin International Film Festival.
After what might fairly be called a lean patch in his career, at least in comparison with his earlier output, the 2009 film, Mao's Last Dancer broke records at the Australian box office and won numerous film-festival honors. In addition to films, Bruce Beresford has also directed several operas and theatre productions.