So after winning a particularly difficult robbery case yesterday, I felt the perverse need to relax by watching "Breaker Morant," a too-little known Australian gem from 1980. I've never found a clean copy of it; I'm happy that Netflix now has it among their titles, and it's a greatly improved version with cuts restored and excellent sound and picture quality.
The movie generally tracks the true story of Australian Breaker Morant and two of his colleagues, members of an elite British unit during the Boer War of 1899-1902 (see here for a quick but fair synopsis of the war). This unit, the Bushveldt Carbineers, was tasked with going out into the bush and fighting the Boers in the same guerilla fashion in which they had begun to fight the English. The three men are put on trial for their actions fighting the Boers, and for the killing of a German "missionary."
The movie is a fascinating and very timely tale of how a civilized army deals with fighting a foe that does not follow the laws of war. It's also a morality tale of the peril of empire, with the Australian defendants being tried for crimes committed while fighting a war of subjugation in South Africa for their "mother country:"
Not only is this an excellent war movie, it is in my view really a great courtroom drama, as the accused contend against an English military court that seems determined to make an example of them:
The Australians' defense counsel is also a "colonial," and despite having little trial experience, is tasked with trying to save the lives of his three clients, who the English want to sacrifice in order to appease the Germans, who are looking for a pretext to enter the war on the side of the Boers. His development as a vigorous advocate for his clients is wonderful to watch.
The Morant case became legendary in Australia, particularly when coupled in the popular imagination with the debacle some ten years or so afterwards at Gallipoli, where Australian and New Zealand units serving under the British were butchered by an ill-conceived offensive during the First World War (Lord Kitchener, ironically, had a hand in both Morant's case and in the Gallipoli campaign). Another Australian film highlights the reckless stupidity of the British in that campaign.