Acting under orders from British army command, Lieutenant Harry “Breaker” Morant (played by British actor Edward Woodward), Lieutenant Peter Handcock (played by veteran Aussie actor Bryan Brown) and Lieutenant George Ramsdale Witton (played by Lewis Fitz-Gerald) track down and execute Boer guerrillas. The Boer War was one of the he first wars where uniformed soldiers (British) fought against civilian-clad guerrillas; the rules of warfare were changing rapidly.
As the war wound down and the British command was looking for scapegoats to appease the opposition. Morant, Handcock and Witton were court-martialed for war crimes by the very same British army command, who were responsible for issuing the orders in the first place. In order to obtain a quick and easy conviction, the British command stacked the deck against Morant and his comrades: the court appointed a lawyer for the three only a day before the trial who specialized in “land conveyancing and wills” not criminal defense. The court dismissed much of the testimony given for the defense as irrelevant and therefore inadmissible.
The defense hinged on that they were “only following orders.” Four and a half decades later, many of the defeated Nazis would use the same defense.
Breaker Morant is an compelling look into the changing nature of warfare in the 20th Century. The guerrilla conflict of the Boer War was a harbinger of what warfare was to become.
As a bonus, MDE’s copy is a new release from the Criterion Collection
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Worth a look if you like legal thrillers or movies about the military.
Skip it if courtroom dramas leave you cold.