As the case proceeds and Thomas's sterling efforts are repeatedly undermined by court inflexibility, restrictive interpretation of military law, and seemingly deliberate obstruction of his case, it becomes increasingly clear that the trial has little to do with justice. These men have clearly been selected for symbolic prosecution and possible execution for purely political reasons in a war that has become increasingly unpopular with the British public.
Despite the crimes committed on the battlefield, in Breaker Morant it's the British Empire itself that emerges as the bad guy. Performances across the board are superb. Edward Woodward makes Morant a commanding and compelling presence, his crisp delivery and bottled-up anger in the courtroom scenes contrasting wonderfully with his rage at the death of Hunt and the quiet, emotion-tinged poetry readings. Bryan Brown, whose popularity was close to peaking at the time of the film's release, is perfectly cast as Handcock, his repeated baiting of witnesses and down-to-earth resignation regarding the soldier's duties "Well he'll never get to heaven if he doesn't die," he says as he joins Vesser's reluctant firing squad giving the actor one of his best roles of the period.
As defending council Thomas, Jack Thompson comes close to stealing the film, his disbelieving outrage at the obstructive behaviour of the court officials and don't-piss-me-about directness with his own clients make him a convincing opposition to the combined might of British military justice, and a man I'd certainly want at my side if I was in the soup.
Although influenced by both Kenneth Ross' play Breaker Morant and Kit Denton's book The Breaker , the film feels neither overly literary nor remotely stage-bound. 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. I have in my house a little corner known as The Cupboard of Shame, into which go presents and purchases that I wouldn't show even to my closest friend.
Although in the correct aspect ratio, the picture is otherwise pretty horrible, with no anamorphic enhancement and blighted by a blizzard of compression artefacts. The suspicion is that this was a port of the original Wellspring US release, but I've not been able to check this and word on that disc does suggest a slightly better transfer. The depressing thing about such a release is that you know that there is little chance of an improved version for some time to come.
But a couple of years later, Wellspring came to the rescue with this vastly improved, remastered print as part of their Masterworks series. Framed 1. On the down side there is some very visible grain in some sequences that, as often happens, has been highlighted by the digital transfer, and the colour appears drained and the detail weaker in some of the night scenes, suggesting the use of a different perhaps faster film stock.
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But in all other ways the picture is very impressive — colour, detail and contrast are all very good, and black levels are strong. This is how the film should look. There are two soundtracks available, Dolby 2. Go with 2. A couple of the features here were included on the original Wellspring and Prism releases. New to this edition is an Audio Commentary with Bruce Beresford , which despite some sizeable dead spots they get longer as the film progresses is a valuable companion to the film, providing information on the locations Australia stood in convincingly for South Africa, even fooling a South African audience , the actors, the filming, and the historical truth behind key scenes.
The director reveals that he is a fan of neither George Witton's book nor most of Morant's poetry he likes the ones used in the film , and has a few interesting anecdotes, including the difficulty of casting the role of Witton Lewis Fitz-Gerald was the only one who wanted it, and a young Mel Gibson turned it down for a role in a TV soap opera , and the ease of directing real soldiers, who proved good at following orders but tended to get into fights at night and turn up on set the next morning sporting a variety of injuries.
A Bruce Beresford Biography provides a brief textual overview of the director's career. The Edward Woodward Interview was recorded in and is a feature carried over from the earlier release. Woodward looks back warmly to his experience on the film, which he regards as one of the most enjoyable of his career. His strongest memory appears to be of learning to ride a horse to the level required by the story.
The Original Theatrical Trailer is framed and some way from pin-sharp, though the colour has survived well enough. Real Life Character Breakdown provides textual background information on eight of the real-life characters from the film. This was also on the original release. There are selected Filmographies for the four lead actors and the director.
Finally there is a very good Essay by Nick Bleszynski, author of the book Shoot Straight You Bastards — The Truth behind the Killing of 'Breaker' Morant , in which he examines how well the movie stands up in light of his research into the true story of the court martial. This is on the sleeve notes rather than the disc. Breaker Morant is a wonderfully written, magnificently performed and compellingly filmed example of how to make great drama from a true story without unnecessarily embellishing the facts or fictionalising the characters. Don't be tempted by bottom-drawer price deals on the earlier releases — it's just not worth it.
Don't make a mess of it! Morant, in what seems like a superb piece of scriptwriting but was apparently almost word for word what was actually said, responds sharply: "Like this? Scapegoats of the empire. Captain Willard — Apocalypse Now. Harry 'Breaker' Morant — 27th February, Breaker Morant. Australia Bruce Beresford. Edward Woodward. Bryan Brown.
Jack Thompson. Lewis Fitz-Gerald. In , Text reissued the novel, which sold well. There was interest from some producers in America but it fizzled out, mainly because of the Australian setting. I was unwilling to transfer the story to the USA. A German group seemed enthusiastic for a while but wanted major changes to the characters which would make some of them thoroughly unpleasant.
Sue Milliken and I felt that the attachment of a major actress to play Magda would assist in gaining support from the Australian Film Finance Corporation, its successor, Screen Australia, and from distributors. At one point Isabella Rossellini committed to the part, and later Monica Bellucci. No one seemed impressed by either name. An earnest lady at one of our government funding body meetings informed us that if we changed the storyline and the characters, we might receive some support.
She even presented us with a detailed written outline of how this could be achieved. We declined, saying we preferred to film what Madeleine St John had written. By Sue and I were ready to admit defeat. Only a few months later I had a call from the composer Tim Finn, who had read the book and was keen to write a musical version for the stage. He did so, and the production — with the new title Ladies in Black — was a winner.
In a phone call came from a vivacious young woman named Allanah Zitserman, who had emigrated from Russia to Australia with her family as a child. She was captivated, in particular, by the migrant theme in The Women in Black. She proceeded to focus her awesome energy into raising finance for the film — the script that Sue and I had written, not the musical adaptation. Casting was something of a problem. For the role of Magda, an Eastern European immigrant to Australia, it was essential to find someone who would be accepted as such, and not as a native English speaker putting on an accent.
Numerous actresses were discussed: some were not available, some were astronomically expensive, but most were considered implausible. I was working in Canada on another film when someone mentioned having worked on Legends of the Fall with Julia Ormond. A few days later I had a call saying Julia loved the role and was available, more or less, at the time we wanted to shoot. She immediately found a coach to tutor her in the Slovenian accent the role demanded.
"Breaker Morant" by Stephen Crafts
She had to leave the set early one day to fly to Melbourne for a French exam. Angourie had, amazingly enough, already played major roles in eight films, including three or four in America. I think that most film directors have projects about which they become obsessive. Many of my obsessions, over a fifty-year career, have remained just that, as the films were not realised — and never will be.
Ladies in Black was on my mind for nearly 30 years. I hope I have done justice to the fine work by Madeleine St John. She wrote it, her first novel, when in her fifties. I asked her once what had prompted her to write at a relatively late age. Only The Women in Black has an Australian setting — and it is undoubtedly her masterpiece. Facebook Twitter Pinterest. Topics Culture. Reuse this content.
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