Friday, March 23, 2018

Scapegoat of Empire: Breaker Morant

Bryan Brown as Peter Handcock,  
Edward Woodward as Breaker Morant at right.

I watched the iconic film Breaker Morant some years ago and have recently been enjoying Breaker Morant: the Retrial, a documentary telling the Breaker's story from his youthful days to action in South Africa and finally to his execution during the Anglo-Boer War. Military lawyer Jim Unkles pursues the case in Australia and the UK on behalf of descendants of Morant and the other convicted soldiers involved. A controversial case, its retrial in a moot court eventually brings in a verdict of miscarriage of justice, offering closure, though belatedly, to those concerned. 

In the original film, based on true events, three Australian soldiers are court-martialled for shooting Boer prisoners while fighting in colonial South Africa. The argument is that the men were simply following orders and the rules of war. 

Lieutenants Harry Morant, Peter Handcock and George Witton were convicted of killing prisoners. Morant and Handcock were shot, with no chance to appeal their sentence. Witton had his sentence changed to life imprisonment, subsequently commuted as a result of actions by Australian judge Sir Isaac Isaacs in 1902. Witton was released.

The Retrial was made in 2013. It includes an intriguing account of Harry 'the Breaker's' elusive origins. 

"Shoot straight, you bastards": Folklore legend, Harry "Breaker" Morant.



And Kitchener at the heart of the controversy. Resonates as powerfully today as it did back then.

Mole said...

Thanks Andrew - it certainly does.