THE BREAKER by Kit Denton


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The movie--Breaker Morant--is better: the screenplay (based on a stage drama) makes uses of the 1902 court-martial transcripts which were apparently unavailable when Denton wrote this novelization of a true story in 1973 (it appeared in England and Australia then). And Denton's treatment is much less well-focused. He follows young Harry ""Breaker"" Morant from his first days as a horsebreaker and cowboy in Australia, through his boisterous days in Sydney and Adelaide (and borderline alcoholism), his signing up with the Second South Australian Yeomanry to fight the Boers and his arrival in Capetown. The rowdy Aussies are told early of the strange war they're into, not only fighting white men for the first time but weird Dutch guerrillas who disdain standard tactics. And it's quickly clear to the Aussies that the British high command and field officers are idiotic in not fighting the Boers in their own manner: the British are butchered time after time. On a visit to England Harry becomes engaged to fellow officer Geoffrey Hunt's sister Margaret, but he leaves before the wedding to join Kitchener's new irregulars, the roaming troops of the Bush Veldt Carbineers. Kitchener's un-written order: no Prisoners. So, when beloved chum Hunt is wounded, then castrated on a Boerfarm skirmish, Harry turns ruthless: he shoots a Boer halfwit found in Hunt's jacket; and not much later a German pastor is found shot in his wagon. Morant and three fellow officers are arrested, put on trial for murdering Prisoners--an issue-resonant trial which here lacks the profundity of the film's dramatization (many details are different). Still, the movie's enthusiasts may be curious enough to explore the different angles here--and on its own terms it's literate and suspenseful, even without the tragic weight of Breaker Morant.

Pub Date: Aug. 12th, 1981
Publisher: St. Martin's