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The Hell that was Gallipoli
on 25 February 2009
****DOES CONTAIN SPOILERS****
"Gallipoli" made in 1981 is an Australian film directed by Peter Weir and starring Mel Gibson and Mark Lee, all natives of that country. The film is set during the First World War and the title refers to the peninsula of the same name located on the Aegean coast of The Dardenelles in Turkey. It was in this area that between the 25th April 1915 when it was captured, to the 19th December 1915 when it was evacuated, that many ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) soldiers fought and died. The climax to this film is at the brutal battle of "The Nek", which was a terrible killing field for the ANZACs.
The film concerns two young men from rural Western Australia who become close friends whilst competing against each other in a sprint at an athletics meeting. Mel Gibson, looking strangely youthful plays the cynical Frank Dunne whilst Mark Lee portrays the innocent and idealistic Archy Hamilton. Swayed by propaganda which was rife at the time they enlist to fight for their Countrys cause, although many recruits had never heard of the places involved in the conflict. Archy is considerably more enthusiastic about the idea than Frank.
They are then shipped out for training in Egypt where the soldiers indulge in a bit of good natured "Pommy bashing". Well it is an Australian film, so that is "Fair Dinkum". Thrashing us at cricket with monotonous regularity does not seem to appease their appetite for this genial sport! In all too short a time they are transported to the harsh realities of trench warfare in Gallipoli. Having trained with the Light Horse this bloody stalemate is not what they expected and they see the senseless slaughter first hand as their ranks are decimated. At the films ending we see the company go over the top into the face of the Turkish guns. Archie sprints ahead of the others using his great speed. He has no weapon and the camera freezes as he is struck by a hail of machine gun bullets. Frank who has been used as a runner just fails to get back in time with the order to stop the attack.
The film has many impressive scenes. I particularly liked the scene where Major Barton played by Bill Hunter plays his favourite opera piece the night before before the attack. The final scenes are particularly poignant. I was reminded of the scene from perhaps the greatest anti war film of all time "Paths of Glory"(57) where Kirk Douglas is about to lead his men over the top in a doomed attack. All so indescribably sad.
It is vital for us all to remember that 46,000 allied soldiers died and there were 265,000 casualties in the campaign, and it is very likely the Turkish losses were greater. This film is a fitting tribute to all those brave young men who gave their lives in the hell that was Gallipoli. Highly recommended viewing.