Gallipoliis an Australian film made in 1981 that tells the role and place ofAustralia in the First World War. The film, directed by Peter Weir,stars a young Mel Gibson and Mark Lee who play the role of youngAustralian men enlisted in the Australian Army as part of the ANZAC(Australia and New Zealand Army Corps). The film is named after theTurkish Peninsula called Gallipoli that was then under the rule ofthe Ottoman Empire. The Peninsula, whose name means ‘beautifulcity’, was the site of one of the war’s most significant battleswhere the Ottoman Empire claimed victory (Macleod, 2014). How thefilm Gallipoli depicts the contribution and involvement of Australiaand New Zealand in the war is important as it addresses somehistorical facts that need further perusal. On the face of it, thefilm has been accused of presenting historical facts candidly andalso giving historical inaccuracies. This paper discusses film’spresentation of Australian participation in First World War andcompares some historical facts with the film.
Perhapsthe best way to assess the filmmakers’ choice is in the naming ofthe film as Gallipoli. The name Gallipoli evokes some painfulmemories of the war especially among the allied forces that lost thebattle and suffered heavy casualties. The film does not makereference to these facts that have the potential to evoke moreemotion and be more specific about the action (Jewell & McKinnon2014). The title alone captures a region in the Ottoman Empire thatborders the Aegean Sea to the west and the Dardanelles straits to theeast. Although the Peninsula was home to several prominent towns inancient times, its prominence in the 20thcentury was based on wheat farming and offering a vital transportroute between Europe and Asia. The Dardanelles Straits, which is anarrow passage connecting the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara in thenorth, was the main route for merchant ships. This route would alsoenable the Allies to link up with the Russians in the Black Sea wherethey would combine and fight the Ottoman Empire more effectively. TheRussians had specifically sought British reinforcement in thePeninsula to break the stalemate that the Allies faced in the westernfront in Belgium and France.
Thewar, which has been named the “war to end all wars”, was foughtbetween Allies on one side and the central powers on the other(Returned Services League (RSL) 2014). The war saw the mobilizationof the largest number of soldiers. In total, there were 70 millionmobilized soldiers with 60 million of them being from Europe. As muchas 9 million of them were to die in the war that also claimed anaddition 7 million civilian lives (Macleod, 2004). The alliesfeatured the Triple Alliance of the UK, France and the Russian Empireagainst the central powers consisting of Germany, Ottoman Empire,Bulgaria, and Austria-Hungary. These alignments were triggered bynumerous factors. However, the immediate reason that the war brokeout in July 1914 was the assassination of the ArchdukeFrancis Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary together with his wife Sophieon 28thJuneby a Serbian national belonging to the nationalist group YoungBosnia. Other major reasons were unresolved territorial disputes inthe Balkans and tension over colonization that had caused changes inthe global power balance. These tensions had seen a number ofEuropean countries engage in an arms race and formation of militaryand political alliances.
AlthoughAustralia and New Zealand were not originally drafted into the warand their political leaning was largely undeclared, their involvementwas triggered by their association with the British Empire. As formercolonies of the British, the two were linked to Great Britain astheir mother country. In fact, majority of the people serving in theANZAC had a British heritage or had been born in Great Britain beforerelocating to Australia. However, this did not mean that allAustralians were united behind Great Britain in war. Some people wereopposed to Australia’s involvement in the war. The film capturesthese two opposing views towards the war by pitting two characterswith one opposed to “a foreign war that does not belong toAustralia” (Frank in Gallipoli 1981) and another that supported thewar in solidarity with a former colonial master. In the film, the18-year old Archy Hamilton (Mark Lee) is in support of the war whileFrank Dunne (Mel Gibson), who is an unemployed ex-railway laborer isopposed to the war. The two young men meet during an athleticscarnival and strike up a friendship. It is through this newfriendship that they decide to enlist in the war. Although Frankagrees to enlist reluctantly, he believes that the war is foreign andirrelevant to Australians.
Thefilm clearly depicts the motivations for enlisting and failing toenlist accurately. The filmmakers are keen to highlight theAustralian values of friendship and Australian identity that are farremoved from the historical relevance of the war. By contrasting thepersonalities of the two young men, viewers are exposed to theirpersonal values and beliefs. Their differences in appearance carry aconnotative level of meaning. For instance, Archy is blonde,blue-eyed, innocent and naïve and is also well-brought-up by veryprotective parents. Having been brought-up in the rural areas, he isnot that outgoing compared to Frank and his rural upbringing has seenhim learn how to ride a horse. Additionally, his lean physicalfeatures complemented by his light colored clothing and mannerismcapture his innocence and purity. On the other hand, Frank is acomplete opposite of Archy. He has dark hair, darker complexion, iscunning and well exposed having been brought up in the urban area andhas been previously employed. Therefore, Frank comes out as someonewho is more experienced in life and understands the realities of waras opposed to Archy’s romanticized ideas of war.
Inthe case of Frank, the filmmakers include his father’s heritage inhighlight the perceptions towards the war. As an Irish, Frank’sfather is opposed to the war. Although his political views are notexplored in depth in the film, the central issue being driven here isthat the Irish were opposed to British involvement in the war. On thecontrary, there was minimal opposition to the British involvement inthe war back in Ireland. Both the nationalists and the Unionists inIreland had different reasons to support Britain in the war. Theunionists who supported the unification or retention of Ireland aspart of the British Empire felt entitled to support their protectors.The nationalists who were calling for Ireland’s independence wereconvinced that British engagement in the war was geared to protectingsmall nations such as Ireland, Serbia, and Belgium (Jeffrey 2000).Therefore, the independence of such small countries could alsoguarantee the independence of Ireland. In total, about 200,000Irishmen fought in the war either in the British army or other armiessuch as the Australian Army (ibid).
AfterFrank’s father reluctantly agreed to let him enlist, the two youngmen go ahead and join the army. At the individual level, motivationsfor joining the army were mostly the promise of adventure in a newland and allure of the uniform. For others, it was societal pressure.It is reported that the young men who failed to enlist in the armywere handed white feathers by girls to ridicule them. The whitefeather had been primarily used in Britain as a symbol of feminismand when gifted to men it represented cowardice (Jewell &McKinnon, 2014). This is something that the film is eager to portray.The producers acknowledge the social and cultural elements that cometo play at war at the individual and societal level. In case ofFrank, it is clear he was in search of a new adventure and shed hisboyhood and become a man. However, given that Frank could not ride ahorse, he was enlisted in a different troop to Archy.
Afterenlisting, there were shipped to Egypt where they trained for severalmonths. During this period, Archy and Frank met where they also madeother friends. The young soldiers are portrayed as carefree andliving life. They drink and even visit local brothels. This conceptof brothels and prostitution during the war has been closely guidedand in particular, the filmmakers do not engage in further debate. Itis only recently that claims have surfaced alleging that about 60,000soldiers from ANZAC were suffering from venereal diseases by the endof the war. It is claimed that majority of these infections werepicked up from brothels in Cairo and France (Dunbarm, 2014). Althoughhistorical records agree with the idea that the ANZAC soldiersvisited brothels in while Cairo and other places, the absence of anyindication of venereal diseases among the ANZAC soldiers in the filmamounts to covering up the truth. Individual accounts of soldiersbeing banished and removed from the battle fields due to illnessessuch as gonorrhea and syphilis are well documented. However, theissue has not been well publicized. In fact, it is only recently thatthis information has openly shared in the public domain with manypeople choosing to focus on the more notable achievements of gallantsoldiers who fought dedicatedly in the war and especially those whodied during the Gallipoli Campaign (Evans 2014). Australia and NewZealand were embarrassed about the reported promiscuity of soldiersas the public was likely to link the venereal diseases to the defeatin the Gallipoli Campaign. As a result, infected soldiers wereshunned and shamed and sent into an isolated area in the east ofFrankston to recuperate (ibid). To the filmmakers, the behaviors ofthe soldiers form a core part of the Australian identity but hardlycontributed to the defeat.
Thethemes of larrikinism and loss of innocence are exploited by theyoung men visiting brothels and drinking. The filmmakers put suchscenes in the film to capture the progress of maturity and the usualstages that young people go through. The fact that the young men werecurious and were eager to have fun by drinking and visiting brothelsis also a theme largely repeated in other war films. Therefore, formany viewers, this kind of larrikinism that is commonly associatedwith Australians represents a historically accurate occurrence thatis a commonplace among soldiers looking forward to war. In otherfilms such as the Game of Thrones, soldiers engage in drinking andvisiting brothels to relax and relieve the tension that can beassociated with the battle fields (Jewell & McKinnon, 2014). Suchkind of behavior sis generally accepted both the current film andother films. However, the film does not address how such activitiescan impact on soldiers’ concentration and readiness for war. Asaforementioned, Australia could perhaps have performed better in thewar were it not for the thousands of soldiers who had to be set asideas they recuperated from venereal diseases (Dunbarm, 2014). Byignoring the contribution of larrikinism among ANZAC soldiers, thefilm tends to shift blame elsewhere specially the execution of thewar strategy and the command of the war.
Furthermore,the film presents idealized virtues of the Australian soldier. We seethat the two main characters have ideal traits. Both are athletic,active and very patriotic in that they are willing to serve theircountry in time of war. Though the filmmakers create a scenario inwhich larrikinism and disregard for manners and authority impacted onthe relationship with the British soldiers, such behavior isportrayed as harmless. The ANZACS moral weakness, impetuosity anddisobedience among other character flaws were successfully sublimatedamong the ANZAC forces (Lowndes, 2011). To the filmmakers, suchbehaviors are acceptable for soldiers and youngsters. It is thus theintention of the filmmakers to show that such behaviors did not havean impact on the outcomes of the war or even in their ability toserve. The audience gets a glimpse of such behavior during thesoldiers training in Cairo where Frank and Archy engage in mischiefsame as other soldiers.
Oncethe ANZAC lands in Turkey, the chain command is most historicallyinaccurate. The troops land at Anzac Cove on the Gallipoli Peninsulato secure the place for the landing of other British troops about onemile away. The ANZAC was pinned to a hillside just a few yards awayfrom the enemy trenches. A communication mishap between ColonelRobinson, who is portrayed as British through his British accent butin reality, was Australian and General Gardner results in a mistimedand unsynchronized attack. This confusion leads to Colonel Robinsonordering his troops to attack the nearby enemy trenches whichamounted to certain death. As a result, 7,500 soldiers are killed atonce (Lowndes, 2011). The notion that the film creates through thisscene is that the British soldiers scarified ANZAC troops to protectthe British soldiers that there landing. In fact, Frank carries amessage to General Gardner that the British troops who were landingat Sulva were in no hurry but were brewing tea. This prompted thegeneral to reconsider the attack, a message which Frank was supposedto deliver to Colonel Robinson but failed to do so in time.Unfortunately, Colonel Robison receives another message via telephonethat advises going ahead with the attack without the support of theBritish which led to the death of 7500 soldiers.
Theindiscipline of Australian soldiers and lack of respect for theirEnglish counterparts is historically inaccurate. While inside thetrenches, Archy and Frank at one time refuse to salute their Britishcompatriots and in essence capturing their indiscipline at a time ofwar. The same idea is indicated by the British soldiers’disapproval of the Australian soldiers’ indiscipline behind thelines. The poor working relationship between the two armies that hadcombined to fight a common enemy is historically inaccurate. It isincluded in the film in order to justify the insinuations the filmmakes that the British soldiers sacrificed over seven thousandAustralian soldiers without remorse because they disliked them(Lowndes, 2011). On the contrary, there are no records of frictionbetween the two sides or indiscipline of such levels by Britishsoldiers that promoted them to expose their Australian counterpartsto danger.
Thefilm portrays the Gallipoli Campaign as Australian vs British issueas opposed to the Allies vs the Central Powers issue. This portrayalis evident in the manner the filmmakers give weight to theincompetence of the British field officers. At the center of all thisis Colonel Robinson, who insists on the attack on Nek despite theapparent limited capability to push back the enemy. The virtues ofmateship and friendship exhibited by other ANZAC soldiers such asArchy, Frank, Snowy, Bill and Barney are lacking in Colonel Robinsonin how he relates to other officers. Although the character ofColonel Robinson is purely fictitious, he is implanted in the filmand scene by the filmmakers to achieve their own agenda rather thanrepresent historical facts. Lacking this Australian mateship, ColonelRobinson chooses to ignore the pleas of Barton to abandon the attack.Here, Barton is shown to possess the Australian spirit of mateshipwhere he is concerned about his fellow soldiers. Veterans whoparticipated in the war paint a different picture of the situation.One of them is Kitchen (2014, p. 164) who wrote that “A negativeattitude towards the British Army was not a continuous feature of theANZAC identity.” However, he acknowledges that there was intensiveconstructive competition between the two armies and among troops ineither army. He notes that such competition was vital in improvingthe levels of performance. Thus the film misrepresents the issue ofrivalry for drama effect.
Onthe overall, the film is historically accurate. To start with thecampaign took place on the Turkish Peninsula and the film is namedafter the campaign. Again, the use of ANZAC soldiers as baits to lureTurkish soldiers to them and allow the landing of British forces. Thefilm is thus largely based on this strategy that backfired and led tothe death of thousands of ANZAC soldiers. The film also explores theintricate details on how the soldiers from different countriesrelated and worked together. From the very beginning, the filmprepares the audience for friction when Frank says “It’s not ourbloody war-its English war.” Despite many Australians having anEnglish heritage, they are eager to draw the line between the BritishEmpire and Australia. Such a situation points to some issues thatface any military partnerships and agreements between nations.
TheGallipoli Campaign has an important place in Australia identity andhistory. It is often claimed that a nation was born out of thecampaign after thousands of Australian lives were lost. The actualhappenings of the campaign have remained fragmented owing to theinadequate technology that existed then. Personal accounts of thedevelopments of the war have shown some inconsistencies. Therefore,the manner in which the film portrays events of the war in thatparticular region and time are informed by individual elements.Nonetheless, the film achieves its core objective that is tocelebrate Australian mateship and identity.
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