Over eight million people died in World War l. It was a shattering historic event which transformed the manner of life over more of the globe than any prior occurrence. It altered the shape of the world from the balance of power among nations to matters of personal outlook. Still, for most people today, World War I seems as far away as the Dark Ages and equally vague.
Gallipoli, an Australian film directed by Peter Weir, is a story of a World War I campaign waged by Australian troops in Turkey during the summer of 1915. Weir has stated: "Gallipoli is about two young men on the road to adventure; how they crossed continents and great oceans, climbed the pyramids and walked through the ancient sands of Egypt and the deserts of the outback to their appointment with destiny." In other words, this film portrays how World War I affected the little people, rather than how it was molded and shaped by great leaders and vast impersonal forces.
Although the characters are fictitious, the final section of the movie is based on events which actually took place on the Gallipoli peninsula. The screenplay by David Williamson was researched thoroughly using material from Bill Gammage's book The Broken Years a collection of excerpts from the diaries and letters of 1000 soldiers who fought at Gallipoli (they called it Anzac).
Archy Hamilton (Mark Lee) works on his family's ranch in Western Australia and has the makings of a champion sprinter. He befriends Frank (Mel Gibson), a railroad employee whom he beats in a race. Archy wants to enlist but is turned away because he is under 21. They hop a train to Perth, Frank's home town, where no one knows Archy's real age. When their car is left on a siding in the outback, they are forced to walk across a large stretch of desert. During the trek, they argue about enlistment. Archy feels he would be ashamed if he didn't fight; Frank maintains that the war is a British problem that has nothing to do with Australia. Later, when they arrive in Perth, he changes his tune and decides to enlist with Archy. As he says to his father: "I'm going to keep m'head down, learn a trick of two and come back an officer. Well, I don't want to be pushed around for the rest of my life."
Outside Cairo, the Australians have a training camp in the shadow of the pyramids. For one magical evening, the two friends enjoy the privileges of class when they sneak into an officer's ball. The next morning they depart for Turkey. The troops land at Anzac Cove on the Gallipoli peninsula. The Australians and New Zealanders are being held to a hillside, only yards from the Turkish trenches. Colonel Robinson (John Morris) informs Major Barton (Bill Hunter), the head of the 10th Light Horse regiment, that his troops have been brought into the area to draw the enemy's attention away from the landing of 25,000 British soldiers at Suvla Bay one mile away. Over 7,500 men are ordered to give their lives in the defeat handed to the Australians by the well fortified Turkish troops.
For some soldiers, war is a testing ground of one's patriotism and valor. For others, it turns out to be the ultimate swindler, taking away dignity and freedom while giving back nothing in return. Talk to one veteran, and he will tell you war is a chess game for politicians and commanders with the soldiers serving as sacrificial pawns. Chat with another veteran, and he will agree with General Douglas MacArthur who declared, "a warlike spirit alone can create an civilize a state."
Gallipoli vividly depicts the horror of trench warfare and the tragic loss of life. Was this sacrifice necessary? Allow this film to touch your heart, and then decide.
On the DVD, director Peter Weir discusses the making of the film, the genesis of the script, the actual battlefield, and his impressions of Mel Gibson as a young actor.