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Gallipoli is a 1981 Australian film, directed by Peter Weir and starring Mel Gibson and Mark Lee, about several young men from rural Western Australiamarker who enlist in the Australian Army during the First World War. They are sent to Turkeymarker, where they take part in the Gallipoli Campaign. During the course of the movie, the young men slowly lose their innocence about the purpose of war. The climax of the movie occurs on the Anzac battlefield at Gallipoli and depicts the futile attack at the Battle of the Nek on 7 August 1915.

Gallipoli provides a faithful portrayal of life in Australia in the 1910s — reminiscent of Weir's 1975 film Picnic at Hanging Rock set in 1900 — and captures the ideals and character of the Australians who joined up to fight, and the conditions they endured on the battlefield. It does, however, modify events for dramatic purposes and contains a number of significant historical inaccuracies. In particular the officers responsible for Entente command of the attack are depicted in the film as being British, when in fact most British historians agree that the blame for the failure falls at the feet of the two Australian Commanding Officers.

It followed the Australian New Wave war film Breaker Morant (1980) and preceded the 5-part TV series ANZACs (1985), and The Lighthorsemen (1987). Recurring themes of these films include the Australian identity, such as mateship and larrikinism, the loss of innocence in war, and also the continued coming of age of the Australian nation and its soldiers (later called the ANZAC spirit).


Gallipoli is roughly divided into three parts. The first third is set in Western Australiamarker in May 1915 as the first news of the Gallipoli landings is published, the second third is set in Egyptmarker and the final third at Gallipoli — the Battle of the Nek only occupies the final minutes of the film.

A sub-text of the film is of "war as a game" and the two main characters, Archy Hamilton (played by Mark Lee) and Frank Dunne Judd (Mel Gibson), meet at an athletics carnival. Both are sprinters and the numerous running sequences in the film are set to Jean Michel Jarre's Oxygène. Archy Hamilton's athlete character was inspired by a line from C.E.W. Bean's Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918 describing Private Wilfred Harper of the 10th Light Horse during the attack at the Nek:

"Wilfred... was last seen running forward like a schoolboy in a foot-race, with all the speed he could compass."

Opening in Western Australia in May 1915, Archy is an idealistic 18-year old stockman keen to join up even though he is under age. He is trained by his uncle Jack (played by Bill Kerr) and idolises Harry Lasalles, the world champion over 100 yards — when choosing a false name to enlist under, he calls himself "Archy Lasalles". Before running, he and his uncle always repeat a mantra:

Uncle Jack: What are your legs?

Archy Hamilton: Springs. Steel springs.

Jack: What are they going to do?

Archy : Hurl me down the track.

Jack: How fast can you run?

Archy : As fast as a leopard.

Jack: How fast are you going to run?

Archy : As fast as a leopard!

Jack: Then let's see you do it!

One day during a cattle roundup, Archy gets into an argument with a local rival and bully, Les McCann (Harold Hopkins), and they soon race against each other, under the condition that Archy will run bare-foot, and Les will ride his horse without his saddle. Les falls off his horse and Archy wins, but his feet are horribly mangled by the trek, with only a few days to recover for an athletics carnival. During this time, Jack reads The Jungle Book to the younger children of the family, when Archy walks up and listens at the door. A passage where Mowgli reaches manhood, loses his innocence, and must leave the family of wolves that raised him is given particular prominence. Archy's political beliefs are influenced as well, as he hears several conversations taking place that convince him of the need to join the military. Eventually, Archy and Jack journey to the athletics carnival in the nearby town.

lobbycard set
Meanwhile, Frank Dunne (Mel Gibson) is an erstwhile railway labourer who is definitely down on his luck. He's a fast runner though, and tries to get some prize money at the athletics carnival, but is defeated by young Archy coming in second. Archy explains to Dunne that he wants to join the Army and get involved in the war. Unfortunately, Archy is underage, so he has to travel to Perth, Western Australia where he is unknown, in order to enlist. Both he and Frank are flat broke, so they hop on a freight train for a free ride, but are left in their sleep at an isolated desert station. They wind up walking across the desert using Archy's wilderness survival skills, all the while arguing their political beliefs. After meeting a camel rider who points them in direction of Perth, Archy and Frank stop for the night at a nearby plantation and from there to Perth itself where they shack up with Frank's father whom still resides there.

Frank, who is of Irish descent, has little desire to fight for the British; however, bonds of mateship make him try for the Light Horse with Archy. He cannot ride, so he joins the infantry instead with three old mates in similar straits: Billy, Barney and Snowy whom used to work with him along the railway line. Many of the motivations that compelled young men to join up appear; the propaganda associated with German atrocities in Belgium, the sense of adventure, the attraction of a smart uniform and the pressure from society to "do your bit". After enlisting, they are quickly embarked on a transport ship bound for the Mideast. At this point, Frank and Archy are separated as Archy goes off on one transport ship with the Light Horse, while Frank and his three friends board another ship whom set off.

In Egypt for training, now set a few months later in July, Frank and his mates are encamped near the Pyramids and spend their free time in Cairo, drinking, haggling with local merchants and visiting brothels. In a rough game of Australian rules football played beneath the Pyramids, screenwriter David Williamson appears in an uncredited cameo role as the Victorian "lofty bastard" who Frank tells Billy to target. During a shambolic training exercise, Frank and Archy meet once again and Frank is able to transfer to the Light Horse as they are now being sent to the Gallipoli peninsula as infantry, sans horses.

Frank and Archy arrive at Anzac Covemarker in the dead of night and over the next several days, endure the hardships and boredom of the trench warfare that prevailed for much of the campaign. Frank's infantry mates fight in the Battle of Lone Pine on the evening of 6 August — the fighting is implied but not depicted. Afterwards, Billy seems shellshocked and tells Frank what happened to the others: Barney was shot and killed while running alongside Billy, and Snowy is in a hospital, but in such bad condition that he is not being given any food or drink. His last request to Frank is that his diary be sent to his parents. The following morning, Archy and Frank take part in the charge at the Nek which is to act as a diversion in support of the British landing at Suvlamarker Bay. Archy is told by Major Barton (played by Bill Hunter) that he will be the Runner, but he refuses the offer in order to save Frank from going into battle. Frank is then made the runner for the regiment commander.

The 8th and 10th Light Horse attack in three waves across a narrow stretch of exposed ground defended by Turkish machine guns. The first wave is timed to go at 4:30 am the end of an artillery bombardment. The various commanders' watches are out-of-sync, and the bombardment ends several minutes before the infantry commander believes he is supposed to attack. Nevertheless, the brigade's commander, Colonel Robinson, insists the attack proceed; the first wave goes over the top and is mercilessly cut down within 30 seconds. Right before the second wave goes over, Archy recognizes Les and realizes he is about to go over with the second wave. Archy calls his name, but Les is crying and does not respond. The second wave goes over, and Les is one of the first shot. Major Barton wants to halt the attack to end the carnage, but Robinson says that somebody told him ANZAC marker flags were seen in the Turkish trenches, indicating that the attack was at least partially successful. Moments later, the phone line goes dead. Barton gives Frank a message to carry to Robinson at brigade HQ, but when he arrives, the Colonel insists the attack continue.

Frank returns to Barton and suggests he go over Robinson's head to the division commander, General Gardiner. Lieutenant Gray (Peter Ford), Barton's aide and second-in-command, admits to Barton that he was the soldier who said that he saw marker flags. However, Gray only heard there were marker flags in the trenches but does not know who said it. Frank hurries to Gardiner's headquarters down on the beach. The General, hearing that at Suvla "the officers are sitting on the beach drinking cups of tea", gives Frank the message that he is "reconsidering the whole situation", effectively cancelling the attack. As Frank sprints back, the phone lines are fixed and Robinson insists Barton push on. Barton considers joining his men in the charge (and possibly does, although his fate is not clear at the film's end). After being given time to pray, write letters, and save their possessions to be sent to their families (Archy's possessions are the running medals he earned with Jack), Archy and the rest of the third wave go over the top. Frank arrives only seconds after the men are sent over, and lets out a scream of despair. Archy, the sprinter, runs as hard as he can, his rifle gone. The final frame freezes on Archy being gunned down in an image that evokes Robert Capa's famous photograph, The Falling Soldier.


A major theme of the film is loss of innocence and the coming of age of the Australian soldiers and of their country. An early scene in the film depicts Uncle Jack reading from The Jungle Book about how Mowgli has reached manhood and now must leave the family of wolves that raised him. Actor Mel Gibson commented, “Gallipoli was the birth of a nation. It was the shattering of a dream for Australia. They had banded together to fight the Hun and died by the thousands in a dirty little trench war."

The film draws a parallel between sport and warfare, with a recruiter for the Light Horse at the Kimberley Gift race calling war "the greatest game of them all."

Another theme relevant to the visual text is the theme of waste of potential. In the opening scene of the movie we see Archie performing his pre-race routine. He then proceeds to perform the 100 yard dash which he does in near-record time. In the final scene of the movie we see Archie in the trenches at Gallipoli. The whistle for them to go 'over the top' is about to be blown and Archie is leaving some sentimental items in the trench; a medal and watch. The medal is symbolic of Archie's potential, what he could've been in life. The watch is symbolic that time has 'run out' for Archie. He then performs his pre-race routine once again, a direct link to the opening scene, and the whistle is blown. This next scene depicts Archie running weaponless through the battlefield, this run is of course metaphorical and is again to show what Archie could have been. Finally Archie is shot and there is an 8-second freeze frame, it appears as though Archie is breasting tape.


Peter Weir cast Mel Gibson in the role of the cynical Frank Dunne, and newcomer Mark Lee was recruited to play the idealistic Archy Hamilton after participating in a photo session for the director. Gibson explained the director's reasons for casting the two leads:
"I'd auditioned for an earlier film and he told me right up front, ‘I'm not going to cast you for this part.
You're not old enough.
But thanks for coming in, I just wanted to meet you.’ He told me he wanted me for Gallipoli a couple of years later because I wasn't the archetypal Australian.
He had Mark Lee, the angelic-looking, ideal Australian kid, and he wanted something of a modern sensibility.
He thought the audience needed someone to relate to of their own time."
Gibson described the film as "Not really a war movie. That's just the backdrop. It's really the story of two young men."

The screenplay is by David Williamson and original music was provided by Australian composer Brian May (who had also scored Mad Max). However the most striking feature of the soundtrack was the use of excerpts from Oxygène by French electronic music pioneer Jean Michel Jarre. Quiet or sombre moments at Gallipoli, and the closing credits, feature the Adagio in G minor. The use (Major Barton is heard playing it before the final attack) of "Adagio in G Minor" is a historical oddity. A fragment of the composition was purportedly discovered in 1958 by composer Thomaso Albinoni's biographer, Remo Giazotto, in the ruins of a Dresden museum after it was destroyed during WW2, it was in fact an entirely new work by Giazotto. Whether a musical hoax or not, the music would not have been known at the time of the battle.

It took three years for the filmmakers to secure funding for the film, and government's film agency declined support because the film was deemed "not commercial." With a cost of $2.8 million, Gallipoli had the highest budget of an Australian film to date. The film was eventually produced by R&R Films, a production company owned by Robert Stigwood and media proprietor Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch's father, Keith Murdoch, was a journalist during the First World War. He visited Gallipoli briefly in September 1915 and became an influential agitator against the conduct of the campaign by the British.

Gallipoli was filmed primarily in South Australia. The cattle station scenes were shot in Beltanamarker, the salt lake at Lake Torrensmarker, the station at Adelaide Railway Stationmarker, and the coastline near Port Lincolnmarker was transformed into the Gallipoli Peninsula. The pyramid and bazaar scenes were fimed on location in Egyptmarker.


Gallipoli proved to be a success domestically at the box office earning $11,740,000. Roadshow Video also successfully distributed Gallipoli through video-cassette with the film topping the list in Australian Film Rental in 1981 earning a further $2,854,000. Gallipoli was also released in both the United Kingdom and America despite an icy reception by several international critics.

Rotten Tomatoes gives it an Average Rating of 7.9/10 from 15 reviews. Metacritic gives it 65 (generally favorable reviews) from 6 reviews.

Historical Criticism

Gallipoli shows much of the conditions and events that soldiers endured in the Gallipoli theater of war. The most notable deviation of the film from reality, and the one for which it has been most criticized, is its portrayal of the chain of command at the Nek. Although he is seen wearing an AIF uniform, Colonel Robinson is often mistaken for an Englishman due to his accent, which is in fact a clipped Anglo-Australian accent typical of the time and not a deliberate attempt to mislead the audience.

In any case, Colonel Robinson's character equates to the brigade-major of the 3rd Brigade, Colonel J.M. Antill, an Australian Boer War veteran. Indeed very little British command and control was exercised at the Nek. In his best-selling history, Gallipoli (2001) Les Carlyon agrees that the film unfairly portrays the English during the battle and Carlyon lays the blame squarely at the feet of Antill and 3rd Australian Light Horse Brigade commander Brigadier General Frederic Hughes - "The scale of the tragedy of the Nek was mostly the work of two Australian incompetents, Hughes and Antill."

The film implies that the fictional and benevolent General Gardiner called off the attack, when in reality the attack petered out when half of the 4th wave charged without orders whilst the surviving regimental commander in the trenches, Lieutenant Colonel Noel Brazier, attempted to get the attack called off.

Other critics, Carlyon included, have pointed out that the Australian attack at the Nek was a diversion for the New Zealanders' attack on Sari Bair, not the British landing at Suvla. The British were therefore not 'drinking tea on the beach' while Australians died for them. Moreover two companies of a British regiment, the Royal Welch Fusiliers, in fact suffered very heavy losses trying to support the Australian attack at the Nek once it was realized that the offensive was in trouble. Some have also criticized the film for its portrayal of British officers and their disdain for Australian discipline behind the lines. According to Robert R James, no evidence for any such disdain on the part of British commanders for their Australian troops actually exists; however, British command's low regard for the discipline level of Australian troops behind the lines has been widely documented by old historians (such as C.W. Bean) and new ones (Les Carlyon) alike and by aural tradition of the survivors.


With a budget of $2.5 million dollars, Gallipoli received heavy international promotion and distribution and helped to elevate the worldwide reputation of and the Australian film industry and of later Australian New Wave films. The film also helped to launch the career of actor Mel Gibson.

Due to the popularity of the Gallipoli battlefields as a tourist destination, the film is shown each night in a number of hostels and hotels in Eceabatmarker and Çanakkalemarker on the Dardanellesmarker.

In the 20 to 1 episode "Great Aussie Films", Gallipoli was listed as Number 1.

See also


  1. Filming locations for Gallipoli Retrieved 2009-07-25.
  2. Retrieved 2009-07-25.
  3. Gallipoli (1981) Retrieved 2009-07-25.
  4. Gallipoli Retrieved 2009-07-25.
  5. Les Carlyon, "Gallipoli", p.410, 2001.
  6. Les Carlyon, "Gallipoli", p.408-409, 2001.
  7. Robert Rhodes James, "Gallipoli", pp.274-276, 1965.

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