Anzac story told with bru­tal hon­esty

For the men in the trenches, en­emy ac­tion was al­most a re­lief

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv -

Gal­lipoli 7.30pm, SBS

WHEN dawn broke over the rugged cliffs of Gal­lipoli this morn­ing there were prob­a­bly as many young Aus­tralians and New Zealan­ders camped on the slopes above the beach as rushed ashore into the clat­ter of Turk­ish guns 93 years ago. At­tend­ing the dawn ser­vice there has be­come part of the rite of pas­sage of young Aussie and Kiwi back­pack­ers.

But the con­di­tions those trav­ellers faced to­day were vastly re­moved from the con­di­tions the young An­zacs faced. It is un­likely that to­day’s young men and women can imag­ine the hor­rors their an­ces­tors faced.

This Turk­ish- made doc­u­men­tary gives view­ers some idea of what that doomed as­sault was like. Three years ago when film­maker Tolga Omek first screened it in Aus­tralia — at the his­toric Civic theatre in the Hunter Val­ley town of Scone in NSW — many in the au­di­ence averted their eyes and more than a few had to flee the theatre.

Omek has pro­duced one of the finest anti- war films of all time and it cap­tures the bru­tal re­al­ity of war with­out apol­ogy.

I was stand­ing with Omek af­ter the screen­ing when a wo­man, clutch­ing her stom­ach and in tears, ap­proached him and took him aside. ‘‘ I was ap­pre­hen­sive,’’ he told me later. ‘‘ She said the film made her phys­i­cally ill. But then she took my hand and thanked me for mak­ing it be­cause she never knew how the sol­diers on both sides had suf­fered.’’

The then 33- year- old wri­ter­di­rec­tor spent six years work­ing on the har­row­ing, two- hour film. It fo­cuses on Gal­lipoli through the eyes of 10 men: three Aus­tralians, two Bri­tish, three New Zealan­ders and two Turks. By us­ing archival footage from both sides, old pho­to­graphs, some re- en­act­ments and excerpts from di­aries and let­ters, Omek man­ages to bring the events of 1915 to life.

The full hor­ror of the sti­flingly hot sum­mer on the Gal­lipoli Penin­sula, with its fields of fly- blown and pu­tre­fy­ing corpses, swarms of green flies, mil­lions of fleas and lice, ram­pant dysen­tery and dis­ease is brought home in graphic de­tail.

For the men shel­ter­ing in the trenches on both sides, en­emy ac­tion was al­most a re­lief.

At the Scone screen­ing there were gasps of shock and oc­ca­sion­ally star­tled cries from the au­di­ence as the film ran. More than one craggy- faced bushie could be seen brush­ing away tears when the house lights came on. Re­watch­ing the film three years later, I found it was even more af­fect­ing and shock­ing. The ab­surd bungling of the Bri­tish high com­mand can still make you very an­gry.

The nar­ra­tion, by Kiwi ac­tor Sam Neill and Bri­tish ac­tor Jeremy Irons, is ex­cel­lent and the in­cluded com­ments from his­to­ri­ans and old mil­i­tary types meld the film into a must­watch ex­pe­ri­ence.

D. D. McNicoll

Sense of the hor­ror: A scene from tonight’s Gal­lipoli

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