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History Nerd's Review: Gallipoli (2015)

"Men, I am not ordering you to attack. I am ordering you to die."

World War One's Gallipoli campaign was an offensive undertaken by France and Britain to capture the Bosporus and Dardanalles and the city of Constantinople (Istanbul), opening a supply line to their struggling Russian ally and knocking Ottoman Turkey out of the war. Like most World War One offensives, it did not end well. A mixed force of French, British, Australian, and New Zealander units landed on the mountainous Turkish coast on April 25, 1915. After eight months of costly, futile trench warfare, they were withdrawn, having never gotten more than a few miles inland.

This bingeworthy seven-episode miniseries from Australia's Nine Network tells the story mainly from the viewpoint of two brothers who volunteered at the outbreak of the war, Thomas "Tolly" Johnson (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and his brother Bevan (Harry Greenwood). It rates four out of four kangaroos for entertainment value. Did it ace the history final? Let's find out.

Yes, that really happened: The major events of the Gallipoli campaign are portrayed accurately, in their proper sequence. That includes the tragic Battle of the Nek, where the dismounted Australian 3rd Light Horse went "over the top" in four successive waves, only to be immediately cut down by Turkish machine guns each time. (That attack is also portrayed in the 1981 feature film Gallipoli, directed by Peter Weir and starring Mel Gibson.)

General Sir Ian Hamilton (John Bach), in overall command of the operation, really was as incompetent and conniving as he is portrayed, and really did spend more energy censoring press reports and covering up his failures than he did actually trying to figure out how to fight the war without getting everybody under his command killed for no purpose. As shown in the series, when an enterprising Australian correspondent (played by James Callis) finally got some accurate reporting past the censorship, Hamilton was relieved of command and the troops withdrawn.

While the story is mainly about the Australians, the Turks are given a fair portrayal, including Mustafa Kemal (Yalin Ozucelik), the Turkish general who, after the war, became the founder of the modern Turkish Republic. His rousing speech to his troops in the first episode (quoted above) is word-for-word accurate.

Points off for: Tolly, Bevan, and the other common soldiers the series focuses on are are fictional. The small "slice of life" incidents we see them going through are also fictional in their particulars, but typical of the experiences of the troops who fought there.

Extra credit for: In the first battle sequence, an Australian officer is directing his unit to fire by volleys. British infantry doctrine at the beginning of the war was to have all fire directed by officers, rather than individual soldiers shooting on their own initiative, but this soon proved impractical on the modern battlefield.

The sniper rifle with the tubeless optical sight looks goofy, but it really existed and really was used in combat. So was the "self-firing rifle" employed as a ruse during the withdrawal.

Final grade: 98%

1 comment:

  1. If you liked Galipoli I highly recommend you watch "Anzac Girls" if you can find it, also a mini series but told from the view point of Australian and New Zealand nurses at Galipoli and later western front.

    So much of Australian identity was forged at Galipoli, when i was growing up we would watch the Perer Weir movie Galipoli at school each year as part of Anzac Day commemorations, but the minseries made for the 100th anniversary was able to tell more stories.


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