Gallipoli (1981 film)

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Gallipoli original Australian poster.jpg
Australian theatrical release poster
Directed byPeter Weir
Screenplay byDavid Williamson
Story byPeter Weir
Produced by
CinematographyRussell Boyd
Edited byWilliam Anderson
Associated R&R Films
Distributed by
Release dates
  • 7 August 1981 (1981-08-07) (Sydney)
  • 13 August 1981 (1981-08-13) (Australia)
Running time
111 minutes[1]
BudgetA$2.8 million[2]
Box officeA$11.7 million (Australia)
$5,732,587 (US)[3]

Gallipoli is a 1981 Australian war drama film directed by Peter Weir and produced by Patricia Lovell and Robert Stigwood, starring Mel Gibson and Mark Lee. The film revolves around several young men from Western Australia who enlist in the Australian Army during the First World War. They are sent to the peninsula of Gallipoli in the Ottoman Empire (in modern-day Turkey), where they take part in the Gallipoli campaign. During the course of the film, the young men slowly lose their innocence about the purpose of war. The climax of the film occurs on the Anzac battlefield at Gallipoli, depicting the futile attack at the Battle of the Nek on 7 August 1915. It modifies events for dramatic purpose and contains a number of significant historical inaccuracies.

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, as well as the conditions they endured on the battlefield, although its portrayal of British forces has been criticised as inaccurate. 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 the continued coming of age of the Australian nation and its soldiers (later called the ANZAC spirit).


In Western Australia, May 1915, Archy Hamilton, an 18-year-old stockman and prize-winning sprinter, longs to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force. He is trained by his uncle Jack and idolises Harry Lasalles, the world champion over 100 yards. Archy wins a race with a bullying farmhand, Les McCann, Archy running bare-foot and Les riding his horse bareback.

Frank Dunne is an unemployed ex-railway labourer who has run out of money. He's an accomplished sprinter and hopes to win the prize money at the athletics carnival; he also bets a lot of money on himself winning. Archy and Uncle Jack journey to the athletics carnival. Frank is surprised when Archy defeats him, and is bitter at first and feels robbed of his bet. Eventually, Frank approaches Archy in a cafe after getting over his loss. Archy gives all the prize money he won at the race to Jack and tells him that he will not be coming home for he has decided to enlist. They both decide to travel to Perth and enlist there.

As Archy and Frank are penniless, they secretly hop on a freight train. However, as they awake the next morning, they discover the train had stopped at a remote desert station instead of Perth. The station attendant informs them that they could either wait two weeks for the next train or walk 50 miles across the dry lake bed to reach a location with more frequent service. Archy immediately sets off while Frank chases behind in an attempt to persuade him to stay, reminding him that they could die in the desert much as members of the Burke and Wills expedition did. With Archy's navigation skills, the pair eventually reach a cattle station in safety. Upon arriving in Perth, they arrange to stay with Frank's father, an Irish immigrant. Due to Frank's Irish heritage and general cynicism, he has little desire to fight for the British Empire. However, Archy persuades him to try to enlist in the Australian Light Horse. Failing to ride a horse, Frank enlists in the infantry with three co-workers from the railway: Bill, Barney, and Snowy. Many of the motivations for enlistment are revealed: wartime anti-German propaganda, a sense of adventure and the attraction of the uniform. All soldiers embark on a transport ship bound for Cairo. Frank and Archy are separated and embark on different troopships.

Some months later, Frank and his fellow soldiers train near the Pyramids and spend their free time in Cairo, drinking and visiting brothels. During a training exercise, Frank and Archy meet once again; Frank is able to transfer to the Light Horse, as they are now being sent to the Gallipoli peninsula as infantrymen. They arrive at Anzac Cove and endure several days of hardships and boredom in the trenches. Frank's infantry friends fight in the Battle of Lone Pine on 6 August. Afterwards, a traumatized Billy tells Frank what happened to the others: Barney has been shot and killed, and Snowy is in a hospital, but in such bad condition that he is denied food and water. The following morning, Archy and Frank are ordered to take part in the charge at the Nek, a diversion in support of the British landing at Suvla Bay. Archy is ordered by Major Barton to be the message runner. He declines the offer and recommends Frank for the role.

The Light Horse are to attack in three waves across a stretch of ground defended by Turkish machine gunners. The first wave is to go at 4:30 AM, after an artillery bombardment. Unfortunately, the commanders' watches are unsynchronized and the bombardment ends too early. The brigade's commander, Colonel Robinson, insists the ANZAC attack proceed; the first wave is cut down by the Turks within seconds. The second wave goes over, to a similar fate. Major Barton wants to halt the attack to end the carnage, but the Colonel says that somebody told him ANZAC marker flags were seen in the Turkish trenches, indicating that the attack was partially successful. The phone line goes dead, and Barton gives Frank a message to carry to Brigade HQ, but when he arrives, the Colonel insists the attack continue.

Lieutenant Gray, Major Barton's second-in-command, admits to Barton that he was the soldier who said that he saw marker flags, though he did not remember who told him. Frank suggests to the Major that he go over the Colonel's head to General Gardner. Frank hurries to Gardner's headquarters down on the beach. The General is informed that, at Suvla, the British landing party is brewing tea on the beach. He tells Frank that he is reconsidering the attack. Frank sprints back to convey this news, but the phone lines are repaired and Colonel Robinson orders the attack to continue. Barton joins his men in the attack, climbs out of the trench pistol in hand, and signals his men to charge. Archy joins the last wave and goes over the top. Frank arrives seconds too late and lets out a scream of anguish and despair. As Archy's companions are cut down by gunfire, he drops his rifle and runs as hard as he can. The final frame freezes on Archy being hit by bullets across his chest, head flung back, as if breaking the tape at the finish of a 100-yard sprint, and falling backwards.


David Williamson made a cameo as an Australian soldier playing a game of Australian rules football in Egypt.


A major theme of this film is loss of innocence and the coming of age of the Australian soldiers and of their country. An early scene in the film shows Uncle Jack reading from Rudyard Kipling's 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."[5]

In an examination of Gallipoli's enduring legacy, SBS Movies notes "The soldiers of Gallipoli head to war because it is expected of them, just as Australia headed to war because, as part of the British Empire, it was expected of the nation.[6]


Peter Weir had wanted to make a film about the Gallipoli campaign since visiting Gallipoli in 1976 and discovering an empty Eno bottle on the beach.[7] He wrote an outline of the script and gave it to David Williamson to turn into a screenplay. The script went through many variations; the South Australian Film Corporation did not like an early draft and said they did not want to fund the film, which then had a proposed budget of A$4.5 million. In May 1979 Weir asked Patricia Lovell to produce the film. The script then began to focus on the story of two runners. Lovell managed to raise A$850,000, which was not enough to make the film.[2]

Associated R&R Films[edit]

On 1 May 1980 Rupert Murdoch and Robert Stigwood announced they were forming a film company, R&R, later known as Associated R&R Films. This was a joint venture between News Corporation and the Robert Stigwood Organisation. They pledged an investment total of A$10m in local productions, with Gallipoli being the first; however, the company did not produce any more films.[8] Lovell approached them with the script, and they agreed to fund it provided the budget did not exceed $3 million. He later said the final budget was $2.8 million, or $2.4 million with the rest consisting of fees.[2] This was the highest budget of an Australian film to date.[9] Murdoch's father, Keith Murdoch, had been a journalist during the First World War, and after visiting Gallipoli in September 1915 became an influential agitator against the conduct of the campaign by the British.[10]

Francis O'Brien, the only American in the company, was appointed international president[11] of the company, and became executive producer of the film.[12] Ben Gannon returned from the U.S. in 1980 join the company as general manager, and was associate producer of the film.[13] He spent two years with the company, which he later described as "very frustrating".[14] R & R had intended to develop more Australian films, with Australian directors and writers, with the next project slated as a film based on Gabrielle Lord's novel Fortress.[11][a]

According to ASIC, the company was first registered in New South Wales on 13 August 1980 as R & R Films,[15] and is still registered as of April 2022 in the Sydney suburb of Surry Hills. The name has been variously spelt with spaces between the letters of the name (R & R) and without (R&R).[16]


Gallipoli was filmed primarily in South Australia.[17] The cattle station scenes were shot in Beltana, the salt lake at Lake Torrens, the station at Adelaide railway station, and the coastline near Port Lincoln was transformed into the Gallipoli Peninsula. The pyramid and bazaar scenes were filmed on location in Egypt. The farewell ball scene was not in the original script but was an idea of Weir's during shooting. It cost an extra $60,000 to make.[2]


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 described the film as "Not really a war movie. That's just the backdrop. It's really the story of two young men." 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."[18]


The film was screened at the Variety Club of Australia in 1980 and at the 1981 Australian Film Institute.[19] It was released in Australia on 13 August 1981 by Roadshow Film Distributors, in the United States on 28 August, by Paramount Pictures,[20] and Cinema International Corporation handled the rest of international distribution.[21] It was released in UK cinemas on 10 December 1981.[citation needed]

On 1 May 1981, the Australian Classification Review Board announced that the film would receive a PG certificate rating.[22]

Home media[edit]

The film was first released in Australia on VHS in 1984.[23]

In 2001 Gallipoli was released for the first time on DVD widescreen with two extra features, an interview with director Peter Weir and cinema trailer.[24]

In 2005 a North American and 2006 (UK) Special Collector's Edition DVD was released with a different extra feature and includes a 63-minute documentary titled Entrenched: The Making of Gallipoli with interviews from the cast and crew and production.[25]

A 2015 2-disc Commemorative Edition was released by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment on DVD and for the first time, on Digital HD and Blu-ray exclusively in Australia.[26]


Box office[edit]

Gallipoli proved to be a success domestically, grossing AUD $11,740,000 at the box office in Australia.[27][28] Although critically praised by many, the international releases were not quite as successful financially. Gallipoli only earned US$5.7 million on the US market.[29]

Film Comment wrote that "Paramount apparently lavished substantial print-ad spending in an effort to create a broad market for a specialized film that faltered beyond first-run -as did virtually every other 1981 film on which this strategy was used."[30]

Critical response[edit]

The film has an approval rating of 91% based on 46 reviews at review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, with an average score of 8/10. The site's critical consensus states, "Peter Weir's devastating anti-war film features a low-key but emotionally wrenching performance from Mel Gibson as a young soldier fighting in one of World War I's most deadly and horrifying battles".[31] Metacritic gives the film a score of 65 out of a possible 100 based on reviews by six critics, indicating generally favourable reviews.[32]

Almost 40 years on, the film is still well regarded by Australian critics with Guardian film critic, Luke Buckamster, describing it as "one of the best loved and most quintessially 'Australian' films". Irrespective of the generally positive critical reception, the historical accuracy of the film still provokes historical cultural debates by commentators.[33]

Historical accuracy[edit]

Gallipoli shows much of the conditions and events that soldiers endured in the Gallipoli theatre of war. Archy Hamilton's athlete character was inspired by a line from Charles 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."[citation needed]

The most notable deviation of the film from reality, and the one for which it has been most criticised, 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.[34][35] In reality, Colonel Robinson speaks with a clipped accent typical for an upper class Australian of the period. Colonel Robinson's character was based on the brigade major of the 3rd Brigade, Colonel John Antill, an Australian Boer War veteran. Indeed, very little British command and control was exercised at the Nek.

In his best-selling history novel, Gallipoli, published in 2001, Les Carlyon agreed that the film unfairly portrays the English during the battle, with Carlyon laying the blame for the debacle 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."[36] 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 while the surviving regimental commander in the trenches, Lieutenant Colonel Noel Brazier, attempted to get the attack called off.[citation needed]

Other critics, Carlyon included, have pointed out that the Australian attack at the Nek was a diversion for the New Zealand Expeditionary Force's 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. Two companies of a British regiment, the Royal Welch Fusiliers, suffered very heavy losses trying to support the Australian attack at the Nek once it was realised that the offensive was in trouble.[37]

Some have also criticised the film for its portrayal of British officers and their disdain for Australian discipline behind the lines. According to Robert Rhodes James, no evidence for any such disdain on the part of British commanders for their Australian troops exists.[38] However, the British command's low regard for the discipline of Australian troops behind the lines has been widely documented by earlier historians, such as Charles Bean, and more recent ones such as Carlyon, as well as by the oral tradition of survivors.[citation needed]


The film was nominated for or won the following awards:[39]

Award Category Subject Result
AACTA Awards
(1981 Australian Film Institute Awards)
Best Film Robert Stigwood and Patricia Lovell Won
Best Direction Peter Weir Won
Best Screenplay, Original or Adapted David Williamson Won
Best Actor Mel Gibson Won
Mark Lee Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Bill Hunter Won
Bill Kerr Nominated
Best Cinematography Russell Boyd Won
Best Costume Design Terry Ryan and Wendy Stites Nominated
Best Editing William M. Anderson Won
Best Production Design Herbert Pinter and Wendy Stites Nominated
Best Sound Greg Bell, Don Connolly and Peter Fenton Won
Australian Cinematographers Society Cinematographer of the Year Russell Boyd Won
AWGIE Award Feature Film - Original David Williamson Won
Golden Globe Award Best Foreign Film Nominated
National Board of Review Top Ten Films Won
Venice Film Festival Golden Lion Peter Weir Nominated


The original music was provided by Australian composer Brian May (who had also scored Mad Max). The film includes excerpts from Oxygène by French electronic music pioneer Jean Michel Jarre during running scenes. Quiet or sombre moments at Gallipoli, and the closing credits, feature the Adagio in G minor, by Tomaso Albinoni.

The film also features the Pearl Fishers' Duet by Georges Bizet playing on Major Barton's gramophone before the final attack, drawing a parallel between the bond shared by the ill-fated soldiers of the film and the fishermen in Bizet's opera.[40]

A soundtrack album was not released.[41][42]


With a budget of $2.6 million, Gallipoli received heavy international promotion and distribution and helped to elevate the worldwide reputation of the Australian film industry and of later Australian New Wave films. The film also helped to launch the international career of actor Mel Gibson.

Due to growing popularity of the Gallipoli battlefields as a tourist destination in the 21st century, the film was shown each night in a number of hostels and hotels in Eceabat and Çanakkale on the Dardanelles. In the 20 to 1 episode "Great Aussie Films", Gallipoli was listed as Number 1.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ This apparently never came to pass, with Fortress (1985) made by Crawford Productions.


  1. ^ BBFC: Gallipoli (1981), classified 08/10/1981 Retrieved 2013-04-23.
  2. ^ a b c d Stratton, David. The Avocado Plantation: Boom and Bust in the Australian Film Industry, Pan MacMillan, 1990, pp. 22–24.
  3. ^ Gallipoli at Box Office Mojo
  4. ^ a b c Railway Foreman: "Dunne, Lewis, Wilkes! Where the hell are you?!" - Frank: "Anyone seen Billy Lewis? Barney Wilson? Snow?" - On the slip, on the dying Tom, is written "G.S.W." - in the movie
  5. ^ Seay, Davin (February 1983). "An American from Kangaroo-land hops to the top". Ampersand.
  6. ^ Crewe, Dave (21 April 2015). "Gallipoli (1981): Cheat Sheet". SBS Movies. SBS Movies. Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  7. ^ Weir, Peter; Tibbetts, John C.; Thomson, David (6 February 2004). Peter Weir: Interviews. Univ. Press of Mississippi. ISBN 9781617038976.
  8. ^ Stratton, David (1 May 1980). "Films that help us remember them". AustLit. Retrieved 21 April 2022. Appears in: The Weekend Australian, 25 April 2020, p.13, Section: Review
  9. ^ Thomas, Bob (18 September 1981). "Welcome Star Watch: Mel Gibson, Mark Lee and Gallipoli". Associated Press.
  10. ^ Berenboom, Stanley (14 September 2016). "The Lost movie of the week: Gallipoli (1981)". Retrieved 21 April 2022.
  11. ^ a b Wolf, William (19 January 1981). "The newest New Wave". New York Magazine. New York Media, LLC: 46. ISSN 0028-7369. Retrieved 21 April 2022.
  12. ^ Williams, Christian (18 September 1981). "The cruel alter of war". Washington Post. Retrieved 21 April 2022.
  13. ^ Simmonds, Diana (21 April 2022). "Obituary: Ben Gannon". Stage Noise. Retrieved 21 April 2022.
  14. ^ Woods, Mark (7 June 1999). "Aussie's legitimate success". Variety. Retrieved 21 April 2022 – via Free Online Library.
  15. ^ "View details: Associated R & R films pty ltd ACN 001 968 583 (Organisation search, Associated R&R Films)". ASIC.
  16. ^ "Current details for ABN 18 001 968 583". ABN Lookup. November 2014. Retrieved 21 April 2022.
  17. ^ Gallipoli Filming locations at IMDb. Retrieved 29 April 2016.
  18. ^ Fleming, Michael (July 2000). "Mel's Movies". Movieline.
  19. ^ Gallipoli (1981) - The Screen Guide - Screen Australia
  20. ^ Gallipoli (1981) - Box Office Mojo
  21. ^ Keast, Jackie (9 February 2021). "Australian International Screen Forum to celebrate 40th anniversary of 'Gallipoli'". IF Magazine. Retrieved 21 April 2022.
  22. ^ GALLIPOLI (35MM) - Australian Classification Review Board
  24. ^ BBC - Films - review - Gallipoli DVD
  25. ^ Gallipoli: Special Collector's Edition (1981)
  26. ^ Gallipoli - The Movie Comes To Blu-Ray, Dvd & Digital HD
  27. ^ "Film Victoria - Australian films at the Australian Box Office" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 July 2011. Retrieved 18 November 2010.
  28. ^ Reading room - Murdoch University Archived 31 July 2014 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 25 July 2009.
  29. ^ Box Office Mojo: Gallipoli, total domestic gross Retrieved 2013-04-23.
  30. ^ Seventh Annual Grosses Gloss Meisel, Myron. Film Comment; New York Vol. 18, Iss. 2, (Mar/Apr 1982): 60-66,80.
  31. ^ Gallipoli (1981) at Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 9 September 2022.
  32. ^ Gallipoli at Metacritic, 28 August 1981. Retrieved 29 April 2016.
  33. ^ Crewe, Dave (21 April 2015). "Gallipoli: Cheat Sheet". SBS Movies. Retrieved 21 April 2022.
  34. ^ Chilton, Martin (25 April 2016). "Gallipoli, film review: 'heartbreaking'". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 10 October 2020. Retrieved 10 December 2020.
  35. ^ Crewe, Dave (21 April 2015). "Gallipoli Cheat Sheet". Archived from the original on 27 March 2019. Retrieved 10 December 2020.
  36. ^ Les Carlyon, "Gallipoli", 2001, p. 410.
  37. ^ Les Carlyon, "Gallipoli", 2001, pp. 408–409.
  38. ^ Robert Rhodes James, "Gallipoli", 1965, pp. 274–276.
  39. ^ IMDb: Awards for Gallipoli Retrieved 2013-04-23.
  40. ^ Leonard, Richard (2009). The Mystical Gaze of the Cinema. Melbourne University Press. pp. 179–180. ISBN 9780522859942.
  41. ^ "Gallipoli (1981) Soundtrack". RingosTrack. Retrieved 29 September 2017.
  42. ^ Gallipoli (1981) IMDB, retrieved 29 September 2017

External links[edit]