Like American colonists 150 years before them, the Boers of South Africa fought to end the British Crown’s tyrannical stranglehold on their homeland. The Boer fighting force made up of civilian farmers, tradesmen and teacher volunteers, had their work cut out for them. They were battling the world’s most powerful and well-organized army. And they were a bedraggled militia, without adequate supplies or munitions, existing largely on their ironclad will to overcome the oppressor.
Blood & Glory, written and directed by actor, producer, director and record label owner Sean Else, focuses on the atrocities committed by the British army around the turn of the last century, and the prisoner of war and concentration camps the Crown established in that region. Farmer and Boer soldier Willem (Stian Bam), while suffering tremendous personal losses at the hands of the British, is captured and sent to a prison camp for rebel soldiers. There, he witnesses the very face of cruelty in Colonel Swannell (Grant Swanby), the camp’s sadistic commander, who takes great pleasure in the torture, murder and torment of defenseless prisoners.
“…Boer soldier Willem, while suffering tremendous personal losses at the hands of the British, is sent to a prison camp. He witnesses the very face of cruelty…”
The day-to-day grind of prison life, with its beatings and unjustified executions, is briefly interrupted when two prisoners are caught attempting escape. The fate of one of the two would-be escapees will be determined by the outcome of a high-stakes rugby match between the guards and the prisoners. Swannell takes great pride in the British soldiers’ team, watching them scrimmage on an ad hoc playing field as he takes tea. Much like the contrast between the two warring armies, the British team is well practiced and disciplined and includes a ringer, a renowned rugby star who leads the squad of hot shots. The Boers are inexperienced, under-equipped and malnourished. It’s the oft-told story of underdog vs. slick, unctuous reigning masters of the universe. And the sadistic Swannell is, literally, oily — his hair is plastered to his scalp with greasy kids’ stuff, in contrast to the scruffy and bearded Boers.
We see the scrappy Boers, trained by prisoner Finn Kelly (Patrick Connolly), an aging Irishman who happens to be a rugby aficionado, as he literally whips them into performing as a viable team.
Meanwhile, Governor Sterndale (Michael Richard), the ineffectual ranking government official under the Crown, and daughter Katherine (Charlotte Salt), are aware the mayhem that’s has become routine business at the camp but are unable to do anything to curb it. Katherine visits the prison camp to hold prayer meetings, and although deeply troubled by conditions at the camp, is unable to improve the treatment of prisoners.
“The rugby team-building portion…is a welcome break from the unending chain of misery that the psychotic Swannell…”
While the spirit of the prisoners who band together to help save the life of a young comrade is moving, it’s not hard to stay a step or two ahead of what’s going to happen next in Blood & Glory. While dwelling on the camp’s brutal treatment of the prisoners, there’s not much character development and the story doesn’t advance much. The rugby team-building portion of the film’s second act is a welcome break from the unending chain of misery that the psychotic Swannell heaps upon the prisoners. Even so, the do-or-die rugby match that follows feels like a thin plot device calculated to quicken the audience’s pulse. But it doesn’t deliver many surprises or conjure as much excitement as it’s supposed to.
You may walk away feeling short-changed by the cobbled on ending, which provides a somewhat less than a satisfying resolution to the story. True, all of the pieces are in place as the film fades to black, but our journey along the way is a little too mechanical to be a genuine crowd pleaser.
Blood & Glory (2016) Directed by Sean Else. Written by Sean Else. Starring Stian Bam, Grant Swanby, Charlotte Salt, Patrick Connolly.
5.5 out of 10