Torn Allegiance (1984)
Director: Alan Nathanson.
Starring: Shelagh Holliday (Ma), Ilse Schmidt (Maria), Trevyn McDowell (Sanna), Jonathon Morris (The British - Lt. Harry Wyckham), Ron Smerczak (The British - Stan Archer), Jon Maytham (The British - Watts), Ronald France (The British - Sgt. Major Pattison), Joe Stewardson (The British - Colonel Grey), Rob Smith (The British - Willits), Jason Roberts (The British - Bugler Boy), Marius Weyers (The Boers - Henk).
in the Boer War, a British Lieutenant is upset that he has to burn out Boer farms and crops
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
Transvaal, Summer, 1901. The British are advancing on the Boers. Lt. Harry Wyckham tells his superior that it doesn't make any sense to have him and his men check every farm house in the area for hidden food stores. Colonel Grey gets upset with the Lieutenant, who says he doesn't know anything about any secret food stores. The Colonel says that every Boer farm becomes a Boer outpost when the Boer fighters come down from the mountains. Col. Grey also tells Wyckham that he is not happy with the discipline amongst his men. He is lending Wychkam Sgt. Major Pattison to help shape the men up.
Wyckham decides to visit the farm closest to him as the men and horses are very tired, even though Pattison tells him that he specifically remembers the Colonel saying to investigate the other farm. As they advance on the farm, they are being watched by Boer farmers ready for battle. The Lieutenant has the men surround the farm house. The woman of the house is an English woman, Mrs. Van Elst, and English woman who married a Boer man. Pattison comes in to tell the woman that if they don't find the food stores, they will have to blow up her farm house, burn her fields and commandeer her life stock. The English woman says they only have food enough for themselves. Wyckham says he has to follow his orders.
Pattison gives the women fifteen minutes to get out of the house with what necessities they can carry. She and her young daughters, Sanna and Maria, will go to a refugee camp. Maria is seven months pregnant.
The soldiers rampage through the kitchen picking up food, fighting with each other for what's there. Pattison tells the men to get out. Archer tells Pattison that they haven't had anything to eat since last night. Pattison asks him his name. He then tells Archer he will remember him.
The English woman doesn't want to leave the house, so Pattison has to coax her out. Archer causes trouble for the young woman Sanna because she called him a pig. He teases her by refusing to return her doll to her and when she reaches high for it, he grabs his right breast. The family dog attacks Archer and Pattison shoots the dog. Archer then shoots the dog two more times. The Lieutenant has Archer put up on report.
The house is blown up. The women are taken to a camp where there are other Boer women. One of the women speaks defiantly against the British and their policies. Mrs. Van Elst says she and her young women are going back to their farm. The Lieutenant discourages them, but Pattison says they should let them go. The Boers will come to them and then they'll go to the food supplies. They can kill two birds with one stone. The Lieutenant lets the women go.
Lt. Wyckham reports to Col. Grey. The Colonel is angry because he told the Lieutenant to check the other farm in the area. They already know all about Mrs. Van Elst. He adds that now they will be blamed for not protecting the civilians. He transfers the Lieutenant and his men to another duty, a safe duty of guarding a supply column. The Colonel tells the Lieutenant to try to stay out of mischief. The lieutenant leaves. One of the other officers tells the Colonel that mistakes like this one are very common and he shouldn't make such a big deal out of it. The Colonel tells the officer that Mrs. Van Elst is his sister. He says he thinks or certainly hopes her husband is now a prisoner of war.
The three women return to the farm house which is still burning. The pregnant daughter says that they should have stayed with the others. Now they don't even have a place to sleep. She asks who are these people who would do such things to women? She adds that one cannot trust an Englishman. Mother slaps her face and tells her daughter that "these people" are her people too.
The next day the Colonel looks over the farm with his binoculars. He tells an aide that they will be all right. They leave. Sanna goes to the secret hiding place to get some food. She hides from a man, but comes out when she realizes the man is a Boer. A good friend of Sanna and the family and father to Maria's child, named Charley, arrives with other soldiers. They eat some of the food stores. Charley brings Sanna home. Henk speaks with Mrs. Van Elst. She says the place is ruined, but the food stores are okay.
Sanna goes outside in the night. Henk, worried about her, goes to talk with her. Sanna likes him. Henk tells her that his wife recently died. And his boys died of typhoid. Sanna consoles him and he suddenly grabs her and kisses her. She, frightened, pulls away from him. He apologizes to her several times, but she keeps her distance. Henk starts to leave and Sanna runs after him. They agree to be friends again. They start giving each other little pecks on the cheeks which develops into full kisses. Hank finally stops and goes back to the others. Sanna looks likes she in an enchanted trance.
The next morning the men prepare to leave. Sanna gives Henk some food nicely wrapped in cloth. He tells her there's a quarter of a century between their ages. She should be patient for she will find someone more her age.
Wyckham is still having problems with Stan Archer, who always seems to have something smart to say. Sanna asks her sister Maria to tell her what love is like. Maria asks Sanna if Henk has anything to do with these questions? Sanna says all they did was kiss.
Wyckham and his men reach the supply train. He scolds the man in charge for not having sentries posted. The fellow says that he was told that there weren't any Boers for one hundred miles around here. He doesn't now it, but Henk and his men, are watching the supply train.
Archer picks a fight with another soldier, named Willits. Pattison stops the fight and has the men involved (Archer, Willits and Watts) punished by having them high step run in place.
At night it rains. Pattison goes and checks on his sentry. The Boers kill the sentry once Pattison leaves. They go around and steal the rifles of the British. Now they have to get the ammunition. The Boers wait in place around the camp. Archer and Watts get up early. When the bugle sounds the Boers open up on the British. Archer charges Henk and Henk knocks him down. Henk turns to leave and Archers stabs him in the back with the bayonet of his rifle. The Boer Charley gets hit in the leg and goes down. Two men go out to pick up Charley. A shell falls near them but they survive it. Shell after shell lands.
The bugler boy blows his horn, the Boers shoot, Pattison runs in front of the boy and gets killed. That really angers the Lieutenant. They start chasing the Boers on horseback. They catch up with them and the chase really goes into full gear. The Lieutenant shoots one of the Boers out of his saddle. The Boers keep splitting up and the British lose them. The lieutenant and two others, Archer and Watts, continue the search.
Sanna strips off her clothes and goes in swimming, while Maria talks with her. The Lieutenant returns to the Van Elst farm. He finds Mrs. Van Elst there. And with her he finds lots of food stores. The Lieutenant tells the woman that she made a real fool of him. Archer sees the hated Sanna again and says let's have a bit of fun. Archer takes her clothes. The two soldiers chase her back and forth from one side of the pond to another. Maria runs home to tell her mother. Archer finally catches her. Watts says that the girl is his and starts fighting Archer for her. This gives Sanna a chance to get away. Archer frees himself and chases after the girl. Watts catches up with Archer and they fight again. The other women and the Lieutenant arrive in time to save Sanna.
The Lieutenant is taking the two fellows back to camp for a court martial. The Lieutenant foolishly lets Archer lag behind him and the nasty fellow strikes him with a horse whip across the face. Down the Lieutenant goes.
Sanna is still hungry. She wants to go out to get some food. She pleads with her mother until she says yes. The women hear horses. Archer and Watts try to get in to get the girl, but the girl is not there. Mrs. Van Elst throws boiling water on Archer. Watts grabs the pistol from the writhing Archer and fires into the building where the two women are. The Lieutenant arrives and starts fighting Watts. Watts is getting the better of the Lieutenant and Sanna comes to his rescue. Watts throws her off. She then rushes over to the horses and gets a rifle. When Watts still keeps coming at her despite her warnings, she shoots him dead.
Other British soldiers arrives. The Lieutenant says goodbye to the two women, but then whispers something into Sanna's ear. mother asks Sanna what he said. Sanna says he said he was sorry about having to burn the house and that if he can get back this way, he would like to build it up again.
A good movie. Most of the Boer men are away from their farms fighting the British. British Lt. Wyckham has orders to search for hidden food stores in the farms around the area. If the farm residents, mostly women, do not reveal where the food stores are hidden, he has to burn down the farm house and other buildings and destroy the crops. He hates having to do this. He doesn't think that there are hidden food stores. He is definitely torn between his orders and his sympathy for the women whose homes are burned out. For most of the farms, the Lieutenant can just move on, but for the Van Elst farm, he can't just do that. He gets to know the women whose farm house he burned down, which makes it harder on him.
Should Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman have felt bad about burning his way through Georgia and elsewhere? I don't think so. Perhaps Lt. Wyckham should have though about the Sherman example. If he had, he might not have had as many qualms about performing his duty.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
Return To Main Page
Return to Home Page (Vernon Johns Society)