An Accidental Soldier

2013-09-11_1843Whatever else you derive from watching An Accidental Soldier, one thing is clear: you won’t see anything else like this on Australian television.

This World War I telemovie by director Rachel Ward is set almost entirely in France, but filmed entirely in Western Australia. Around half of the film is in French dialogue, with subtitles. But just as much is conveyed without words.

Harry (Dan Spielman) is a young baker who feels the pressure to sign up and work for the troops at the Western Front in France. But not long after doing so he is told he will have to fight -as a baker the thought of killing the enemy overwhelms him. He becomes a deserter, fleeing the Gendarmes.

On the run he comes across a farmhouse run by Colombe, a middle-aged French woman (Marie Bunel), and despite the obvious language barriers, he convinces her to allow him to hide.

Colombe also works at a munitions factory alongside Isabelle (Julia Zemiro) whose husband is fighting the war and leaving her to pay the rent and care for their young son.

Later Bryan Brown appears in a supporting role but to reveal more would be a bit of a Spoiler.

An Accidental Soldier is essentially a story of forbidden love, as Harry and Colombe are thrown together by circumstance and their attraction grows. Colombe knows she is breaking the law by harbouring a deserter, but having been abandoned by her husband, finds herself fighting against base, emotional instincts. Harry tries to stay out of need but soon his feelings become harder to deny. With language, age and the law against them, this is a romance that should never be “allowed” to flourish.

Much of the film works as a two-hander as Rachel Ward creates a fragile relationship between two skilled actors. The camera makes the most of an intimate situation, and the actors necessarily communicate much from their body language and facial expressions.

Dan Spielman sensitively portrays a young man lost in a foreign world, both literally and metaphorically. French actress Marie Bunel gives an exquisite performance as a strong-willed and hard-working woman who is made to feel beautiful in unforgiving circumstance.

Cleverly shielding Australian flora, the West Australian setting even convinces as rural, period France. The camera rather eloquently captures romance in springtime with blossoming trees, lush green grass and bees hovering over flowers. There’s a lyrical quality to this work that elevates it above pedestrian television to arthouse film.

An Accidental Soldier is written by Blake Ayshford (The Slap, Love My Way, Crownies, The Straits, The Devil’s Playground) and based on a novel Silent Parts by John Charalambous. While the telemovie is essentially a love story it highlights the fact that over 3,300 Australian soldiers were court-martialled for desertion during WWI and over 120 were sentenced to death. It would be some 80 years before all were pardoned by the Australian government, no longer considered cowards.

Goalpost Pictures are to be congratulated for making a telemovie when so much of this story didn’t check any of the traditional TV boxes.

It’s very rewarding.

An Accidental Soldier airs 8:30pm Sunday on ABC1.


  1. The settings in W.A. were fine and so was most of the acting. But the piece remains a pretty simple love story against a conveniently timely WWI backdrop. Soldiers (including Australians) did not, as a rule, wander about with scruffy beards, and the image of a seriously-bearded British president of a court-martial was plainly ridiculous. A deal of the sub-titling and dialogue didn’t ring true and towards the end the whole thing descended into cliche. As another has observed no Australians were executed in the war, nor were free passes handed out on 11 November 1918. Numbers were still serving out their sentences into the 1920s. A good try with some nice moments but, as so often, sloppy in production and poor on detail.

  2. Congratulations to Rachel Ward and all involved in this wonderful movie. I didn’t have great expectations but was so pleasantly surprised. Great quality drama, story-telling and acting. Would love to see more of Rachel’s work on TV and stories of this calibre. It was very rewarding indeed.

  3. Wow, happy to eat my earlier words. This was very good indeed. It’s a pity it didn’t have more viewers – hopefully they will watch it on iView.

    I can’t believe an Aussie telemovie managed to avoid all the cliches we usually see. After a string of disappointing recent telemovies, we’ve finally got something that looks just as good, if not better, than the average Australian feature movie.

    Julia Zemiro has got genuine acting talent. I hope we see her in future movies. It’s not often you see an Australian actor who has more than one facial expression – she should go far.

    My only gripe with the telemovie was some clunky dialogue near the end. There were some “As you know…” scenes which could have been done better.

    It was also nice seeing Bryan Brown in that role. It reminded me of Breaker Morant, where he was the one being court-martialled.

  4. I’ll have a guess. Let’s see – Australian telemovie, Bryan Brown, arthouse vibe. Oh, I’ve got it! He plays a grumpy old guy who turns up and starts shouting at people for no particular reason, thereby creating conflict to compensate for a lack of story. Am I close?

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