Utu (1983) 




Director:  Geoff Murphy. 

Starring:  Anzac Wallace (Te Wheke), Bruno Lawrence (Williamson), Tim Elliott (Col. Elliot), Kelly Johnson (Lt. Scott), Wi Kuki Kaa (Wiremu), Tania Bristowe (Kura), Ilona Rodgers (Emily Williamson), Merata Mita (Matu), Faenza Reuben (Hersare), Tom Poata (Puni), Martyn Sanderson (Vicar), John Bach (Belcher), Dick Puanaki (Eru), Sean Duffy (Cpl. Jones), Ian Watkin (Doorman).

in the 1870s, Te Kooti's War, a Maori soldier seeks revenge after the British army destroys his home village and kills his uncle


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie.

1870, New Zealand.  Colonial troops attack a Māori village killing the inhabitants and burning the houses.  A villager named Te Wheke serving with the colonials sees the massacre and kills one of the two white troopers with him. He sends the other one back to see Colonel Elliott and tell him that Te Wheke will catch up with him sooner or later.  Te Wheke then shouts:  "I must kill the white man to avenge what he has done."  This drive for revenge among the Māori is known as "utu". 

Flash forward.  August 27, 1870.  Te Wheke has been found guilty of numerous murders by an ad-hoc military court and will be executed by firing squad. 

Flashback.  Te Wheke has his face tattooed with numerous little spots forming lines. At the white encampment, Lt. James Scott reports for duty to Col. Elliott.  Scott says that he has been sent to perform some military experiments with new tactics used by Boer commando groups in South Africa.  Col. Elliott is not sympathetic to the idea of using new tactics. 

Māori natives attend church services given by Mr. Wolf.  The church session is interrupted by Te Wheke.  He shows Wolf one of his fellow clergymen hanging by a rope around his neck.  Te Wheke then kills Wolf with his tomahawk.  Some of the white settlers move to avoid any Māori attacks, but not Jonathan Williamson and his wife Emily.  Jonathan complains that three times they have been locked in the stock house and three times they have lost animals and not to Maori rebels.  Williams has rejected any help from the colonial forces.  Te Wheke and his supporters attack the Williamson house.  Emily is killed when she falls off the balcony trying to avoid Te Wheke.  The Māori leader then shoots her husband. 

Lt. Scott goes fishing with his Māori aide.  While the lieutenant fishes, a young Māori girl named Kura makes a grab for his shotgun.  He stops her but she manages to get away with the weapon.  He chases her and she fires at him grazing his head.  She gets away from the pursuing Māori aide by jumping into the river.  She then lets him catch her so she can ask him about his support for the whites. 

Johnathan Williamson is still alive.  And now he wants revenge on the Māori. 

Lt. Scott's Māori aide starts to desert Lt. Scott, but is shot dead by attacking Māori.  The attackers are repulsed, but Lt. Scott is wounded in the arm.  Later Lt. Scott attends the wedding of his former aide and meets Kura again.  Lt. Scott meets Te Wheke at the funeral and they exchange a few quick remarks. 

Lt. Scott receives a note from Col. Elliott.  It says that his failure to catch and defeat the Māori has caused a return to normal tactics.  Lt. Scott is to remain off-duty until his arm wound heals.  The colonel adds that he will personally lead the troops to defeat Te Wheke. 

Johnathan Williamson follows a Māori deserter to find Te Wheke.  Williamson fires at Te Wheke missing him, but does manage to kill the deserter.  Te Wheke and his men pursue Williamson, but he manages to escape when he falls off the cliff into the river. 

Kura has become a prisoner of the colonials and Lt. Scott is given the job of watching her.  She turns on the charm trying to seduce him and manages to sneak away from him and escape.  

Jonathan makes a huge four-barreled shotgun to help him kill more Māori natives.  He now travels with the colonial troops who are heading north to a small town.  The Colonel believes that Williamson is quite mad, but Williamson, Lt. Scott and his troopers help guard the colonel's headquarters in town. 

Te Wheke and his men capture a supply wagon headed for the colonel's headquarters.   He then uses the supply wagon and its explosives in his plan to take headquarters.  The explosion will mark the beginning of the attack.  Kura sneaks into the headquarters area and "captures" Lt. Scott.  She then takes him to a shack where she has sex with him. 

But the ever attentive Williamson is not going to be taken by surprise.  He opens fire on the arriving supply wagon and its escort and the fight is on.  Te Wheke is caught off guard and shouts that the troopers knew there were coming and that everyone should make a run for it.  Col. Elliott is ecstatic over Te Wheke's retreat and declares:  "I beat him!"  and "He's finished!"  But Williamson tells the Colonel that he is mistaken.  So the troopers go after Te Wheke.  They take their horses for part of the way and then go the rest of the way on foot. 

Flash forward.  One of the Māori women tries to kill Te Wheke before he can be executed by the firing squad for killing some of her relatives, but she does not know how to fire the weapon, a new one from the United States, and is grabbed by the soldiers. 

Flashback.  The troopers catch up with Te Wheke.  An exploding mortar shell announces the start of the attack.  Col. Elliott is killed by one of his own Māori troopers with Williamson's approval and no reproach from Lt. Scott.  Scott receives another wound, but Te Wheke is also wounded and captured.  Scott learns that Te Wheke accused Kura of providing information about their whereabouts to the troopers and clubbed her to death. 

The Māori trooper who killed the colonel now reveals himself as the brother of Te Wheke.  With tears in his eyes, he shoots Te Wheke in the head with the new American rifle. 


Pretty good movie.  It is an old cowboys and Indians film like the American westerns.  And as such it keeps one's interest in the movie.  Boy are those Maori natives big and husky.  They must have struck fear into the hearts of the white troopers.  The only bad thing is that one does not learn much about history in the movie.  There is little said of the many conflicts between the whites and the Māori.  You have to read about the historical background to get much history out of the movie. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 


Historical Background:


1840  --  by royal proclamation Queen Victoria annexed New Zealand.

1840 (February)  --  William Hobson takes possession of New Zealand.  The Treaty of Waitangi made the Māori natives British subjects.  In return the Māori were granted property-rights and tribal autonomy.

1843  --  the Wairau Affray occurred at the north end of South Island because the Nelsons tried to seize native land.  22 whites killed. 

1845-1855  --  George Grey, Governor of New Zealand.

between 1845 and 1872  --  the New Zealand Wars were a series of wars, mostly over Māori land being sold to the whites. Some tribes (known as kupapa) fought for the Crown.

1845-1846  --  the Flagstaff War in the far north of New Zealand around the Bay of Islands involved a war between rival Māori chiefs (with the British fighting on one side). 

1846 (March to August)  --  the Hutt Valley Campaign arose over European encroachment onto Māori land. 

1847 (April to July)  --  the Wangauni Campaign also involved European encroachment onto Māori land. 

1848-1860  --  a period of relative peace and economic cooperation.

1859  --   the number of whites (Pakehas) equaled the number of Māori at around 60,000 each.

1860 (March) to 1861 (March)  --  First Taranaki War that ended in an overall Māori victory.   

1860 (March 5)  --  Governor Browne ordered Colonel Gold and the 65th Regiment, along with the militia and the Taranaki Rifle Volunteers, to occupy disputed land at Waitara.  In the Battle of Te Kohia the British lost two men, while the Maori lost none, but the Maori retreated. 

1860 (March 28)  --  the British proclaim a disputed victory.

1860 (June 27)  --  at the Battle of Puketakauere the British were surrounded and forced to retreat.  It was one of the worst defeats for the British in the wars in New Zealand.  The British lost 32 killed and 34 wounded while the Māori casualties were light.

1861-1868  --  George Grey, Governor of New Zealand again. 

1860s  --  the New Zealand land war.  The British confiscated large tracts of native land as punishment.

1863  --  the biggest war of the New Zealand wars began: the Waikato War.  The British were able to take a major amount of land from the Māori.

1864-1866  --  the Second Taranaki War was a series of conflicts between the Māori and the European settlers in the Taranaki province.

mid 1864-early 1868  --  a period of relative quiet. 

1868 (July) to mid-1872  --  Te Kooti's War took place in the East Cape region and the center of the North Island.  It was the longest and most savage of all the New Zealand Wars.  Some Māori foutht as part of the Colonial Forces.  Troops hunted for Te Kooti through the Urewera Ranges. 

1868 (July 4)  --  Te Kooti led a revolt of prisoners of war on Chatham Island: 163 men, 64 women and 71 children.

1868 (June) to 1869 (March)  --  Titokowaru's War took place in the Taranaki Region of North Island. 

1872 (May 15) --  Te Kooti crossed the Waikato River, entered the territory of the Māori King, Tawhiao and asked for and was granted asylum, thereby ending Te Kooti's War

1881  --  the Crown dispersed the participants in a passive resistance movement.

late 19th century --  many thought the Māori population would just become assimilated into the European population ending its separate existence as a people.  .


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