sisJ.F. Thomas, played by Jack Thompson, was an intelligent man and well versed in his profession, although it didnt seem this way in the beginnings of this case. As is clear to the viewer, he is unorganised, aloof, and unconfident. This is seen in the scene that introduces him to the movie (Show scene). Notice how he is clumsy, and keeps dropping the papers.
As we journey further into the trial, Thomass confidence grows. At first, he is not very confident, and this can be seen in his stance – note how he is leaning on the table for support, instead of standing up straight, with confidence. Yet his confidence grows. While the rules of war prohibited using prisoners as shields from attack, prosecution witnesses admit under Thomass effective cross-examination that placing railway cars filled with Boer prisoners as the lead car for British trains stopped the bombing of rail lines. Major Thomas forces Captain Robertson, a prosecution witness, to admit that he too had continued to use this tactic because “though irregular, it was effective.” It is here that the viewer can clearly see his increased confidence, that is shown in his now confident stance, he is standing up straight and tall, and he raises his voice to make his point clear (show scene).
Thomas felt that there were inconsistencies in the military code of the law at the trial, but mature consideration showed him that what was done in the courtroom was overall, properly enough done. His own performance had included some lapses; remember the comment from the Judge Advocates review that a heap of irrelevant evidence was admitted by the Court on the part of the defence despite the ruling of the judge advocate
But no matter the outcome of the courts martial, there is no way in which Thomas could have been accused of failure as an advocate. When he took on the defence brief his charges had already been subjected to 12 weeks of close, generally solitary confinement. Having been passed from court of inquiry to the court martial considerably bewildered them, and they had almost no time for consultation with this stranger who was to be their lawyer.
Equally, Thomas had no clear knowledge at the outset of the ramifications of the charges either in the military or legal sense, and no personal knowledge of the men concerned. Yet in spite of all that, he put up an amazingly good effort when the gravity of the charges and the nature of the evidence are considered.
He pleaded cogently and successfully enough to get the men acquitted on one charge, and when court came to sentencing, 2 of the accused men were recommended to mercy a recommendation that was surely based on Thomass pleas. But there was no way he could clear them all, no way he could save Morant and Handcock for that morning parade when they stared down the muzzles of a row of rifles.
To Thomas, though, the two salient facts were that the prisoners had been accused of doing what many others had done without being brought to trial, and that the executions of Morant and Handcock were far too severe as punishment.
Major J. F. Thomas, the defence counsel, countered with questions that challenged the members of the Court-Martial to look past the rules in the book to see the realities of this war at this time. Rhetorically, Major Thomas asked the court what these printed rules had to do with the fear and anger, the blood and death, that daily faced the Bushveldt Carabineers. Should it not be expected that when one side departs from the formal rules of war that the other side will also depart from those formal rules? How can the members of the Court-Martial justly judge the accused men unless they themselves had faced the same pressures and provocations that Lieutenants Morant, Handcock, and Witton had faced?
Major Thomas argued that these printed rules of war were clear and understandable only from the calm and security of Pietersburg, but that they should not be applied to soldiers in war. Soldiers in the stress of combat duty should not be held accountable