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Film Review: The Great Escaper

Author: Kristina Cooper

Film Review: The Great Escaper

The richness of themes and wonderful acting makes the poignant 'The Great Escaper' a film which is not to be missed, says Kristina Cooper.

The Great Escaper, which will be out in cinemas the first week of October, is a fantastic film, not to be missed. This is based on a true event and a real person.  In 2014, 89-year-old Bernie Jordan went AWOL from his care home in Sussex to attend the 70th anniversary celebrations of the D Day landings in Normandy. The episode caught the public’s imagination and, to his surprise, his trip became a global news story.

Writer William Ivory uses the basics of this event to fashion a wonderful story that touches on many themes, including the trauma of war and survivor’s guilt, reconciliation,  coming to terms with old age and death and the beauty of enduring marital love.  

Watch a trailer for the film below.

Depth And Colour

Ivory draws on some of his own family experiences of World War II to add depth and colour to the story.  The film is served by magnificent performances by Michael Caine as Bernie and Glenda Jackson as his feisty wife, Rene. Caine, almost 90 and physically frail, had been retired for some years, but the power of the script enticed him back to the screen one more time.

Caine might be frail, and needing a zimmer frame himself these days, but his acting ability is undimmed and even enhanced by his vulnerability. We see every nuance of Bernie’s complex feelings on Caine’s face, whether it is being caught at the bus stop on his way to France, or his sense of being totally overwhelmed by all the media attention he receives, when the story breaks. 

Caine might be a millionaire movie star, but he totally inhabits the role of  the decent and determined old timer who wants to pay tribute to one of his fallen comrades and lay to rest a hurt he has carried for decades.

A Shared Experience Creating A Bond Beyond Words

Although the film honours the bravery and stoicism of the men who have fought and died for king and country, war is not glorified. Rather it is the cost paid by those who survive that is highlighted.  Bernie might appear sunny and chipper, but Rene knows what he goes through in the night due to the trauma of his war experiences, and Arthur, (played by John Standing)  the outwardly urbane RAF veteran, who helps Bernie, turns out to have his own demons too.

It is not just the 2nd world war that is referenced, but also more recent conflicts through Bernie’s encounter with an angry young black soldier (Victor Oshin) who has  lost more than his legs in Afghanistan. Another poignant moment is when Bernie and Arthur, join a table of German war veterans. They too are old men. Even though they can’t speak the same language, the eyes say it all, and  their shared experience of the Normandy beaches, creates a bond beyond words.  

This was Glenda Jackson’s last film role, as she died shortly after the film was completed. This adds poignancy to her performance as Rene, who is also facing death. The role is a perfect one for the wizened but feisty and twinkly Jackson.  While Bernie has his adventures in France, we learn more about the couple’s early courtship and romance and their later life in a care home which, despite the limitations of old age, is one full of love and courage and humour.

Truly a feel-good film of the best kind. Its richness of themes, as well as the  wonderful acting, make you want  to watch it all over again as soon as it's over.

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