The Great Escaper – Film Review

On D-Day, June 6th, 1944, over 150,000 Allied troops stormed the five beaches of Normandy in Northern France. It was the largest seaborne invasion of all time, the bravery of these men turned World War II in the ally’s favour and many of them were not lucky enough to return home across the English Channel.

It’s now 2014 and the 70th anniversary commemoration of D-Day is just around the corner. As he goes about his morning activities, 90-year-old WW2 veteran Bernard Jordan (Michael Caine) feels drawn to cross the English Channel once more. Unfortunately, having left it too late, he’s going to miss out on joining in any of the booked-out travelling parties. However, Jordan is spurred on by his loving wife Irene (Glenda Jackson) who knows her husband has it in him to make his own way there. So, the next morning Bernard sets out to make the voyage, unbeknownst to the staff of his and Irene’s care home.

Along the way, Bernard meets many other veterans of war making the same trip. Some young like Scott (Victor Oshin), some elderly like Arthur (John Standing) but all have been forever changed by their traumatic experiences. Each in their own way, Bernard and Irene reflect on their past together and apart during the war. But little could they know that Bernard‘s adventure is becoming a media sensation as the news breaks of “#TheGreatEscaper”.

Simple yet charming, The Great Escaper is based on the true story of Bernard Jordan. A World War 2 veteran who made his way from his English care home to France, causing quite the commotion in the process. The shock seemed to be that this 90-year-old managed to make the trip safely. But of course, he did and director Oliver Parker and writer William Ivory want to show us why Bernard‘s is considered the Greatest Generation.

The Great Escaper is a film which was on my radar for a while. Beyond the interesting true story, it marks the final film of two time Oscar winner Glenda Jackson who unfortunately passed just prior to the film’s release. Adding to that Michael Caine, also a two time Oscar winner, shocked the world announcing at 90 this feature would likely mark his retirement.

This gives the film an already bitter-sweet feeling before diving into the emotional subject matter. We’re introduced to this loving elderly couple near the end of their days, and Oliver Parker presents their world as calm and at peace, much at odds with the trauma of the past. 

However, The Great Escaper was a much more subdued film than it could have been. It would have been extremely easy for a story like this to be constantly pulling at your heartstrings but the journey the film’s characters embark on is much more than that. The toll which experiences with war take on human beings is explored more as a continuous long lasting issue. Not something they can just cry about and get over on a whim.

That said, there are some extremely powerful moments scattered throughout the film showing incredible performances from the entire cast. Bernard helping new friends confront their demons is a running theme. While Irene reflects on her experiences accounting for the emotions felt by those in Britain who saw their men off on a trip they may never see them returning from. The irony of Bernard‘s current voyage possibly being his last not being lost on her.

While I feel the film’s most heartfelt moment is when Bernard has a conversation with German veterans who were likely shooting at him on that very beach all those years ago. Once on opposite sides of a battlefield, now in peacetime connected forever through mutual respect.

Deeply moving and sentimental, The Great Escaper is a wonderfully melancholic experience allowing two of British cinema’s greats to have a last hurrah together.

The Great Escaper is in cinemas now.

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