The Great Escaper – movie review

A tinge of nostalgia permeates this drama which is the final film for two-time Oscar and Tony award winning actress Glenda Jackson, who passed away late last year at the age of 87. It is also rumoured to be the final film for dual Oscar winner Michael Caine, who announced that he is retiring from movies after a career that has spanned six decades and some 170 film roles. He given us some classic films along the way. He is 91 years of age and moving a bit slowly now. And if it is to be his final screen role then The Great Escaper makes for a fitting farewell to the iconic actor.

The Great Escaper is based on the true story of Bernie Jordan, a 90-year-old WWII veteran living in an aged care facility with his devoted wife Irene and dealing with a raft of medical issues and their failing health. In 2014 Bernie missed out on an opportunity to join an organised tour to France to participate in the 70th anniversary ceremonies of the D-Day landings which were going to be attended by both Queen Elizabeth and President Obama. Instead, with the tacit agreement of Irene, he does an early morning runner from the facility and makes his way to France to join in the festivities. During his travels Bernie also forms a friendship with Arthur (John Standing, who appeared opposite Caine in the 1975 WWII actioner The Eagle Has Landed), a fellow veteran on a pilgrimage to the D-Day commemoration. The pair visit a cemetery and also revisit wartime memories.

Bernie’s story makes him something of a media celebrity as he made international headlines. This feel good and gently paced comedy/drama retells the story. As written by William Ivory (Made In Dagenham) The Great Escaper avoids undue sentimentality even as it deals with the fragility of aging, but it does work in a potent message about the futility of war and the waste of young lives. The film is directed in light fashion by actor-turned-director Oliver Parker (An Ideal Husband) who imbues the material with a reflective tone that is not too maudlin or melancholy. The Great Escaper is also something of a love story as it explores the depth of the relationship between Bernie and Irene, and a series of brief flashbacks trace the beginning of their relationship.

There are also a few flashbacks to the D-Day landings themselves when a younger Bernie (played by Will Fletcher, from The Road Dance) tries to calm Douglas (Elliot Norman) a nervous young soldier as bullets ricochet around their landing craft.

The film boasts some nice cinematography from Christopher Ross (Cats), who suffuses the WWII sequences with a bluish hue.

Caine has a mischievous presence and breathes life into Bernie, and he brings his usual charm to his touching performance. Caine and Jackson previously appeared together fifty years earlier in The Romantic Englishwoman and they effortlessly establish a natural and easy-going chemistry. Jackson makes for a sympathetic Irene and her performance taps into her obvious frailties to add colour to her character. Danielle Vitalis brings warmth and empathy to her role as the sympathetic Adele, a nurse at the facility. Standing, who was apparently approached by Caine himself to play the role, lends gravitas to his performance.

Greg King

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