The Great Escaper
Oct 7, 2023
Michael Caine, Glenda Jackson
With Remembrance Sunday barely a month away, the Great Escaper is a sharp reminder of how war scars the mind; no matter how much time we put between ourselves and the event. There are sadly few veterans of the Second World War left to tell the tale. But there is no substitute for living memories that show how past deeds shape the present. This wonderful new film directed by Oliver Parker provides real insight and lays bare the reality of growing old. Based on a true story, it resonates on so many levels and illustrates the debt we owe those who fought for this country.
D-Day veteran Bernie Jordan (Michael Caine) lives in a retirement home with his wife Rene (Glenda Jackson). The 70th Anniversary of the Normandy landings is fast approaching. Annoyingly Bernie leaves it too late to register for the official tour party. Undeterred he decides to make his own way alone. Care staff smell a rat but Rene playfully covers for their errant resident. Walking frame in hand he boards the cross border ferry and is befriended by Arthur (John Standing), an ex-RAF pilot. They discover common ground as demons from the war continue to haunt them. Bernie and Arthur are introduced to German veterans with whom they share memories of D-Day. The realisation soon dawns that language is all that separates them. The grand ceremony is about to begin and Arthur has secured front row seats. However Bernie's pilgrimage is not yet complete.
Caine and Jackson are outstanding in their respective roles and make a convincing couple in their sunset years. There is real truth in the portrayal of two people that have lived a happy and fulfilling life. But like so many of their generation are trapped by memories of a lost youth. Vivid flashbacks to the war are brilliantly captured with super sharp editing. Bernie looks out on a peaceful beach that turns into the deafening carnage of D-Day. Rene plays an old gramophone record and we land back at the dance hall where she and Bernie met. William Ivory's excellent script crackles with pathos and gentle humour. It pulls no punches and exposes over used platitudes about war. What remains is a thoughtful account of how the elderly can be marginalised; when they should be embraced for their knowledge and wisdom. A film we should all cherish and admire.