Film Review: The Great Escaper

FIFTY+SA Arts Reviewer, David Jobling, shares his thoughts on the biographical drama film, The Great Escaper (M).

Based on a real incident that happened in 2014, The Great Escaper is about a WW2 veteran, Bernard ‘Bernie’ Jordan (Michael Caine) and his wife, Irene ‘Rene’ Jordan (Glenda Jackson) who, after sixty years of marriage, now live together-separately in a supported aged care home.

Director Oliver Parker has created a simple film that packs a profoundly emotional punch without resorting to sugary sweet clichés or overly manipulative filmmaking tricks. The Screenwriter William Ivory, deftly keeps the story focused closely on the relationship between Bernie and Rene using flashbacks of their younger days to provide audiences just enough backstory.

The younger versions of the couple, respectively played by Will Fletcher and Laura Marcus appear in these flashbacks quite frequently, but their scenes are spare and suitably build necessary information to inform us of the aged couple’s history. So it only informs and never distracts from their main story.

UK born in the early 1930s these two legendary headline actors Caine and Jackson (who died in June 2023) would have their own vivid childhood memories of the Second World War, and it’s terrible after-effects on their families; the people who were eventually named ‘The Greatest Generation’ by U.S. Army General James Van Fleet for their steadfast resilience and patriotism. These people would include Caine and Jackson’s parents, uncles and aunts. Just like many of us today would have parents or grandparents who come from that generation.

Such personal experience and insight are put to excellent use in The Great Escaper by the actors, and through the cinematography of Christopher Ross who uses simple close-ups and some very smart wide shots to great effect, allowing the audience to really empathise with the octogenarian performers. Much of the film’s depth comes from these close examinations of the characters faces in contemplation; the eyes shimmering with emotion, the resolute acceptance of inevitable life cycles.

Bernie has attempted to book a ticket with a group of veterans to attend the anniversary of the D-day landings but was too late and missed out, so being a spirited 90 year old he decides to go on his own anyway. This simple action caused a mild panic at their aged care home when it is realised Bernie is missing and a media frenzy ensues. Thankfully the film keeps all of this in the sidelines and remains focused on the reasons why Bernie felt driven to attend the event and consequently the film is enormously entertaining and emotionally satisfying.

The humour is light but authentic and the opportunity to enjoy some very human emotion is completely refreshing which makes The Great Escaper a little gem of a film.

5 out of 5 STARS

May December is in cinemas March 7

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