The Great Escaper

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

The Great Escaper
dir Oliver Parker
scr William Ivory
prd Robert Bernstein, Douglas Rae
with Michael Caine, Glenda Jackson, John Standing, Danielle Vitalis, Victor Oshin, Will Fletcher, Laura Marcus, Elliot Norman, Wolf Kahler, Joe Bone, Carlyss Peer, Donald Sage Mackay
release UK 6.Oct.23
23/UK Pathe 1h36

caine jackson standing

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The Great Escaper
Based on a true story, this British drama combines sentimentality and earthy realism in a way that's thoroughly involving. It also reunites icons Michael Caine and Glenda Jackson nearly 50 years after their last costarring roles. They are wonderful, adding grit and energy to a film that could easily have become a schmaltz-fest. But director Oliver Parker and writer William Ivory give the cast space to make something meaningful.
In 2014 at nearly 90, Bernard (Caine) is told that he can't join an excursion to the 70th anniversary D-Day celebrations in France. His wife Rene (Jackson) tells him to just go on his own, and covers for him after he sneaks out of their care home, making his way by taxi, bus and ferry. Along the way, he befriends fellow veteran Arthur (Standing), and they begin to realise that they have something more important to do relating to their experiences in 1944. Meanwhile, Rene finally comes clean as Bernie's adventure hits the national news.
Thankfully, the narrative is never ramped up with corny suspense. The organic pacing allows these fine actors to create improv-style performances, so even if the script dips into shameless emotionality, everything is infused with an internalised steeliness. The film is also shot and edited in an unfussy way that makes the most of the seaside locations while adding a rosy glow to extensive flashbacks of the young Bernie and Rene (Fletcher and Marcus), as well as Bernie's experiences with his colleague Douglas (Norman) on D-Day.

Caine delivers a delicately nuanced performance that's heartfelt and honest as Bernie honours a promise he made seven decades earlier. His scenes with Jackson bristle with magnetic chemistry. Jackson brings fiery determination and riotous wit to Rene, continually catching everyone off guard. It's a wonderful performance that finds revelatory textures at every turn. The supporting cast is excellent as well, from Vitalis as a young nurse to Oshin as a more recent veteran, plus the terrific Standing in a complex role.

It's refreshing that the film maintains its grounded scale and steady pace, layering in deeper feelings rather than plot fireworks. This may make it feel somewhat sweet and unambitious, but it also keeps the focus on normal people, reminding us that age in no way waters down someone's passion or determination. And while the story is engaging and likeable, there's a superb underlying exploration of how important it is to see older generations for who they really are, rather than brushing them aside.

cert 12 themes, language, violence, sexuality 21.Sep.23

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© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall