A classic film, a great story, a stellar cast, to sum up: a must see film! Although there are detractors who dismiss it for not being historically accurate, as a History student I can confirm this does not matter! People also should not be put off by the fact it is an old film so not as good a picture quality as modern ones, it is well worth a watch.
The story is very simple. Allied prisoners of war try to escape from a German POW camp during World War Two. This is no ordinary escape effort however, as the plan aims to facilitate the escape of hundreds of men, rather than individual efforts. Roger Bartlett (Richard Attenborough) is Big X who coordinates the whole plan and the roles of the various POWs. The story follows the building of the tunnel used to escape and the subsequent events that befall those who did escape.
The film is also so much more than a simple adventure film. Without being overl sentimental, the film explores the relationships between the men, the trust and loyalty between them, and the willingness to sacrifice their chances to help others. I highlight here particularly the bond between Hendley (James Garner) and Blythe (Donald Pleasence), and Danny (Charles Bronson) and Willie (John Leyton). These pairs helped each other through the escape (Hendley by guiding Blythe, and Willie helping Danny with his claustrophobia) which is heartwarming and makes the viewer more invested in the outcome of their escapes.
The cast is superb, practically a who’s who of acting from the time. Steve McQueen, Attenborough, Garner, Bronson, James Coburn, Pleasence, James Donald and so many more! Notably there are no major female characters, indeed barely any women shown in the whole film, but this should not be a reason for anyone to not watch it. The cast bring their own qualities to the film, whether it’s brilliant acting, or in the case of Steve McQueen, motorbike riding. There are a lot of characters to familiarise yourself with and learn who is who, and it can get confusing remembering them all. This does not significantly affect the overall enjoyment of the film however, and it gives an excuse to see it again!
Unsurprisingly for an American film, American actors Garner and particularly McQueen are to the fore; the heroes of the ensemble cast. Virgil Hilts (McQueen) appears as apart from the others as he doesn’t wear uniform and is more independent from the whole escape plan. Although there is not meant to be an obvious lead, Hilts is clearly the one (American) audiences are meant to root for, as he is all-American with his baseball glove and 4th July celebrations. It is also notable that *major spoiler* it is the Americans that survive and return to camp whilst most of the British are shot.
The film overall is long but it does not feel it at all. There is a lot of action and different characters/stories to follow, with plenty of lighter moments as well, so the 2.5 hours doesn’t drag. There are several tragic and moving moments which makes the viewer go through a whole spectrum of emotions! The famous theme tune and music throughout also works well with the film and adds to the drama.
Overall, an enjoyable film that can be seen on countless occasions. Yes there are flaws, and it’s not historically accurate, but it can be appreciated for the plot, the actors, the script, and everything else beside! Would recommend it to anyone who’s not seen it and those that have!
Photo Credit to therealgreatescape.com