The Great Escaper: Michael Caine’s final film is Britain’s answer to Saving Private Ryan

The Great Escaper is an engaging exploration of love, loss, memory and trauma. It’s also the final film for its star, Michael Caine, as he has recently announced his retirement. The film tells the real story of Royal Navy veteran, Bernard Jordan, who “escaped” from his care home in June 2014 to attend the 70th anniversary of D-Day commemorations in Normandy.

The film follows Caine’s “Bernie” as he embarks upon a deeply personal and emotional reckoning with his war, a journey he undertakes with the support of his stoic wife, Irene, beautifully played by the late Glenda Jackson.

The Great Escaper uses a well-known storytelling device: the war-damaged veteran. In doing so, it marks itself as a British answer to Saving Private Ryan (1998). The film, which pays homage to the war generation, revels in forties nostalgia and stakes an assertive British claim to the memory of the Allied invasion.

Troubled homecomings

From the troubled homecoming of Homer’s Odysseus to the spate of Hollywood films produced in the 1970s and 1980s focused on the angry and alienated Vietnam veteran such as The Deer Hunter (1978) and Apocalypse Now (1979), the traumatised ex-soldier has long been a figure of cultural interest. This has especially been the case in the British film industry over the last 30 years.

Take, for instance, a trilogy of films produced in the late 1980s all of which examined the return to “civvy street” of battle-damaged Falklands veterans: Resurrected (1989), Tumbledown (1988) and For Queen and Country (1989). Or, more recent productions focused on returning soldiers, such as Outlaw (2007), The Veteran (2011) and, of course, Harry Brown (2009).

The latter starred Michael Caine as a decorated Royal Marine veteran who sets out to rid his impoverished inner-city council estate of crime.

Caine’s “Bernie” is clearly a very different figure to Harry Brown (he does nothing more controversial than letting down the tyres of antisocial cyclists). But as a film character, he nonetheless owes something to these cinematic counterparts. Like them, he carries the psychological scars of war, scars which wake him in the night and which take him back to the invasion beaches on the Normandy coast.


For the Full article by Dr Sam Edwards visit the Conversation.