Starring Michael Caine, Glenda Jackson, and John Standing
Distributed by Warner Bros Pictures
Running time: 96 minutes
Rated 12A for infrequent strong language, moderate sex references
On June 5, 2014, eighty-nine-year-old World War II veteran Bernard Jordan slipped out of his nursing home and made his way across the English Channel to France to join the seventieth anniversary D-Day commemorations. Jordan had fought on the beaches of Normandy, and he later explained why he made the journey back: “My thoughts were with my mates who had been killed. I was going to pay my respects.”1 His trip caught the media’s attention, and newspapers gave him the nickname “The Great Escaper.”
This true story of dedication is the basis for the recent movie of the same name, starring Michael Caine as Bernard (aka Bernie). As Bernie makes his way to France, his wife, Rene (Glenda Jackson), deals with her failing health back at the nursing home. Meanwhile, flashback scenes show Bernie and Rene falling in love, along with Bernie’s harrowing experiences on the beaches of Normandy, packing a lot of story into its relatively short run time. This weaving of story lines is one way in which the film balances cheerful benevolence, and even humor, with the seriousness of its weightier subjects, including unearned guilt.
On his way to France, Bernie meets fellow veteran Arthur (John Standing), and the two bond over their war experiences, including heavy burdens of guilt both men still carry. Bernie had reassured a young soldier, Douglas, encouraging him to carry on with his orders—which meant driving a tank into the heat of battle. When his tank was blown up, Bernie was horrified, feeling that he himself had signed the man’s death warrant—a burden he has carried ever after. Arthur’s experience is arguably worse. He bombed a German city, not realizing that his brother had crash-landed nearby and had joined a band of resistance fighters there. His brother then died, and though it’s unclear whether Arthur’s bombs were the direct cause, Arthur believes they were.
Though these deaths were ultimately the fault of the Nazis, Bernie and Arthur wrestle with whether this was really the case. . . .
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1. Blake Stilwell, “A World War II Veteran Escaped from a Nursing Home for the 70th Anniversary of D-Day,” Military.com, accessed November 1, 2023, https://www.military.com/history/world-war-ii-veteran-escaped-nursing-home-70th-anniversary-of-d-day.html.
2. Amarachi Orim, “Michael Caine Announces Retirement, Confirming ‘The Great Escaper’ Will Be His Last Film,” CNN, October 14, 2023, https://edition.cnn.com/2023/10/14/entertainment/michael-caine-retirement-great-escaper-intl-scli-gbr/index.html.