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May 31, 2024 / Sphere Films Canada

Starring: Michael Caine, Glenda Jackson

Directed By: Oliver Parker

In the summer of 2014, Bernard Jordan (Michael Caine) made global headlines. He had staged a “great escape” from his care home to join fellow war veterans on a beach in Normandy, commemorating their fallen comrades at the D-Day Landings 70th anniversary.

It was a story that captured the imagination of the world as Bernie embodied the defiant, “can-do” spirit of a generation that was fast disappearing. But of course, it wasn’t the whole story. It was an inspirational but sanitised retelling of one man’s need to come to terms with the lasting trauma of war.

Bernie’s adventure, spanning a mere 48 hours, also marked the culmination of his 60-year marriage to Rene (Glenda Jackson) – The Great Escaper celebrates their enduring love but always with an eye to the lessons we might learn from the Greatest Generation.

While the two Tyrants war for dominance, Furiosa must survive many trials as she puts together the means to find her way home.

Written By Darren Zakus

Rating 4 out of 5

The Great Escaper is a beautiful final film for two British screen legends who each deliver magnificent performances, bringing to life an incredible story with a deeply moving spirit that makes for one heartwarming watch.

Michael Caine and Glenda Jackson are two legends within the British film community, both of whom have been acting since 1956 and have starred in countless films and television projects. It only seems fitting that they share their final film together, and I could not think of a more fitting film for them than The Great Escaper. The film tells the story of British veteran Bernie Jordan who left his care home in the United Kingdom to attend the 70th Anniversary celebration of the D-Day Landings in Normandy, France. It’s the type of story that captured the attention of the media with its feel good narrative, but Oliver Parker’s latest film is more than just a feel good story: it’s an insightful and poignant look at aging, life and the Second World War brought to life by two brilliant performances from Caine and Jackson.

From the second the film begins; William Ivory’s screenplay instantly captures the attention of viewers as they watch Caine’s mischievous Bernie jailbreak from his care home with the support of his loving wife Rene. Watching Bernie slowly make his way to the ferry terminal to cross the English Channel to Normandy and evading the care home staff is a wonderful sequence that creates a joyful excitement that immediately washes over you and helps to set the tone for the film. But after this fun setup, Ivory digs deep and finds something truly beautiful to say in his script about aging and the traumas of the past faced by veterans returning home from war. Both Bernie and Rene reflect on their life together and time during the war, with Bernie struggling with the horrors and guilt that have hung over him his entire life, while Rene feels the pain of being separated from Bernie all over again while knowing she does not have much time left to live. It’s a sentimental narrative that tugs on your heartstrings as Bernie connects with other veterans and helps them process their trauma, while Rene pushes herself to the limits and has interactions with the care home staff that will have you laughing. Juggling all this with the feel good overarching narrative, Ivory does a great job balancing the story’s numerous emotions to create an engaging, insightful and emotional experience for the audience, while never wasting a second of the film’s short runtime. The result is a truly remarkable character piece coming to life in front of your eyes, joining the recent string of excellent films surrounding the Second World War and reflecting on this period of history from a new and enticing perspective.

As incredible and moving as the story itself is, The Great Escaper is nothing without the star power of Caine and Jackson. The two of them are absolutely incredible and instantly tell you everything you need to know about their characters. Caine’s quiet portrayal of Bernie as he reflects on his time during the war while visiting Normandy has a haunting quality that allows the audience to feel the emotional battle that Bernie is fighting internally, while there are so many moments of gleeful energy that captures the independent and strong willed spirit that allowed him to make the journey alone. It’s the perfect role to be Caine’s last as it allows him such a dynamic range within the character, showcasing the somber quietness that has helped make him one of the most dependable actors in the business, as well as a mischievous energy that proves there is nothing that can slow him down. Jackson, who passed away shortly after the film was completed, is marvelous as Bernie’s wife Rene. She captures the spirited woman who will not let life stop her or her husband from doing anything and possesses a wicked sense of humour as she clashes with the support staff at her care home. At the same time, the heartbreak that Jackson brings to Rene’s struggle as she knows her health is failing but refusing to let it stop her from living her life is incredibly powerful and creates some beautiful moments between her and Danielle Vitalis, who plays one of the care home workers, Adele. As a pairing, Caine and Jackson are phenomenal and create a deep connection between their characters that transcend words. Whether it be the two of them squabbling early on, or sharing a moment together near the end of the film, Caine and Jackson capture that life long love between Bernie and Rene that ensure if you aren’t in love with them as individual people, that you love them as the most adorable senior couple to grace the screen in recent memory.

If there is one film that you can watch and enjoy with all members of your family, including your grandparents, it is The Great Escaper. There is an inherent beauty to this story of an aging couple as they reflect on their past during the Second World War after the initial comical hook that will no doubt get audiences interested in the film, resulting in one unforgettable film that plays perfectly as a farewell to two British cinema legends: Michael Cain and Glenda Jackson. Brought to life by two mesmerizing performances from Michael Caine and Glenda Jackson as these two legendary actors star together in their final film, combined with a stirring and emotionally resonant screenplay, Oliver Parker’s The Great Escaper is a truly charming film that will leave your heart full by the time the credits begin rolling.

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