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'Beneath Hill 60' is a true story based on a front-line campaign in
Belgium in 1917. This is a war film unlike any other. Not at least that
it is about Australian soldiers in a predominately British campaign.
There were many others who fought in both World Wars, though you
wouldn't know it from most big budget war films we are used to seeing.
Oliver Woodward (Brendan Cowell) is a late inductee into the campaign on the front who must prove himself to his fellow Aussies who have been in the trenches for some time. It's literally hell on earth. But these soldiers belong to a special unit. The tunnelers. Their job, to subvert the enemy from beneath. They are soon sent to one of the great Fronts of WW1 in Belgium, to an area known Hill 60 which is currently dominated by the Germans. There is a plan in place, but can they pull it off? It's claustrophobic. It's tense. There is constant shelling. The guns shots come from nowhere. You can understand how many were driven mad by it. (Shell shock).
This film works on so many levels. A brilliant taut script by David Roach based on the actual diaries of Woodward who shows us that there is more at stake here than gaining mere inches of ground. There is the tenacity of man. The blunt simple-mindedness which is required to get the job done, but which can also blind some men from the truth. War is stupid. It's a game. And yet they are not merely soldiers but ordinary people. We get an insight into their lives, predominately through Woodward himself, which juxtaposes how horrific war is. We get an idea of the German position too. Often they are faceless enemy's but here we get a little insight into the men on the other side of the muddy walls.
It's a suspenseful film, directed with real flair and I'm surprised to say, mastery of the medium, by actor Jeremy Sims, whose first film, (Last Train to Freo), was rather an languid affair. Once again he works within an tight budget, (like all Australian films, except for that unmentionable one), but he puts you into the mud and the water and the darkness underground. You'll by yearning for your shower, dry bed and a cup of tea; privileges denied to most of these chaps for months at a time.
My only criticism is that Brendan Cowell looks too old for the part. He' s supposed to be 25. I could have gone along with it if I'd been told much earlier. But really he is Australia's best actor (Noise, Love My Way) and plays Woodward to perfection.
The supporting cast is also first class. Steve Le Marquand shows his depth and is totally believable. It's welcoming to see John Stanton back. We don't see him enough in Australian film. He has a strong presence and that amazing voice. He is an underused icon. I barely recognized Jacqueline McKenzie, who looks ten years younger than she is. She is always a pleasure to watch. Her on screen daughter played by Bella Heathcote is a real talent too though Aden Young's brief odd appearance seemed unconvincing. The tunnelers themselves, all work together to bring a on-screen camaraderie and presence. Credit must go to Sims and Roach for this collective working dynamic. Also noted are the chillingly effective 5.1 sound effects and a classy score by legendary composer Cezary Skubiszewski.
If you are from outside Australia, and don't like war films, it is still effective as a thriller and even a love story. It's highly recommended. For Australians, it's a must own DVD for every household. Finally, an Australian film to be proud of. And an important one at that.
Do you remember, as a kid, watching stories of bravery and heroism set
on a backdrop of war, and being fascinated by a kind of warfare you'd
never even imagined before? Marveling at crafty allies and enemies
alike pitting their wits as much as their weapons against each other to
find each others weakness and foil the other's strategy? Well Beneath
Hill 60 is just like that- an old fashioned no-nonsense look at a
fascinating angle of WW1 never before properly explored- TUNNEL
warfare. There are moments that leave you stunned to think of what
dangers and precautions these men had to be ready for, above -and-
Make no mistake though, unlike the coming of age tale Gallipoli or the military court drama Breaker Morant, this really is, at long last, an Australian WAR film. And quite possibly it is the best from this country so far (though I'm still yet to see The Odd Angry Shot so jury's still out) and I would say one of the top ten WW1 films I've ever seen (and I've seen a LOT).
And it's all the more incredible because it's a true story. There was one moment which even almost made me tear up (unbelievable, right?) which I won't mention, suffice to say it involved a briefly shown, but dialogue-less revealing of just how much an experience had left a man broken and hollow.
If I absolutely HAD to find fault with the film, it would NOT be the flashbacks (you can't go round saying the characters were one dimensional and then say the background story was unimportant!) but perhaps the soundtrack. It knows what it's doing on the battlefield, but in the flashbacks is unsure of itself, sometimes getting all melodramatic like an excited child.
Really, that's it. The music seems slightly odd in one or two places. Everything else just WORKS. It's visually stunning, realistic, has great characters, action, suspense (and how!) and even humour. That's right, even in WW1 soldiers found time to crack the odd joke don't y'know.
So do check this out pronto- you won't be disappointed. And remember- keep one eye closed when the flares go up- you'll see better once it goes out again. ;)
This film should be seen by all Australians. It is authentic and extremely well acted; no overacting and no gilding the lily. Take a box of tissues. As an indication of how special this movie was, at the end while the credits were playing, everyone except two people remained in their seats for the entire running time of the credits and the upper part of the theatre was full. I would like to encourage younger people to see it; young people like those who visit Gallipoli would appreciate its significance. It depicts the true nature of the first world war and also depicts the essence of the Australian character; free-spirited, somewhat disrespectful of officer ranks until said officers earn respect. WWI was not like other wars; though the very awfulness of the trenches is obvious, the movie dwells just enough but not too much on this aspect. I hope it is successful overseas though I cannot imagine the British going to see it in large numbers, nor the Americans. The British are gently lampooned once or twice and would not take kindly to this, and the Americans do not get a look in at all so they would not be likely to be motivated to see it. However, if they did, I think they would appreciate it.
There are many war films, but some stand out. This is definitely one of
The story builds slowly in the first part of the film, and we get an insight into the main characters and the conditions they had to endure. The latter part develops further as they head towards the Battle of Messines Ridge.
The battle scenes were made as realistic as possible, intermingled with flashbacks to Capt. Woodwards life back home, and the circumstances surrounding his enlistment into the mining battalion.
An outstanding movie....!
My husband and I saw this movie yesterday and I have to say the acting
This is a very good war movie, showing comradeship, caring for your fellow man, and depicts what a serviceman in war would go through. So it was very hard to understand why civilians were involved, and young ones at that.
It was very graphic, to the point where I felt a need to look away at times. Australia has done us proud. It is definitely not a pretty movie and quite dark, but then again war isn't pretty. I would say definitely go and see it.
A fine movie. Not a masterpiece, because such movies are non-existent; consequently, I don't go looking for such a thing. My test is that if a movie reaches or exceeds my expectations, it succeeds. In my book, this beats "The Hurt Locker" hands down-- which may not mean anything to those who disliked that Oscar winner. Perhaps foolishly, because of the Oscar hype, I had expectations of THL which were not met. So it failed. "Beneath Hill 60" does not. It's more realistic, more accurate, more tension-filled, and not at all pretentious. No need for me to repeat the plot outlines that others have mentioned. But I will declare that the above-ground battlefield and underground scenes-- the wet, the mud, the cold, the misery-- are amazing for their reality. And they were shot mostly in tropical north Queensland.
I have to disagree with the comments comparing this movie with 'Hurt
Locker' which is a superior movie in nearly every day and deserves its
Oscar credits. This is however an excellent war drama telling a fairly
unknown true story of Oliver Woodward during World War One. I for one
had never heard of Oliver Woodward until watching this movie. Yes, to
some degree, I would compare it to 'My Boy Jack" and even
'Passchendale' and actually 'Tunnel Rats' the Vietnam war drama springs
more to mind.
There is also a love story thrown in for good measure and overall this is a very sensitive film with an unacceptable but seemingly necessary ending. The acting is superb throughout and the story fascinating in how it was told from beginning until the end.
For those who like their dose of war dramas, this is clearly one not to be missed.
After recently returning from a very moving tour of some of the
battlefields of the western front (including Hill 60 itself), I was
extremely glad to hear of a film depicting some of the heroics which
took place there. Given the enormity of what happened in those years,
the events which took place there are undeniably underrecognised. Make
no mistake, World War One in film has none of the glory associated with
it as so often its sequel. It was a truly awful war, for both sides.
Unique in every way, difficult to explain to others, and for all the
bloodshed, is difficult to comprehend in modern times. Some of the
stories from that period are crying out to be told. This is one of
As war had reached the industrial age, the unpredicted stalemate of trench warfare would force either side into unforeseen warfare tactics. This is the story of the 1st Australian Tunneling company's experience in the region around Ieper, Belgium. An extremely rare kind of battle was taking place, underground warfare. Given the place in history Gallipoli has to Australia, one can only wonder why so few of the younger generations of Australians have ever heard of places such as Messines, Passchendaele, Pozieres and Fromelles to name a few. A film which depicts the heroic events of that important chapter of world history should be received with open arms.
And so I am so glad to say that the acting, characterisation and cinematography are very good, as are (to my mind at least) the relative historical accuracy of the script and sets. However this film has one major hurdle in its way of being utterly brilliant. It is of course Australian. By this I mean that doesn't intend to significantly push the envelope or have much of a sharp edge, but to appeal to the masses and not take many risks. To be honest I was surprised to see the occasional cigarette smoking of soldiers given the political correctness of modern Australia. Any realist knows however that the majority of those soldiers were smokers and I am glad they kept modern perceptions second to historical accuracy.
If I was going to be critical (and I will be), it is that this film in one or two moments treads closely to falling into some of the same traps of film-making clichés that belong in 20th century Hollywood. Thankfully the foot that is about to get stuck in this trap is soon lifted out and back on track to being a great film.
I hope many will see it. I also hope Baz Luhrmann learns a thing or two about film-making and the people who funded and plugged his last piece of trash feel humiliated that someone made a slightly better film about Australia's history.
A very moving film. Congratulations to the cast and crew.
An outstanding portrayal of the Messines Ridge battles - a part of the
overall series of battles in WWI around Ypres in Belgium. Anyone who
knows anything about WWI will recognize the incredible fighting and
human misery surrounding the 3 major Ypres battles. For a great
depiction of these battles - read A Storm in Flanders - by Winston
Groom -one of the best histories of the Great War.
The movie works on all levels - some of the other reviews state that Aussies should see this - I disagree - everyone who is interested in how the free world defended against German aggression need to see this. I am a WWI junkie, but I believe this movie will appeal to a very wide audience.
A few of the good points: Realism - this movie focuses on many small details which give it great credibility: clipping canaries nails; covering your coffee cup when there is an explosion (to keep dirt from falling in); continual rain and mud (can you say Passchendaele?) ; unbelievable living conditions; the cat and mouse game being played under ground where both sides were trying to discover the others mines; prejudice against the miners/sappers as not being real soldiers; and the death of the father (you'll see what I mean).
This is one of the finest war movies I have seen (and I've seen a lot.) I really hope you will take this one in. Then, the next time you are in London - go to the Imperial War Museum for an in depth look at WWI & II. Cheers DonB
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Beneath Hill 60 is a story of courage, heroism, sacrifice and mateship set against the background of the trench warfare of the Western Front in 1916, the site of some of the bloodiest battles of World War One. The film brilliantly captures the horrors and futility of war, the senseless waste of young lives, and the appalling conditions endured by the diggers in the trenches. This extraordinary true story concerns a unit of mining engineers and demolition experts who are sent to the Western Front and given the enormous task of maintaining the extensive and labyrinthine tunnel system established under the enemy trenches. Their main mission is to set off explosives under the heavily fortified enemy position on Hill 60, in the Messines Ridges in Belgium. It was one of the most successful Allied campaigns of the war, and yet it has remained unheard of. The effects of the subsequent explosion, the largest man made explosion in history, were felt as far away as London and Dublin. David Roach's script has been based upon the diaries of Oliver Woodward, the commander of the unit. Brendan Cowell (Noise, etc) heads what has to be the best ensemble cast ever assembled for an Australian film, as Woodward, an untrained soldier who has to earn the respect and trust of his men under adverse conditions. The impressive cast includes Anthony Hayes, Steve Le Marquand, Underbelly's Gyton Grantley, Aden Young, comic Bob Franklin in a serious role, John Stanton, and veteran Chris Haywood as a gruff, by-the-book Colonel. All of the actors are terrific. However, because of the large number of characters we do not get to know many of them or empathize with them. Special mention must be made of one of the more moving characters in Tiffin (Harrison Gilbertson), a naive 16-year-old who is scared most of the time, but who still manages to do his bit in the tunnels. Gilbertson is a rising young star to watch he previously played Deborra-Lee Furness's larcenous son in Ana Kokkinos's Blessed, and he plays Geena Davis' troubled teenage son in the forthcoming comedy/drama Accidents Happen. This gripping and exciting war drama explores events that the average Australians has never heard of before. While we all know about Gallipoli, the events depicted here have remained pretty much a secret, but this is a story that deserves to be told. The film has been directed by Jeremy Sims, who is obviously passionate about the material. Beneath Hill 60 contains many elements of the traditional war movie, but Sims gives the story here a claustrophobic look and feel. The action is punctuated by a series of flashbacks that take us back to Woodward's earlier life in Queensland and his romance with the 16-year-old farm girl Marjorie, a budding relationship that was interrupted by his decision to enlist. The film boasts superb production values, with Cezary Skubiszewski's rich and haunting score and Toby Oliver's cinematography adding to the overall mise en scene. The film was shot in Queensland, where the production crew built several kilometers of rain drenched and mud filled trenches to authentically replicate the conditions of World War One.
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