Directed by: Oliver Parker
Written by: William Ivory
Starring: Michael Caine, Glenda Jackson, John Standing, Jackie Clune, Danielle Vitalis, Brennan Reece
Released: March 7, 2024
Grade: B-

The Great Escaper

In June 2014, news outlets across the globe were reporting on the hilarious true story of Bernard Jordan, an 89-year-old World War II veteran from England who attended the 70th anniversary of the “D-Day” Normandy Landings in France.  Thousands attended the commemoration event, including Barack Obama and Queen Elizabeth II, but what made his story special is that he didn’t have a ticket and wasn’t supposed to be there!

Jordan snuck out of his nursing home in East Sussex, caught a train to Portsmouth, and got the ferry across the English Channel.  His wife, Irene, knew of his whereabouts but no one else at the nursing home was in the loop.  When his disappearance was noticed by staff, it reached a point where local police officers were scanning the town for any sight of Jordan… unaware he was hundreds of kilometres away.  The truth finally became known and, as a big-hearted feelgood story, media attention ensued.

The one major reason to see the film is to celebrate the talents of British stars Michael Caine (The Cider House Rules) and Glenda Jackson (Women in Love).  It’s impossible to fully articulate their work in a single paragraph but their list of achievements speaks for itself.  The 90-year-old Caine, who has stated this will be his last film, is a two-time Oscar winner who was knighted by the Queen in 2000.  Jackson, who passed away last year at the age of 86, was one leg shy of the coveted “EGOT” having won a Tony (once), an Oscar (twice), and an Emmy (thrice).

The best scenes in The Great Escaper are those where these two share the screen.  This is most evident in the final sequence where Caine, who steps into the shoes of Bernard Jordan, talks to his wife about their long lives, lessons learned, and their pending mortality.  It feels like the perfect epilogue for their characters… and the actors themselves.  The spirited debate between the pair provides humour and food for thought.

Sadly, the remainder of the film is underwhelming.  Much of the 96-minute running time is spent following Jordan in/enroute to France as he interacts with an assortment of weakly developed veterans.  Quick World War II flashbacks try to create a sense of what’s going through Jordan’s head, but they offer little emotion or background.  Every 5 minutes or so, we cross back to England to see the spirited Irene stirring up the nursing folk employees but similarly, these slight moments aren’t building on the broader narrative.

I’m not convinced there’s enough material to warrant this feature length film, but screenwriter William Ivory (Made in Dagenham) and director Oliver Parker (Othello, An Ideal Husband) have given it their best shot.  The Great Escaper isn’t trying to be anything profound or hugely memorable.  It’s a formulaic, simple narrative told in a straight-forward manner with the goal of putting a smile on your face.