Film Review: Beneath Hill 60 - Kathryn's history blog

Friday, 31 January 2014

Film Review: Beneath Hill 60

Beneath Hill 60 (2010)
Beneath Hill 60 follows the true story of the First Australian Tunnelling Company on the western front in the year leading up to the first day of the Battle of Messines, 7th June 1917. The men mine below the Messines Ridge, and notably Hill 60 to the northern end, in an effort to break through the Germans' impenetrable hold on the high ground.

The company, led by Captain Oliver Woodward, are the usual eclectic mix of men found in a war film. Although based on real characters, artistic licence is of course used in their lives, establishing a typical array of boys barely out of school, along with middle-aged men determined to protect their sons (both literal and honourary). Due to the small budget of the film, the main characters are played by lesser known Australian actors (main characters include Brendan Cowell, Harrison Gilbertson, and Gyton Grantley) but I felt that this added to the believability of the film, as they looked like real soldiers in the trenches and not just Tom Hanks playing war.
I really appreciated how the film makers let the main focus of the film be on the daily trauma of the trenches. There was of course the obligatory love interest for the main character but the film was far more about the relationship between the men and their mission. For me, this is what I want war films to be about: actual war and its horrors.

An addition to this was the inclusion of the perspective of the German tunnellers, who were competing with the Allies to avoid the inevitable. The authenticity of the film was enhanced by the fact that the Germans actually spoke German, as opposed to terribly-accented English.

Where authenticity got a little lost was with the CGI of the mines explosion, which was far more reminiscent of 2005-Doctor Who than a Hollywood movie but that was the only noticeable aspect of the film's low budget. The cinematography is outstanding and compliments the fantastic set design brilliantly. It is even more remarkable as the film was entirely filmed in a hot Australian field but it was made perfectly to look like Flanders mud.
The film's ending is sensitive and solemn, serving as a tribute to all the men lost that day. Not only to the Allies and the known Australian characters, but also the tens of thousands of Germans who were killed by the story's 'heroes'. Despite it technically being a happy ending - and indeed the battle was one of the Allies' biggest victories - it centres more on the human cost of the 19 mines. I think this is the most important and most poignant aspect of the film: the impact and not the glorification of the battle which is wonderfully conveyed with the most beautiful of soundtracks.

You can really tell that it's Queensland and not Hollywood-made but that only adds to the emotion the film conveys and, dare I say it, its accuracy. I'm going to rate Beneath Hill 60 4/5 stars, as while it was a wonderfully made movie, the characterisations lacked somewhat and the script didn't quite stand out as much as it could have done. Despite this, I'd still say that it's a must see Great War film. It has a real honesty to the true story which I haven't seen in many of its type.

Kathryn

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