It wasn’t in any deliberate attempt to celebrate Anzac Day last night that I went to see Beneath Hill 60. (My spellchecker wants me to respell ‘Anzac’ as ‘Antacid’ but I’ll press on!) Eva and I just wanted to go and see a film and she’d heard good things about it.
It’s a good movie. It is quite well paced, the characters are quite good, and the story is the amazing one of the largest deliberately set off explosion in history until (I imagine) the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. I always knew the story of this hill being blown up on the Western Front during WWI with such a force that it could be heard in London! I didn’t know it was Australian sappers who set it off (though in the film most of the preparation is done before they arrive, presumably by Poms.)
It’s an interesting, engrossing story, but somehow I can’t really get too excited about it. While there was some attempt to spice up the characters (I feared a total blandout at the beginning, but there’s a fair bit of variety and interest) there’s nothing really compelling there. I leaned over to Eva and predicted which soldiers would die when on a couple of occasions. Though I didn’t get it entirely right, there was a fair bit of telegraphing. For a while I thought the film was going to give us the “the British were bastards and we were innocents” meme, but it wasn’t too bad in that regard. The only real baddie was an Australian high ranking officer. All the men in the company were good Aussies though some had rough and even nasty exteriors. It might have been more interesting if we’d seen more rough and nasty interiors. Instead we had the kid who was a coward, and that was pretty much it as far as real transgressions against the Anzac legend.
While it avoided lots of the worst that I feared, it never really rose above costume drama. I’m not quite sure why but I find our actors are somehow so absorbed in their own deceptions of simulation that it somehow doesn’t occur to them to explore ways in which the past was another country. So while there’s the odd bit of early twentieth century manners (the hero’s sweetheart says ‘Yes Mama’ and requires the hero to get her father’s permission if he is to write to her from the war), the people all somehow look and feel like our contemporaries dressed up in period costume.
The sweetheart back home scenes are tolerably done, but the sweetheart herself is an airhead judging by this video. She’s almost no different in the film to the way she is in the video. In between interminable pouting smacks of her lips, she says that dressing up in those period costumes made her feel like a princess – Oh Paaahhhleese! This video is worth seeing in it’s own right – the 60 Minutes treatment of the event and the film, but keep an eye out for the picture of the real couple. He looks quite like the actor who played him. She? Not so much.
The accents were also nothing like the more clipped and Anglicised accents of the time – hers being a particularly egregious example. I sometimes think that if actors could be serious about replicating the accents of the time – one of their proudest and most ferociously sought after achievements is replicating the accents of contemporary England or America, they’d start feeling their way out of costume drama and into something more substantial.
So it’s three and three quarters stars out of five from me. If you want to go and see a movie, and the story appeals to you, go and see this. If not, don’t bother.