WWI Film Review – Beneath Hill 60 (2010)

Beneath Hill 60 is a 2010 war film by Australian director Jeremy Sims. I have had this DVD in my tub of “to-watch” films for some time, and how happy I am now that I finally gave it a screening – it was a good one. I pulled it out as a possible curriculum supplement for my kids who are learning about the Great War, hoping I could find some scenes of the nature of infantry warfare in WWI. It is a suitable film for my kids. It is a gritty film, it is a well produced film.

The story follows Australian Oliver Woodward (Brendan Cowell), a miner, into the depths of the Western Front. Arriving to participate in the Messines Ridge battles, a series of battles around Ypres in Belgium, Woodward is confronted with the ugly reality of a world of mud and death. The constant sound of war, the constant rain, the constant maiming and death, are here in deed. Woodward has been enlisted to help form a special tunneling unit with the idea of mining underneath key German positions, then blowing them up. But the battle hardened Commonwealth forces are skeptical of such tactics. Undeterred, Woodward takes on the task of mobilizing the right men and gaining the trust of the grizzled vets, while planning and executing one of the greatest demolition projects of any war. They needed to remove a hill full of Germans from beneath, and we get to come along.

Based in real history, the mining of Hill 60 facilitated the placing of 91,000 pounds of explosives deep under the enemy, and resulted in a crater still visible today. The story is told with great cinematic skill. I really enjoyed the whole production from beginning to end.

This is a visual film. With the scenes brilliantly framed and beautifully lit, the creative vision of the director is clearly top-notch. Underground scenes are claustrophobic and humid, the trenches are filthy and miserable. The detailed wear and tear on men and uniforms captures the feel of the war well. The drama was tense, especially the scenes of listening for the enemy’s counter-mining operations. It had the feel of a submarine film with the sonar man listening intently through his headphones, sitting on pins and needles all the while. You expected the enemy to burst through the clay at any second. I appreciated the skillful use of tension.

There is a love story in this film as well, and all good men ought to appreciate that. The problem is, she’s nearly ten years younger than Woodward. Woodward (Brendan Cowell) looks much older than the mid-twenty-something he is supposed to be, so the age-gap is visually a bit more jarring than it could have been. However, the interactions between these two and her parents is refreshing to see. This saved what could have been a rather pervy situation and brought in a welcomed feel of wholesomeness.

The story is based on a true memoire, and that makes it all the more enjoyable. Here is a real hero depicted well. I give it an A. There is mild foul language. While accurate, I believe films could be more broadly appreciated and widely viewed without descending to vulgarity. There is, thankfully, the wise and mature refraining from nudity, which is the hallmark of simplistic and amateurish attempts at some notion of artistry. Gore is there a bit, but its the hard, harsh, gritty life in the misery of trench stalemate that gives this film a hard edge.

This is a worthy film that should make Australians proud.

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