The Great Escaper (2023) | Review

Fuga in Normandia moves viewers with real D-Day survivors and a tear-jerking finale. Jackson and Caine’s performances bring heartfelt authenticity.


The Great Escaper (2023)
Directed by Oliver Parker

The Great Escaper by Oliver Parker draws inspiration from the true story of the nearly ninety-year-old Bernard Jordan, who escaped from his care home to reach the French coast for the 70th anniversary of D-Day, in which he had participated. Parker skillfully navigates melodramatic rhetoric, but it is the performances of Michael Caine and Glenda Jackson that naturally evoke deep emotion.


Eighty-year-old Bernie Jordan escapes his retirement home with his wife to join other war veterans and commemorate fallen comrades on the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings. The story quickly goes global, making headlines, but only a part of the tale is told.

The Great Escaper‘s title is noteworthy, as it plays with classic escapism, almost as if the elderly Bernard Jordan were an updated version of the legendary Steve McQueen, and it suggests cinema’s power to escape life’s inherent limitations.

At the film’s world premiere on September 20, 2023, at BFI Southbank in London, Glenda Jackson, who plays Bernard’s wife Irene, had been dead for three months, marking her last appearance on screen just two years after Secret Love by Eva Husson, which was her return to acting after a 30-year hiatus since The King of the Wind by Peter Duffell. Jackson remains eternally present alongside Michael Caine, who, at over ninety, has also retired from acting. They both await the inevitable, yet they are perpetually there, like the characters they portray in The Great Escaper, based on real events.

Jordan’s true story involves his stealthy departure from a nursing home at eighty-nine in June 2014 to reach Normandy for the 70th anniversary of D-Day, an event that saw nearly twenty thousand casualties among Allied and German forces, in which he participated.

From a certain perspective, The Great Escaper can be naturally compared to The Last Bus, the geriatric drama directed by Scottish filmmaker Gillies MacKinnon in 2021 and released in Italy earlier this year by Trent Film. Both films revolve around an octogenarian embarking on a solitary journey to reclaim personal memories, which are also collective—familial in one case, national and even international in the other. Both movies follow the tradition of classic British cinema, characterized by gentle, touching, nostalgic, and especially performance-driven storytelling.


One naturally wonders what would become of Mr. Jordan’s intriguing story of escaping to France if not portrayed by a legendary actor like Caine. This is his declared final screen appearance, a full seventy-three years after his role in Roy Ward Baker’s Morning Departure, where he appeared for just a few seconds in a silent role, also related to World War II—a British submarine encounters an unexploded mine. Caine’s overwhelming presence, similar to Jackson’s, eclipses the rest of the dramatic framework, which proves to be solidly executed but remains predictable and without notable flourishes.

It is hard not to feel a lump in your throat during certain scenes, especially when real survivors of the horrific D-Day battle on the French coast appear on screen. However, this is a straightforward narrative choice, as is the tear-jerking finale, which feels instinctively inevitable (highlighting the predictability of Oliver Parker’s direction). Parker, a 63-year-old filmmaker who once seemed poised to become a new Kenneth Branagh with his debut Othello—a bleak revision of Shakespeare’s play featuring Branagh as Iago—has since faded into obscurity. The Great Escaper represents bourgeois cinema: conciliatory yet tinged with bitterness, reflecting everyday life through the stories it seeks to tell.

The distinction lies in the intersection of cinema and life, rather than cinema imitating life, giving this otherwise unremarkable film its natural purpose, touching the heart and uplifting melancholy. When Glenda Jackson, who has passed away, and Michael Caine, who will never act again, look into each other’s eyes, a tear may well fall—this time, not forced.

Raffaele Meale

Quinlan, July 3, 2024


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