A REVIEW BENEATH HILL 60. A FILM ABOUT THE TRUE STORY OF AUSTRALIAN ENGINEERS ON THE WESTERN FRONT. NOW SHOWING AT THE DENDY AND ADVERTISED THEATRES.
BY JENNY HAINES.
Those who have been to war know that it is a dirty, messy, horrible business, where life is cheap. There is no glory in mud, endless mud. There is no glory in the loss of friends, limbs, lives, body parts. There is no glory in making the unethical decisions that war demands. War is the serious business of killing the enemy by whatever means you can, while doing your best to stay alive. Fate and chance play a big part in whether you survive.
Beneath Hill 60 tells the story of Australian Army Engineers on the Western Front in 1916. They specialised in blowing up German positions from underground. They were a squad of men who were miners back home in Australia, formed especially for the tasks that they were given. They were grateful to be underground. Being on the surface only meant more horror.
But this is not just another war story. Jeremy Hartley Sims and the production team make clear their distaste for the slaughter that took place on the Western Front in WW One. The thundering sound of the Western Front guns booms in your ears as it must have done for the frontline soldiers, day and night. The horrors of war are there in all their bloody detail, but not overstated. But there is also impish Aussie military humour, and ranking officer and soldier distaste for the British, and army command. Chris Haywood plays a bumbling commander with his usual mastery of his role.
Brendan Cowell plays the lead role of the Captain of the squad. We follow his journey into the army through flashbacks to his life before the war and his courting of his young lady, the daughter of Queensland farmers. The gentility of the Queensland farmland life contrasts sharply with the grim portrait of European farmlands, which by 1916 were acres and acres of pitted mud.
Hill 60 is a strategic site for the British Empire forces. Optimists hope that by blasting Hill 60 away, the end of the war will be hastened. The blast when it comes is so huge, it is heard in London and Berlin. But sadly, even though 2000 Germans were killed that day, they retook Hill 60 several months later.
But the film also tells the story of the squad of men, some hardened and embittered by the war, some too young to be there and are terrified, some driven to madness by the insanity around them, some generous and caring even with the war all around them. “A landmark achievement, harrowing, moving and brilliantly suspenseful” Evan Williams , The Australian.