British film director Oliver Parker discusses the recent WWII biopic with Help for Heroes veterans.
The Great Escaper tells the story of Bernard Jordan (portrayed by Michael Caine), who in 2014 made global headlines when he made a “great escape” from his care home to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the D-Day Landings in Normandy.
Produced by Pathé, the film is a heart-warming retelling of Bernie’s “can-do” spirit, a defiance that epitomised a generation that was fast disappearing. But of course, this isn’t the whole story. The Great Escaper recounts one man’s need to come to terms with the lasting trauma of war.
During an exclusive interview director Oliver Parker met with Help for Heroes veterans to discuss the film’s authentic portrayal of real-life experiences of combat stress.
Addressing the research that went into the film, Parker explained how screenwriter William Ivory drew from his own experience of having a father who suffered post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in the RAF.
“He had pretty bad PTSD for years and drunk a lot and got quite aggressive,” Parker said. “From what I understand, he would almost go somewhere else, and this is something that film can do quite well…it can take you there, it can take you back there.”
A key element of storytelling in The Great Escaper is the depiction of Bernie’s re-experiencing the trauma of fighting in WWII. The veterans related to this and mentioned how the sense of drifting off into the memory of combat stress was aptly and sensitively handled.
When asked about his thoughts on the final cut Parker explained the honour he felt at being able to direct the film. “I actually feel very privileged to be dealing with the material I have been dealing with.
“The writer had such a profound and authentic grasp of Bernie’s world. Then to get the cast line-up that we did…you never fully know what you’re going to get but there were some quite beautiful moments where I could see Michael Caine connecting to something as an experience, a lived experience which was very powerful.”
Parker was touched that the depiction of combat stress rang true to the veterans, expressing how it is a “sensitive and important” aspect of military experience and one “you want to make sure you do justice to” in filmmaking.
The Great Escaper was released on October 6th and co-stars Glenda Jackson, John Standing, Danielle Vitalis, Will Fletcher and Laura Marcus.