It was not long ago that I watched the excellent Australian film "Kokoda 39th Batallion", which brought deserved attention to the less well known conflict in Papua New Guinea during the Second World War. They have done it again with "Beneath Hill 60", which is the true story of the 1st Australian tunnellers, with particular emphasis on their involvement in the Battle of Messines during World War One. It was a story that was truly crying out to be told. The screenplay for the film was adapted from the war diaries of Captain Oliver Woodward who served with the tunnellers. A film about the role played by the tunnellers during the Great War has been long overdue. The novel "Birdsong" brought home the horrors of this type of war to me. Men toiling beneath the earth to set off huge mines beneath enemy positions. Then there were counter mines from the enemy, which sometimes ended in brutal hand to hand combat where men hacked at each other with spades.
The film captures the awful realities of the war under the ground, whilst interweaving flashbacks of the captains romance back home. Whilst I don't pretend to be an expert, the action seems very authentic, with detail such as the listening posts and the reference to digging down to the blue clay to avoid water flooding. The conditions and scenes of World War One action around the Ypres salient are very convincing. I have visited the Flanders field museum in Ypres and the film certainly looked like many of the photos I saw there. It is remarkable to think all this was done in Australia. Prior to the commencement of the Messines Battle, 19 mines were set off simultaneously, in the greatest man made explosion the world had ever witnessed. It was heard in London and Dublin, and changed the geography of the area. An estimated 10,000 German soldiers were killed. It was not until testing the atomic bomb in 1945 that there was a larger explosion. Sadly although the allies gained valuable ground initially it was retaken by the Germans in a matter of months, and the bloody stalemate continued.
The acting is solid by all the cast, and star Brendan Cowell is particularly effective as Woodward. Jeremy Sim's has directed this large production with an impressively sure hand. It is always difficult to bring something new to the canon of World War One movies that has not already been done, and usually done well by someone, but Sim's and his crew have managed this. There might be an even more definitive film to be made about the tunnellers, but for the time being this will more than suffice. It is an entertaining and informative film, that casts light on a lesser known chapter of the Great War. Well worth watching.