Our rating: 2 out of 5
Reviewer: Charity Bishop
WWII is a marvelous backdrop for a number of suspenseful stories. Colditz is an ITV miniseries about the daring attempts made by prisoners to escape from a mountain chalet prison. It is only loosely based in fact.
On a cold night, prisoners escape from a German holding camp in a daring attempt to make it across the Swiss border to freedom. Lt. Jack Rose (Tom Hardy) wants to make it home to the woman he loves, the beautiful Lizzie Carter (Sophia Myles). He could not work up the courage to ask her to marry him before shipping out and now hopes to amend that mistake. He is accompanied by his friend Cap. Tom Willis (Laurence Fox) and a Scott, Capt. Nicholas McGrade (Damian Lewis). But all of them do not make it -- Tom is swiftly captured by the Germans at a check point and Jack twists his ankle. Only Nick makes it across the border, where he is hailed as a hero and sent back to England to work in a special bureau formed to help captive POW's formulate escape plans. Having promised Jack to look up Lizzie and tell her Jack is safe, when he meets her, an immediate interest is formed... and suddenly he isn't so sure he wants Jack to come home.
Meanwhile, Tom and Jack are sent to Colditz, the latest and most difficult to escape POW camp the Germans have to offer. But there's nothing more stimulating than a challenge and they have a bunch of tricks up their sleeves... tricks that earn them solitary confinement and the amusement and respect of their captors. But what Jack doesn't realize is that while he is plotting his daring escape, on the home front Lizzie is finding Nick difficult to resist. When this series originally premiered there was a fuss about the historical inaccuracies and a lot of fans objected to using a love story to frame a historical event (much as happened in the big-screen Pearl Harbor), but if you look at it purely as a film, it's engaging, entertaining, suspenseful and even fun. Watching these men formulate and carry out escape plans makes the audience respect their ingenuity and mental powers -- one of the finest moments is when we discover that another prisoner has escaped, quietly, while a more daring escape is attempted by the main characters.
The cast is superb, made up of some of Britain's finest small screen actors, and all of them have a good deal of energy and passion for their roles. The characters are well written, ranging from unlikable to charming, with a host of habits on the side and eccentricities that bring out a sweetness to them. Nick is an ambiguous character, at times downright unlikable and at others almost empathetic, owing in large part to Lewis' range as an actor. He's very different here than his mild-mannered character in Band of Brothers, and midway through makes a decision that casts him in a sinister light. Even so, whenever he is around Lizzie we cannot help liking him -- but also finding ourselves drawn to Jack's affection for her, which makes choosing a side hard. The atmosphere, the cinematography, and the period clothes are all lovely -- and one scene involving the London blitz is particularly beautiful in a tragic kind of way.
Content-wise, the film received an R-rating when released Stateside for nudity -- we see several men in the showers from behind, and one turns sideways briefly. Much later, the men spy on a woman changing clothes through a window; she is shown topless. Nick and Lizzie eventually become intimate; they have a fairly tame and romantic love scene that includes lots of kissing. Dialogue revolves around whether or not a girl is a virgin and a man undressing a woman with his eyes. Language includes some use of s**t, about a dozen abuses of Christ's name, and a handful of f-words. Men are shot and killed trying to flee the camp; others are only wounded. There are several fistfights; a man hits another man, who falls and suffers a fatal head blow on a flight of stairs. A man hangs himself. One escape involves the sewers; Jack throws up on screen before crawling off through a gritty sewer system filled with -- well, use your imagination.
Certain historical details have been changed to make it more dramatic -- such as the prisoners being warned that in attempting to escape, they will be shot. This was not true. For individuals familiar with this POW camp and the escape of various prisoners from it (there are some excellent books on the topic), this may be a slight disappointment, but for those willing to overlook a few dramatic enhancements, it's an engaging and "fun" story about perseverance and cleverness, playing out against an angst-driven romantic triangle. I actually was so involved with Jack, Lizzie, and Nicholas that I wasn't sure how I wanted it to end -- and it ended well. I did not expect to like the film nearly as much as I did.