12 July 2007 | gradyharp
One Man's Castle is Another Man's Prison: COLDITZ and Human Behavior
Colditz is a castle near Leipzig where during WW II the Nazis held Allied troops who were particularly at risk as escape artists. Many of the men had escaped POW camps prior to their incarceration in the huge castle, and the man in charge of the prison warns every new inmate that the castle is impenetrable: there is no possibility of escaping and those who attempt will be killed.
The film begins in London 1939 as men are preparing to leave for the front. Among them is a slightly naive but warmly human lad, Jack Rose (Tom Hardy) who has fallen in love with Lizzie (Sophia Myles), in a sweet, innocent union that represents the concept of 'the love we leave behind'. Jack leaves for duty with fellow soldiers Nicholas McGrade (Damian Lewis) and Tom Willis (Lawrence Fox) and soon they are captured by the Nazis and placed in a POW camp. Of course, being cunning lads, they soon escape only to be captured again and sent to the ominous Colditz - all except Nick. There they bond with men from home such as artist Sawyer (Guy Henry) and from other countries including France and Canada - among them Rhett Barker (Jason Priestly) who is a manipulator able to buy goods from Nazi guards including drugs to which he is addicted.
Nick is sent back to London where he meets Lizzie to tell her of Jack's safety. In time the two feel an attraction that proves to have fatal consequences because of Nick's obsession to have Lizzie to himself. Meanwhile the men in Colditz attempt multiple escapes only to be caught each time and put into solitary confinement. The drive to escape is aided by all of the inmates and yet their efforts are thwarted by colleagues turned informers for their own selfish needs. Artist Sawyer does escape and is assigned in London with the Intelligence outfit with Nick: he learns that supposedly Jack has been reported as killed in action (a letter forged by Nick to gain access to Lizzie's emotions) and the remainder of the story concerns the end of the war, the release of the prisoners from Colditz, and the fatal schism between the returning Jack and his rival Nick over the love of Lizzie.
Director Stuart Orme manages to keep the pace of this over three hour long film, allowing the viewer to meet and understand and care about a very large cast of characters (writers Richard Cottan and Peter Morgan have created deft personalities). Filmed in London and the Czech Republic the atmosphere is correctly captured and the large cast of characters includes many very fine cameos. If there is a single message to summarize a complex story, it is the old adage 'brothers in arms, rivals in love'. This made for television miniseries is well acted and is another opportunity to see the background stories of World War II. Recommended viewing. Grady Harp