Beneath Hill 60

The Anzac spirit runs strong and deep within the Australian psyche. We love our Anzacs and we love our war movies. Two of the very best films this country has produced are war movies - Peter Weir's Gallipoli and Bruce Beresford's Breaker Morant. So Jeremy Sims' Beneath Hill 60 - a retelling of the historically neglected WWI tunnellers who literally undermined the enemy with explosives in a subterranean attack on the enemy front line - has some mighty big shoes to fill.

Following on from his promising Last Train To Freo (2006), Jeremy Sims tackles a project of grander scope and meets with success for the most part. The film is an effective portrayal of Aussies at war including the personal sacrifices which are made, the danger and claustrophobia involved in tunneling under enemy lines and the ever clichéd bumbling brass who seem to do everything in their power to botch the mission at the behest of our trench-trapped, all-knowing heroes. But ultimately it is Sims' handling of the films scope, which lets the project down just a little. We simply don't feel the magnitude of our boys' undertaking as it pertains to the event of the title. It seems that our Aussies didn't actually have much to do with the explosion of ‘Hill 60’ bar turning up and throwing the switch. The Anzacs didn't plan it, they didn't even set it up, they just came along at the end and pressed the button.

Perhaps Sims would have done well to take a leaf out of Weir's playbook and concentrate his film a little more on the mateship of the tunnellers more so than the transpiring events. He certainly does this to some effect but by the end of the film, the mission is front and centre and our limited contribution to the proceedings becomes obvious. Consider this against Weir's film that is squarely about the mateship of men in conflict (first emotionally, then physically), the event of the title (Gallipoli) merely forms the backdrop for the drama and gives it resonance. Sadly Sims' mimicry of the finale from Gallipoli only serves to drive home the inferiority of his film to Weir's masterpiece; it's a comparison fraught with danger for any filmmaker.

Sims' structure of the film is also a little flawed, making his setups feel somewhat contrived. For instance, we know when a character is about to encounter conflict because we were just delivered his back-story not five minutes before.

Ultimately, though, Beneath Hill 60 is a worthwhile film as it fills in a segment of lost Australian military history and is handled competently by Sims (the aforementioned flaws notwithstanding). The subject matter, however, is infinitely more interesting than the narrative told here and it would probably have been better served by a documentary.
Stuart Jamieson

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