Reviewed by: Paz Newis

I watch about one hour of broadcast TV every week, so it was with a little trepidation that I approached Colditz, ITV's new Sunday night drama, and was pleasantly surprised. Boasting an international cast (Jason Priestley, Tom Hardy, James Fox, with son Laurence), this is a slick professional production that should appeal to a wider audience than the usual military historians.

The setting is WWII and the infamous prison for persistent escapees, which, with these specialists all concentrated into an Escape Academy, makes for the drama we know from the classic 1954 film with John Mills and Ian Carmichael. Where this modern tale differs is the addition of romance.

The story begins with three British servicemen, Jack Rose (Hardy), Nick McGrade (Damian Lewis) and Tom Willis (Laurence Fox) who are on the run in war ravaged Germany, having busted out of a POW camp. While Jack and Tom are recaptured, Nick escapes with a message for Jack's sweetheart, Lizzie Carter (Sophia Myles), an ARP girl in London.

With his promotion to MI9, the department responsible for aiding POWs, Nick finds it easy to fake Jack's death, leaving the way clear for him to seduce the lovely Lizzie. The drama reaches full pitch when Jack receives a letter from Blighty, intimating the deception going on at home. This revelation steels Jack's determination to escape and forces him into making difficult choices.

The separation of lovers, even those who have kissed only briefly, and the effects of war on relationships, is a story of archetypal resonance. In Colditz, it is played out against the London Blitz and the confines of the prison castle.

The lead players hand in fine performances, with Priestley surprisingly good as a drug addicted Canadian airman and Timothy West, my favourite, as MI9's gadgeteer.

The film was shot in Eastern Europe, which means the mediaeval castle, the WWII trains, the countryside that escapees flee across are spectacular. Along with details of uniforms, vehicles and equipment, it all adds up to a treat for the boys.

Set pieces, the Blitz firestorm, the escape through the sewers are splendidly realised and sit well alongside the subtle CGI bombsites next to period London buildings.

There is little to fault in the direction, pace or editing. I was gripped from start to dramatic, uncompromising finish.

Reviewed on: 01 Apr 2005
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The infamous PoW camp for persistant escapees during WWII is given a romantic twist.
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Director: Stuart Orme

Writer: Richard Cottan, Peter Morgan

Starring: Damien Lewis, Tom Hardy, Sophia Myles, Jason Priestley, Timothy West, Laurence Fox, James Fox, Charles Kay, Daniel Weyman

Year: 2005

Runtime: 240 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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