Beneath Hill 60


Directed by: Jeremy Sims
Written by:David Roach
Starring: Brendan Cowell, Harrison Gilbertson, Steve Le Marquand, Gyton Grantley, Alex Thompson, Alan Dukes, Warwick Young
Released: April 15, 2010
Grade: B+

It seems like I’m sceptical every time I see a new war film.  It’s not that I dislike the genre (most war movies are actually great) but how many interesting stories remain untold?  I feel like I’ve heard every story from every major war in the last century.

Well, it turns out I’m wrong (but that’s nothing new I guess).  Beneath Hill 60 is an Australian war film set in World War I that tells a very interesting tale indeed.  It’s based on the diaries written by Captain Oliver Woodward who led a team of soldiers into battle on the Western Front.

These men fought bravely but not in a way you might expect.  Instead of shooting their enemies about the ground, they were attacking them from underneath.  With a valuable mix of engineering and mining experience, they tunnelled beneath the front line and into enemy territory.  They could then plant large quantities of explosives just under the surface and detonate them to maximum effect.

They never came face-to-face with the enemy but it was still dangerous work.  Digging mine shafts up to 100m below the surface was an unenviable task.  The soil was unstable and could give at any moment.  There was very little oxygen and hardly any light.  Water seeped through the surface and threatened to flood the chambers.  Worst of all, the Germans were also digging tunnels and setting explosive devices of their own.

Director Jeremy Sims has put together a strong film which pays tribute to the bravery of these soldiers.  Much of the story is set underground and you’ll gather an appreciation for the filthy conditions and claustrophobic spaces in which they worked.  It’s quite suspenseful too.  You’ll find yourself anxiously awaiting the scenes where the detonator is pushed and the enemy meet an explosive fate.

There are plenty of memorable performances amongst the cast.  Brendan Cowell (Noise) again proves he’s one of Australia’s best actors.  He doesn’t overplay the role or use any fancy words.  He portrays Captain Woodward as just an “ordinary bloke” and it makes the story far more believable.  Also strong was 16-year-old Harrison Gilbertson (Blessed) who is face is watch in the near future.

That said, the film does fall to victim to some familiar war clichés.  Every time you hear a solider talking about his life/family back home, you get a sense of what lies around the corner.  Further, a few of the characters (such as the bossy colonel) were over the top.  I was also puzzled as to why the German perspective was introduced so late into the film and whether it achieved its desired intent.

Shot entirely on location in Townsville, Beneath Hill 60 is being released to coincide with Anzac Day.  If you take the time to see it, not only will you be supporting the Australian film industry but you’ll also be treated to a high quality war movie.