Beneath Hill 60 is a war movie that doesn’t feel like a real war movie. When you look at it from a storytelling perspective it honors every possible cliche and yet it feels strangely aloof and even upbeat at times. It’s based on a fascinating true story of the 1st Australian Tunneling Company and their missions during World War I. First of all, I didn’t even know that tunneling was a thing during the Great War let alone such an important element of the war effort. It’s so strange to think that a technique that was primarily used during castle sieges has made it up all the way to the 20th century. Secondly, it was refreshing to hear someone else war story apart from the Brits and Yanks.
And finally, as a fan of World War I movies, it was a pleasure to watch another decent one. I first stumbled upon The Lost Battalion and now this one. Beneath Hill 60 focuses on one man, Captain Oliver Woodward, a man who was given an impossible task. We will be going back and forth between his current war operations and the time when he was just another guy living peacefully in the land down under. You don’t know what’s worse, the horrific trench warfare above or the damp and dark tunnels below. This movie offers a unique perspective on this aspect of the war.
Despite a somewhat smaller budget, Beneath Hill 60 looks and feels impressive. Probably because we will be spending a lot of time underground, digging and listening for other sappers. Yes, the Central Powers had their own sappers who were also digging tunnels underneath the trenches. I don’t want to reveal too much about this as I don’t want to spoil your viewing pleasure. They achieved a perfect balance between providing enough technical details about the process and not boring the shit out of you with them. The pacing is a bit slower but the suspenseful atmosphere makes up for that. Finally, don’t expect any shootouts or fights, this is a different kind of war movie.
Captain Oliver Woodward is slowly making his way through the dark tunnels underneath the trenches on the Western Front. He’s looking for the members of his new unit, the 1st Australian Tunneling Company. Oliver is now their new commanding officer. When he finally finds them they start the hard work of trying to break through to the other side. However, after a few weeks, they will be given a new assignment. An assignment so big and so important that it could change the entire course of the war.
Yep, that’s it, I finally figured it out! Beneath Hill 60 feels like a heist movie set against the war backdrop. The atmosphere is intense and claustrophobic. Hell, Hugo Weaving wanted the role of Captain Woodward but he eventually opted out because of his fear of tight spaces. This tension is broken up by Woodward’s backstory, exploring how the war impacted those who were left behind. The cast did a terrific job, especially Brendan Cowell and Steve Le Marquand as Bill Fraser. I’m sure it wasn’t pleasant working in those conditions.
Especially when you consider that this is a smaller production and that the actors probably didn’t have the comforts that bigger productions usually provide. However, this provided them with the opportunity to really dig into this subject. The script is based on Woodward’s journal, providing a very personal view of the war and its participants. The whole movie was kickstarted by Ross J. Thomas, a mining engineer, and historian. So, you can feel this sense of authenticity oozing from every fucking scene.
I know that I use to complain about how there aren’t many movies about WWI but it turns out there are. You just have to find them. And if you’re looking for more of them, I suggest you start with the most recent one: All Quiet on the Western Front. Oddly enough, there’s another movie about the sappers of WWI and that’s the British The War Below.
Director: Jeremy Sims
Writer: David Roach
Cast: Brendan Cowell, Harrison Gilbertson, Steve Le Marquand, Gyton Grantley, Alan Dukes
Fun Facts: The box you see in the movie is authentic. The Woodward family kept it all these years and gave production the permission to use it in the movie.