cast: Damian Lewis, Tom Hardy, Sophia Myles, Timothy West, and James Fox

director: Stuart Orme

240 minutes (12) 2005
widescreen ratio 16:9
Contender DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Alasdair Stuart

The recent, high profile miniseries gets a fast-tracked DVD release and it’s easy to see why. Less than a year old, this is an unusual combination of huge production values, well-realised characters and pure, start to finish, Boy’s Own adventure yarn.

When Nick Mcgrade (Damien Lewis), Jack Rose (Tom Hardy) and Tom Willis (Lawrence Fox) escape from a World War II prison camp they come within metres of freedom. But when Rose and Willis are apprehended, Rose buys Mcgrade enough time to escape. For his pains he’s sent to Colditz, the supposedly escape-proof camp, whilst Mcgrade returns home. Having promised to track down Lizzie Carter (Sophia Myles) and let her know Jack’s all right, Mcgrade instead finds himself manipulated into working for MI9 and slowly but surely falling for Lizzie.

There are really three stories going on at once here and at least two of the work extremely well. Hardy is great as Jack Rose, taking the essentially dull hero role and making it his own. Jack’s a tenacious, relentlessly hard-working man who hovers constantly on the edge of obsession. He gets through his days at Colditz by thinking about Lizzie and when she drops out of contact, the effect is immediate and devastating. Hardy’s a consistently interesting actor, having turned up previously in Star Trek: Nemesis and LD50 and is the rock that the entire story revolves around.

The supporting cast are equally impressive, with Myles’ Lizzie managing to be both sweet natured and hard-edged at the same time. Forced to grow up by the war and what she sees in it, she’s both the ideal woman that Jack dreams of and a very real person in a very difficult situation. The other inmates also turn in excellent work, with Jason Priestley a real stand out as the funny, charismatic and ultimately doomed Canadian pilot Rhett Barker. Fox, as Jack’s superior officer and friend Willis also impresses as his escape attempts become ever more desperate.

However, the real star here is Lewis. In Nick Mcgrade he’s given a gift of a character, a man capable of hideous cruelty and absolute compassion almost at the same time. There’s a superb moment in the first episode where Mcgrade is captivated by the beauty of a bombing raid, delivering a speech about the pleasures of war that’s intensely anarchistic and strangely plausible. He’s a man intent only on pleasing himself who is doomed, oddly, the moment he finds himself caring for someone else. An almost Shakespearean villain played with increasing desperation by Lewis, he’s the black heart of the story and a perfect foil for Rose.

This could so easily have been off the shelf, chocolate box storytelling and at it’s most basic level that’s just what it is. However with some unusually dark writing, uniformly strong performances, and Lewis stealing the show, it becomes something far more interesting. Colditz is worth a look.