Though perhaps an odd choice for a festive film, 1963’s The Great Escape has become such a permanent Boxing Day fixture that it is almost impossible to imagine eating cold turkey sandwiches without hearing that iconic theme tune. Based on true events from WWII, The Great Escape follows the escape attempts by allied prisoners from a Nazi concentration camp, which is planned, prepared and executed with upmost secrecy and ingenuity.
Whilst this may seem like rather serious viewing for such a festive period, The Great Escape is action packed and in many ways comedic. Much of this comes from the absolutely stellar cast which includes the legendary Steve McQueen, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson and Donald Pleasance, as well as so numerous other notable actors that every scene contains a good two or three famous faces.
Throughout the course of The Great Escape the audience is introduced to each of the characters as well seeing their ingenious work within the ‘X Organization’, as they tunnel, scrounge and forge their way to freedom. The Great Escape shines as it slowly introduces each character along with their unique and priceless skills: Donald Pleasence as the kindly forger often seen either drawing birds or drinking tea, Charles Bronson who’s tunnelling away often in time to Christmas carols and Steve McQueen’s character Hilts who’s constantly caught in the act and endlessly bouncing a baseball in a tiny room. Some of their schemes are so farfetched they seem almost impossible: smuggling dirt out in their trousers, making a variety of disguises out of blankets and boot polish as well as making vast quantities of fuel-like moonshine. All of these schemes combine to make The Great Escape feel like some kind of wacky summer camp, albeit a summer camp with Wehrmacht guards. Once the escapes occur things become much tenser. The British officers at the train station attempt to sneak past the guards, others attempt to get away by rowboat and airplane, whilst once again Hilts flouts all secrecy by just driving to Switzerland on a motorcycle.
All in all, it seems rather odd to hold up The Great Escape as a great festive film, what with all the death and the Nazis, but somehow it fits as a uniquely British tradition. Sure we all know how it’s going to end, but its amazing cast, unique charm and surprising action have entrenched The Great Escape as a Christmas classic, and I would highly advise that if you see this film in the TV listings again this year, you sit down and enjoy it once more.