Beneath Hill 60

Beneath Hill 60

(M) Brendan Cowell, John Stanton, Gyton Grantley, Steve Le Marquand

Australian cinema classics like Gallipoli, Breaker Morant, The Lighthorsemen and the more recent Kokoda celebrate the infantrymen that fought and died during last century’s world wars. Come April 25 there will be another film to celebrate the Aussie fighting spirit: Beneath Hill 60.

Director Jeremy Sims has added to this successful list with the as yet untold story of the heroic men who took Hill 60 beneath the German trenches in 1916.

Diggers literally — the story follows the men in Officer Oliver Woodward’s company, the1st Australian Tunnelling Division — who dug tunnels beneath the Western Front to put a dent in the German campaign by setting off an explosion that would be felt as far away as Dublin.

The claustrophobic tale of Woodward (Brendan Cowell) — an inexperienced former miner from Queensland — and company is one of the Australian troops’ mateship, ingenuity and sacrifice.

Over 4,585 Australian miners took part in the clandestine subterranean war, their stress palpable as explosions on the surface could cause the metres of mud and sand above them to collapse at any minute.

The story gathers momentum as the men in Woodward’s group are moved to the frontline and must dig beneath the front to take the strategically placed Hill 60, a high point that dominated that part of the killing fields of Belgium.

Foot by agonising foot, the company dug (sometimes with their bare hands) underneath the troops.

The 1st Australian Tunnelling Division’s bravery in guarding those underground mines and their subsequent massive explosions broke the gridlocked trench warfare of the previous three years.

Excellent performances from the Australian cast and superior production design gives the film its gritty, tension-filled ambience.

Adrian Drayton

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