Tomorrow When the War Began
(M) Starring Caitlin Stasey, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Lincoln Lewis, Phoebe Tonkin
John Marsden’s book series which began with Tomorrow When the War Began and continued through six more books has now had in excess of one million copies in print in no less than five foreign languages.
After winning numerous awards for young adult fiction, this series of books has always seemed ripe for a TV series or films, yet Marsden himself has resisted the material being translated to film until now.
Then along came Australian screenwriter Stuart Beattie, who has penned screenplays for Pirates of the Caribbean, GI Joe and Collateral. Beattie was given Marsden’s blessing to adapt Tomorrow as his directorial debut.
A staple on school book lists since it was written in 1995, Tomorrow When the War Began is essentially about a group of teenagers who are forced to grow up and make decisions beyond their years.
Seventeen-year-old Ellie Linton (Caitlin Stasey) plans one last adventure before school holidays end — a camping trip to a remote location in the bush that the locals have ominously dubbed “Hell”.
Ellie gathers her school mates for the trip: best friend Corrie McKenzie (Rachel Hurd-Wood) and her amorous, sporty boyfriend Kevin Holmes (Lincoln Lewis); school beauty queen Fiona Maxwell (Phoebe Tonkin); larrikin troublemaker Homer Yannos (Deniz Akdeniz); Robyn Mathers (Ashleigh Cummings) and Lee Takkam (Chris Pang), whose parents run the local Thai restaurant.
Upon reaching their destination, the group discover “Hell” is anything but: the lush, idyllic oasis turns out to be a hidden paradise, complete with a stream and waterfall — the perfect location for friendships to be forged and romances to blossom.
During their weeklong stay, the outside world becomes a distant memory … until several squads of low-flying jets make an unexpected appearance in the night sky.
Vowing to make the trip an annual event, they return to their small hometown of Wirrawee but soon discover something is amiss: Power to the town has been cut, pets and livestock have been left dead or dying and, most alarmingly of all, everyone’s parents have vanished.
They eventually make a shocking discovery: the local showground has been turned into a prison camp and the entire population of Wirrawee is being held captive by a foreign military force.
When the hostile armed forces become alerted to the presence of the teenagers, Ellie and her friends must band together to escape, outwit and strike back against the mysterious enemy that has seized control of their town and imprisoned their friends and loved ones.
Marsden’s books and the film explore the fertile period between adolescence and adulthood, where his protagonists must leave carefree childish ways behind and embrace an uncertain future where they must make life and death decisions.
As 1 Corinthians 13:11 so eloquently examines coming of age, “leaving childish ways behind”, so Marsden’s books and Beattie’s excellent screenplay write thematically over the lives of Ellie and her friends.
With an excellent ensemble cast headed by the surely soon to be headhunted-by-Hollywood Stasey, this ambitious Australian film is worthy of your attention.