ON AIR: The New Classical FM

Film Reviews: The Great Escaper & Backspot

Arts Review2024-5-31By: Marc Glassman


Against All Odds

The Great Escaper & Backspot

By Marc Glassman


The Great Escaper

Oliver Parker, director

William Ivory, script

Starring: Michael Caine (Bernard “Bernie” Jordan), Glenda Jackson (Rene Jordan), John Standing (Arthur), Jackie Clune (Judith), Danielle Vitalis (Adele, care worker), Will Fletcher (young Bernie), Laura Marcus (young Rene)


If you have a fondness for British eccentrics and the outlandish English press, you might recall with a chuckle that an 89-year-old World War Two veteran ran off from his retirement home to attend the 70th anniversary D-Day ceremonies in France on June 6, 2014. London journalists had a great time with the story, calling the old vet “the Great Escaper.” It was a rare opportunity to publish an upbeat news story and it ensured the legacy of Bernie Jordan, formerly of the Royal Navy, would be kindly remembered. 

It turns out, happily, that Jordan’s tale could go one better than being the subject of fading headlines. The tale has now become the basis for a major film starring Michael Caine as Bernie Jordan and Glenda Jackson as his acerbic wife Rene, both in their final roles. While fleshing out the slight plot with scenes in a British retirement home, on board a ship crossing the English Channel and in France, near Normandy, The Great Escaper leans heavily on the charm of Caine and Jackson to keep the film going. They are more than up for the task, playing effortlessly off each other, allowing each to shine as an old couple who found each other during the War and have spent their lives together. 

Unfortunately, scriptwriter William Ivory and director Oliver Parker have boxed themselves in, with a story that offers little complexity and drama. There is a bit of a subplot with Caine’s Bernie Jordan meeting up with an alcoholic rich veteran, Arthur (John Standing), who has personal reasons for going to France, and some byplay with the authorities of the retirement home, but neither is scintillating stuff. Rather better are extensive flashback sequences set during World War Two, showing the incandescent romance between the young Bernie and Rene. The Great Escaper is really about them, in the past and present.

For many audience members, the events of World War Two are in the distant past, remembered through stories told by aging relatives. The nostalgia, which will fuel interest in the film is based on memories of Michael Caine and Glenda Jackson as two of the greatest British stars of the Sixties and Seventies. Who can forget Caine as the insouciant “bad boy” Alfie or as a spy in The Ipcress File? Or Jackson as the intense willful lead in Women in Love and as a great Hedda Gabler? Or, indeed, the two of them as a brilliant dueling couple in The Romantic Englishwoman? Caine’s career continued for decades and decades, gradually moving from leading roles to those of a character actor while Jackson moved from acting to being an important Labour politician—until she, too, returned to performing late in life. 

To see Caine and Jackson together in The Great Escaper is a great joy. The film may be about honour and memory, in part, but surely it is mainly about love. It’s what Bernie had for Rene and what we have for the admirable film stars who make this film eminently watchable. For those of us who enjoy the great escape of cinema, it is a pleasure to be in the company of Michael Caine and Glenda Jackson for one last time.



D.W. Waterson, director

Joanne Sarazen, script based on Waterson’s story.

Starring: Devery Jacobs (Riley), Kudakwashe Rutendo (Amanda), Evan Rachel Wood (Eileen McNamara), Noa DiBerto (Rachel), Thomas Antony Olajide (Devon), Wendy Crewson (Suzanne)


When Elliot Page supports a film as an executive producer, it’s enough to make one sit up and take notice. That’s the case with Backspot, a cheerleader movie with a difference: it’s tougher, edgier and with an intimate awareness of what younger women are going through in these challenging times. Making a splashy feature film debut as director is the brilliant non-binary artist D.W. Waterson, who won multiple awards as the creator of the web series That’s My DJ. The maker of stylish music videos, Waterson knows how to tell a story though sound and image; dialogue is useful but not essential. With Backspot, Waterson was able to work with their producing partner, queer Mohawk actress and writer Devery Jacobs, to create an athletic movie with a genuinely contemporary sensibility.

Waterson’s film concentrates on the mechanics of cheerleading, not its glamorous side. Devery Jacobs’ Riley is a backspot, the woman who structures the stunts, ensuring that the star, the flyer, has her body protected at all times. Always on the ground, never in the air, it’s the backspot that bears the responsibility to make a great cheerleading team function brilliantly. Not the greatest athlete, Riley is chosen for the team by its driven coach, Eileen (an insular Evan Rachel Wood) because she insists on doing her failed preliminary tests again—and more than makes up for it the second time. 

Riley is driven by anxiety, which is never explained but is painfully shown in scenes where she obsessively plucks out the hairs from her eyebrows, one by one. Backspot is Riley’s story and it’s clear that we are watching someone try to figure out how she and her team can fly to the top in their competitions. The weight of expectations lies heavily on Riley even though her attractive Black girlfriend Amanda and even her coach Eileen support her. The film never tries to excavate what caused Riley’s trauma—it simply exists and is her somewhat malicious motivating force.

Waterson and Jacobs have created a story, where queerness is quietly accepted although it’s clear that society hasn’t embraced it. Riley and Amanda are in love with each other—and while their mothers don’t question their relationship, neither is endorsing it. And although it’s obvious that Eileen is a lesbian, it’s a topic which remains officially taboo until she talks about it with Riley in a frosty but ultimately mentoring conversation. Far warmer is Riley’s relationship with another queer coach, Devon (Thomas Antony Olajide), who understands that her life isn’t a bed of roses even if everyone is outwardly accepting of her personal choices. 

D.W. Waterson has crafted a film which mainly tells its story through persuasive performances, superb sound, and a tight editing style. Backspot is a brilliantly made film that tells its simple but effective tale in a flashy contemporary way. One ends up admiring it for its style and wishing the best for Jacobs and Waterson as they lead a path to their filmmaking future in a tough political and cultural era.



To learn about advertising opportunities with Classical FM use the link below:

Listen on the Go

Classical Logo
Download Apps
Download Apps
Marilyn Lightstone Reads
Art End World
Part of
© 2024 | Executive Producer Moses Znaimer