Film Review: The Bridge on the River Kwai – 8.5/10

‘Do not speak to me of rules. This is war! This is not a game of cricket…’

Now, before I say this momentous statement I’m about to say, I will caveat it by pointing out that I’ve never seen Dambusters, but that film aside, I think The Bridge on the River Kwai may well be the most British thing I’ve ever seen. It’s all here. The stiff upper lip. Drinking tea. Looking down on Americans. Racial slurs. It’s as British as Hugh Grant eating a Sunday dinner dressed as a crusader. And I bloody loved it (not the racist bits, obviously)…

A group of allied POWs in a Japanese internment camp are ordered to build a preposterous bridge over the river Kwai. Led by the irrepressible Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness), the men must battle against the tyrannical Japanese leader Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa) and their own sense of ennui. We also encounter Shears (William Holden) an American navy man who just wants to drink cocktails and bed beautiful women and instead finds himself constantly surrounded by British men and bridges.

The Bride on the River Kwai was nothing like what I expected. It’s not stuffy. It doesn’t drag. The opening 90 minutes actually feels very modern. The screenplay, credited to Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson, is frequently hilarious and always compelling. Only in the third act does David Lean’s assured direction feel a little old-fashioned, the rest of the time, his classic film is an utter delight. And the performances? Get outta town. Guinness takes a character who could easily have seemed ridiculous on the page and imbues him with a passion and a warmth that justifies his hardline outlook. Holden is equally as captivating, if utterly beleaguered, and the supporting cast is universally great also.

The Bridge on the River Kwai is nothing like those other dusty war dramas that you’re thinking of. It deserves its status as a masterpiece.