Posts Tagged ‘burma’

This book tells the heartbreaking and horrific story of the British prisoners of war who were forced to build the Burmese Railway during World War II. When Reg Twigg joined the army at the outbreak of the war, he expected to be sent to fight the Germans in Europe, but ended up in Singapore when it fell to the Japanese.

The conditions that these mainly British, Australian and Dutch soldiers endured were beyond imagining, and they died in the thousands – either murdered by the sadistic guards, or were so starved that their bodies couldn’t survive. Dysentry and Cholera were rife in the prison camps and it became commonplace for the soldiers to find themselves burying their former comrades.

That Reg survived is partly due to luck, and partly due to his own resourcefulness. He harvested illicit pumpkins from the kitchen rubbish (a risk that could have seen him punished by death if he had been caught) and trapped snakes and lizards to eat.

I don’t know if I could say that I enjoyed this book – given the subject matter, it’s not exactly a pleasant read. But it’s fascinating and gripping in the same way that a horror film can be – except that this was real life for so many.

I learned a lot about the famous bridge over the River Kwai (for example, it wasn’t over the Rover Kwai at all!) and a LOT about the Burmese Railway which Reg and his fellow prisoners were forced to build. It was an absorbing insight into a dreadful time. I do recommend this book, but be prepared for some upsetting scenes.

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This British made film stars Gregory Peck as Squadron Leader Bill Forrester, stationed in Burma in World War II. Forrester no longer cares whether he lives or dies, after his wife died in a bombing raid. When he visits a missionary’s house in Burma, he feels a connection to a young Burmese woman who lives there. Shortly afterwards however, Forrester, his navigator Carrington and another colleague named Blore, crash land in Japanese territory, badly injuring Carrington in the process. A long walk across hostile and unforgiving territory is the only possible chance of escape.

I wasn’t too sure whether I would enjoy this film. War movies are not a favourite genre of mine, and I wouldn’t have considered watching it, if Gregory Peck hadn’t been in this film. However, I’m glad I did. The Purple Plain is less a war movie, and more a film about the human condition with the war as a backdrop.

Gregory Peck was at his most beautiful in the early-mid 50s, and he certainly looks stunning here. His looks do not detract from his excellent performance however, and he really captures the two sides of Forrester – the lost and hopeless side we see at the beginning of the film, and the somewhat more optimistic side of him that develops. Having found a reason to live, Forrester has to face the very real possibility that he might die, and this is all shown very well.

Win Min Than plays Anna, the young Burmese girl who Forrester falls for. She is luminous in the part, and very appealing. (This was the first and last film that the actress ever made – she had not previously pursued a career in acting, and had fallen into the role almost by chance. She decided against a career as an actress, in order to concentrate on her marriage.) Maurice Denham is also good as the irritating but well-meaning Blore. The only patchy acting was down to Brenda de Banzie, who played the missionary at whose house Anna lived. De Banzie plays the part with a Scottish (I think) accent, which is pretty bad, and ended up distracting me whenever she was on screen.

Overall though, this is a great little-known film, and one that is definitely worth seeing if you get the chance.

Year of release: 1954

Director: Robert Parris

Writers: H.E. Bates (novel), Eric Ambler

Main cast: Gregory Peck, Win Min Than, Bernard Lee, Maurice Denham, Brenda de Banzie

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