World War Two movie: The Bridge on the River Kwai

The Bridge on the River Kwai is one of British film-makers’ great depictions of World War Two. The movie, directed by David Lean and starring Alec Guinness, was released in 1957. It was nominated for eight Academy Awards, of which it won seven.

Reviews of the movie at the time were rapturous.

Sam Spiegel, the film’s producer, had gone to massive lengths to set up the headquarters for production in Sri Lanka, which is where the movie was filmed.

The film is based on Pierre Boulle’s novel of the same name. Boulle based the story on his own experience as a secret agent for the Free French authorities, when French and British troops were trying to hold Singapore and South East Asia against Japanese troops.

The movie starts in the Singapore jungle, where British and American troops are being held captive by the Japanese. While in captivity, the Allied officers are made to build a bridge by the Japanese to improve their transport links. But the Allies’ mission while in captivity is to blow up the railway bridge.

The bridge is completed and a train transporting Japanese troops and officials is due to be the first train to cross it. The prisoners wait to blow up the bridge at the same time as the train is scheduled, in order to destroy both, the Daily News reports.

The morning of the train’s arrival, the Allied prisoners see that the river’s water level under the bridge has dropped, exposing their equipment and detonation device, which had been concealed under the water.

As the train approaches, the prisoners fend off Japanese soldiers who have noticed the equipment, but most are shot by the Japanese in the ensuing fight. The British colonel is fatally shot, just as the train is approaching the bridge, so he makes his last few steps towards the detonator and falls dead on the plunger. The bomb goes off and blows up the bridge and the oncoming train.

William Holden and Geoffrey Horne from the US, Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins, James Donald and Andre Morell from the UK, and Sessue Hayakawa from Japan encompassed the actors in the lead roles.

The actors were praised for their performances, particularly Alec Guinness, who played the British colonel and won the Academy Award for Best Male Actor. Similarly, Hayakawa was lauded for his role as a cruel Japanese officer.

It isn’t only an action film, but also a suspense story and psychological thriller between the Allied and Japanese officers.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE