The Brylcreem Boys
directed by Terence Ryan
(BMG, 1998)

A prisoner of war could do worse than spend World War II in an Irish internment camp.

The Brylcreem Boys is set in just such a camp in the lovely Irish countryside. The Republic of Ireland, remaining neutral between England and Germany, is taking soldiers prisoner from both sides and jailing them in camps divided only by a slim line of fencing. But the Irish, led here by camp commander Sean O'Brien (the genial Gabriel Byrne), aren't particularly harsh jailers; Guinness flows freely, of course, and day passes to the village are granted on the promise of a man's word, be he English or German. Of course, hard feelings rest on both sides of the fence, and tempers flare when they meet without guards around them.

Shot down over Ireland, Canadian squadron leader Miles Keogh (a soft-spoken Bill Campbell) develops a true hatred for fellow prisoner Rudolph von Stegenbek (a polished Angus Macfadyen) -- and their rivalry grows when both take a shine to local girl Mattie Guerin (an enchanting Jean Butler, whose dancing career has sadly prevented her from pursuing more acting opportunities).

This film is less about the war and more about those who are no longer involved. And yet, World War II is hard to ignore, no matter how freely the Guinness may flow or how beautiful the dancer may be. News trickles in of air raids on London and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. On a smaller scale, but no less tragic, a German soldier learns his entire family was killed in a British strike. On both sides, there is hatred and pain.

But the movie is also full of good humor; while it thankfully falls far short of Hogan's Heroes in comic buffoonery, there is plenty of levity, wit and antics about the camp.

Undeservedly overlooked by many, The Brylcreem Boys is worth picking up. It is an enjoyable film from every angle.

by Tom Knapp
25 November 2006

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