France, 1916. Two British soldiers find themselves stranded in No Man's Land after a failed charge; Sgt Mjr Arthur Wilkins (Johan Earl) and Pvt Angus O'Leary (Tim Pocock). Nearby, Cpl Richard Jennings (Martin Copping) lies badly wounded, half his right leg blown off. Wilkins is determined to get all three of them back behind the trenches into safe British hands but the Germans have them pinned down. As a deadly bombing raid by Allied forces looms, the three soldiers try to stay alive. Meanwhile, back in England, Wilkins' wife Grace (Denai Gracie) is struggling with a problem of her own that threatens to destroy the marriage.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Arriving under the cinematic radar, as it were, this WWI movie is somewhat of an oddity, in that it is made by an Australian team, funded privately, and the story is about three British soldiers on the French front. Adrian Powers had cast Johan Earl to star in his short film, Scruples, which screened at Venice in the Ridley Scott/YouTube event, Your Film Festival. They joined forces to collaborate on Forbidden Ground, and invested enormous effort to make it, including building all the sets, hiring historical expert Kristopher Bos and using almost 900 visual effects shots.
The story elements include loyalty, courage versus cowardice, compassion and of course, war. The characters, including all the supports, are well drawn and performed, and we are drawn into the moral challenges as well as the personalities of the men.
All three leads are excellent: Johan Earl is convincing as Sgt Mjr Arthur Wilkins, the soldier loyal to his mates, Tim Pocock is heartbreaking as Pvt O'Leary and Martin Copping manages a tough role as the wounded Corporal relying on his two brothers in arms.
The filmmakers create a splendidly authentic atmosphere that envelops the entire film. Notable, too, are the two women, Denai Gracie as Wilkins' wife Grace, caught in a terrible dilemma while her husband is at the front, and Anne Mawbey as the conflicted nurse who pays a high price for trying to help.
I have one reservation, though, to do with the portrayal of the German soldiers as simple brute figures, notably near the end when they come across the English soldiers playing dead in the trench.
The only other glitch is at the very end when we see an obviously contemporary wrist watch in a mid close up. Otherwise, it's an impressive and memorable film that should have a long life in digital form, even though its cinema releases are limited.
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FORBIDDEN GROUND (CTC)
CAST: Johan Earl, Denai Gracie, Martin Copping, Tim Pocock, Sarah Anne Mawbey, Barry Quinn
PRODUCER: Johan Earl, Denai Gracie
DIRECTOR: Johan Earl, Adrian Powers
SCRIPT: Johan Earl
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Glenn Hanns
EDITOR: Adrian Powers
MUSIC: Jason Fernandez
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Kristopher Bos
RUNNING TIME: 94 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Odin's Eye
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 12, 2013 (Chauvel, Sydney); DVD/Blu-ray/Digital, December 4, 2013