A stubborn English Colonel locks horns with a similarly duty-bound Japanese prison camp commander over the building of a strategically important railway bridge during the Second World War.
David Lean’s prisoner of war story is a tale of obsession and it is the battle of wills between Alec Guinness and his Japanese counterpart that forms the core of the story. Examining the cliche of the British stiff upper lip, although Guinness’ obstinate refusal to co-operate with the enemy gives his men the spirit to carry on, it is more his own personal obsession – which borders on insanity – than heroism that eggs him on. On the other side of the coin, it is William Holden’s hustling commander who is actually more interested in self-preservation who must show him the error of his ways during an unforgettable finale that brilliantly captures the madness of war.
It is maybe a little longer than it needs to be as the second act away from the bridge itself is rather less interesting, but Alec Guinness’ central performance is superb and this film is rightly considered as an all-time classic.