Arnhem Nights – A Bridge Too Far


A Bridge Too Far Review


A Bridge Too Far is Richard Attenborough’s suitably epic re-telling of the failed Operation Market garden, an paratrooper led assault on Holland during September 1944. Along with other genre classics like Where Eagles Dare and The Great Escape, A Bridge Too Far has become a staple of bank holidays and as a result the scale and scope of the film have usually been forgotten in a sherry-fuelled, afternoon haze.


Some delicious historical context then: after the success of the Normandy landings in June, the German army was on the retreat and the Allies were left with the decision of how to advance. British Field Marshal Montgomery proposed a daring attack on Holland with the objective of securing vital bridges at Arnhem and Nijmegen in order to knock the Germans out of the Netherlands and across the Rhine with hopes of ending the war, in typical fashion, before Christmas. Things didn’t exactly go to plan and about 10,000 British troops ended up stuck behind enemy lines with little or no hope of reinforcement. Attempts to relive the paratroopers were met with failure and the operation stalled after eight days of fighting.


From the outset the film’s fastidious period correctness, present in uniforms and vehicles, is certainly impressive. The producer’s $22 million (of their own cash no less) has been put to excellent use in acquiring as many weapons and tanks as needed to accurately portray the battle. Attenborough’s main accomplishment with A Bridge Too Far is wrangling all the heavy equipment, both Allied and Wehrmacht, and co-ordinating it all into some terrific set pieces. The heroic Robert Redford led American river crossing, combined with the advance of British tanks, being a particular standout scene, as well as the initial German attack on Nijmegen Bridge. The combat is choreographed so as to be as thick and intense as an actual war and while it may not match the modern realism of, say, Band of Brothers, it is enough to give justice to the struggles of the fighting men on both sides, and demonstrates enough truth as not appear disrespectful or flippant regarding the conflict. Boy’s own, Dirty Dozen stuff this is not.


What the film accomplishes best of all is the portrayal of the Germans. It is often forgotten by the masses that not all German soldiers and officers were fanatic anti-Semites and war criminals. A balanced view is often forgotten by history and it’s refreshing to see the Wehrmacht portrayed as the compotent fhgiting force they were, rather than just sneering villains and target dummies for the latest Hollywood heartthrob.


The ensemble cast is probably one of the best ever committed to celluloid. Rather than Hollywood machismo that we’ve seen in the 80’s and more recently with The Expendables, A Bridge Too Far’s cast sheet is full of more stars than you could fit in a musette bag. Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Antony Hopkins, Laurence Olivier, the aforementioned Redford, Elliot Gould, James Caan, Gene Hackman and Edward Fox all gear up and dust off their jump wings for the picture. Hopkin’s John Frost in particular is emblematic of steely British resolve, as is Connery’s Major General Urhart. However, with all this star power (plus more not mentioned) the film lacks definitive focus with each man trying their hardest to centre the piece upon themselves with not enough screen time to go round.


But if there is one thing A Bridge Too Far isn’t lacking its running time. Clocking in just over two and half hours, it certainly is a tough old slog,


Perversely then A Bridge Too Far is a cinematic reflection of Market Garden itself – too big and unwieldy to be entirely successful. While it may be full of intense action and authenticity, A Bridge Too Far tries to go just one bridge too far itself. A more concentrated, clear-cut film would be preferable but you have to admire the cast and crews attempts at steering clear of what could have become another bloated epic, and does reach it’s main goal of demonstrating what a tangled mess Market Garden turned out to be. However an overabundance of big name stars and too much history to cram in lets it down, but A Bridge Too Far is accomplished enough to be rescued from lazy bank holiday Sundays to a permanent fixture of your DVD collection. A Bridge Too Far Trailer For more info on the actual Operation Market Garden, check out this here wiki link.