The Brylcreem Boys (1998): A WWII Comedy, Drama and Romance in Ireland

The least I can say about this movie is that it is total fun. I did certainly never expect to laugh during a POW movie but that actually happened repeatedly. Admittedly it is not the most refined humor, it’s rather of the burlesque, slapstick kind. But it is never overdone. The movie is just sprinkled with it here and there. The overall tone is often quite serious. Still it is one of the very rare movies you could probably watch with  children (although planes and people get shot down at the beginning and there is some fist fighting as well).

Ireland having lost many of its young men during the Civil War had decided to stay strictly neutral during WWII. This was not much appreciated by the allies. Unlike Switzerland Ireland insisted that every soldier encountered on Irish soil was to be taken prisoner. What was not universally known however was the fact that they put all the prisoners, French, British, American, Canadian and German into the same camp.

The Brylcreem Boys is not based on a true story but on true facts that have been carefully assembled and put together to tell a convincing story. Two fighter pilots, the Canadian Miles Keogh  (Bill Campbell) and the German Rudolph von Stegenbeck (Angus Macfadyen),  shoot each other down over Ireland and are both taken prisoners and brought to the same camp. While on leave they  fall in love with the same girl, the strong-willed Mattie (Jean Butler),  which adds a bit of romance to the whole story. Their rivalry and mutual dislike is very intense in the beginning but over the course of the movie and during many incidents they realize that they are not that different despite being on different sides.

Much of the funny elements of the movie stem from contrasting the Germans and their rigid discipline and total lack of sense of humour with the  more easy-going other prisoners. (Unfortunately there aren’t any German actors in the movie and some of the accents that the cast adopted are a bit laughable.)

Even though they are far away from the war itself, one of the prisoners sort of brings it back with him when he returns from London from his futile attempt at escaping the camp.  His account from his stay in the British capital makes the tragedy of the constant bombing during the Blitz  utterly palpable.

I am a big fan of the Irish actor Gabriel Byrne whose character is the commanding officer of the camp. He also co-produced this movie. Seeing how much fun he exudes playing this role one can easily assume that this was a movie that was very close to his heart.

I am very glad the directors felt compelled to tell this story of this quite exotic camp. It provides an interesting insight into Irish history for which I am glad.

Since this is really a feel good movie but far from being stupid entertainment you might really  enjoy watching it.

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4 thoughts on “The Brylcreem Boys (1998): A WWII Comedy, Drama and Romance in Ireland

  1. TPC says:

    Wow! Thanks for talking about this one. No, I did not know of its existence but always found the subject of Ireland and World War II to be one of interest. I may go the extra mile to find this one.

  2. Glad that you mentioned La Grande Illusion as it is a movie I simply adore. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend Billy Wilder’s Stalag 17, which was the first important POW movie made in Hollywood. It’s truly excellent.

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