In the middle of the First World War in France, three British soldiers become stuck behind enemy lines after an allied attack against the Germans fails.

Indie WWI drama wins budget battle.

While Forbidden Ground can’t match the scope of revered combat sagas such as Peter Weir’s Gallipoli and Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory in its tough-minded depiction of The Great War, the film successfully captures the personal tragedy and human sacrifice of the experience.

The main action is expertly handled.

Co-directors Johan Earl and Adrian Powers and their exceptionally skilled production unit transformed farmland outside the western New South Wales township of Dubbo into the bloody killing fields and muddy trenches of a European battlefield. Although much of the action is shot in intense close-up, mainly on the faces of young men straining to stay alive, the setting convincingly portrays the historic landscape.

After a tense opening sequence that captures the moments before a battalion of British soldiers storms an insurmountable killing field under German crosshairs, the narrative drills down on three infantrymen left stranded in No Man’s Land following the failed assault. Sargent Major Wilkins (a stoic yet sympathetic Earl) crawls through the mud during the night to find his comrades, the cowering Private O’Leary (Tim Pocock) and the resilient but badly wounded Corporal Jennings (a particularly fine Martin Copping). The film conveys the real threat that every inch of movement is a potential red flag to the sharply-trained eye of the German troops (convincingly played in all but wordless performances by Byron J. Brochman and Igor Breakenback); personal struggles between the three men are also given due consideration and add to the sense of the soldiers’ terrifying predicament.

Earl and Powers are in their element with these sequences, encapsulating the desperation, horror and courage needed to crawl in tiny increments back towards a safe haven. Less engaging is a subplot involving Wilkins’ wife, Grace (Denai Grace, one of the film’s producers), and her emotional and physical struggle with an unwanted pregnancy that has come about due to her indiscreet actions during her husband’s service of duty. The message here seems to be that the horrors of war were just as impactful for those back home, but these melodramatic scenes fall short of the horrors of combat. The overall impact of this generally fine film isn’t diminished, as the main action is expertly handled; Earl employs his knowledge as a skilled pyro-technician, his company ArmzFx providing a predominantly CGI-free experience. Below-the-line contributions are exceptional, particularly those of cinematographer Glenn Hanns and 2nd unit director Shane Kavanagh, whose wartime footage is suitably immersive.

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1 hour 35 min