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Escaping expectations

  • 15 April 2024
  The 2023 movie, The Great Escaper, recently screening in cinemas, is one of those quirky movies that the English love to make, and make so successfully. The one-line synopsis in IMDb states that ‘Bernard Jordan escapes from his care home to attend the 70th anniversary of the D-Day Landings in France’. While that true story is the basis for the movie, really the film is about a couple who met during World War II, fell in love, married, lived a full life together and are now preparing to say goodbye to this life and each other.

Their lives, the good and bad, sad and glorious, are reflected in every line and wrinkle in the faces of Bernard and Irene Jordan (Michael Caine and Glenda Jackson). Caine turned 90 in 2023, while Jackson, who died in June that year, was 87. So, in a refreshing nod to reality we had two nearly 90-year-olds playing two nearly 90-year-olds.

As the cameras lovingly dwelt on their faces it struck me that we cinema goers were lucky that these two movie greats, for reasons of age or inclination, had avoided what is euphemistically known as having ‘work done’. You know, the fillers and plumpers that smooth out lines and give lips that ‘bee-stung’ look, or the surgery that pulls and stretches facial skin to imitate the smoothness of the young.

However, what is so desirable about erasing our experiences from our faces is, for me, up for debate. After all, they’re not called character lines for nothing.

Caine and Jackson shone on that big screen and their obvious age was a plus. You knew just by looking at them that they had been together for 60-something years. If either, or both, had come to their roles with smooth brows it would have been a distraction, perhaps even a betrayal, from the long-lasting nature of their love.

Now as someone who has no objection to using hair dye and cosmetics, perhaps I’m opening myself to charges of cherrypicking at best and hypocrisy at worst. I maintain, however, there’s a difference between enhancing (or trying to enhance) temporarily what is already there and permanently altering your face in the pursuit of an illusionary youth.

And it is an illusion that can be dearly bought. Sometimes it just looks awful. But even if it is well done, it comes at the expense of the beauty of individual expression.

George Bernard Shaw may have said something along