[Screen It]


(1997) (Glenn Close, Pauline Collins) (R)

Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Tense Scenes
Mild Moderate Heavy Moderate Moderate
Minor Minor Mild None Minor
Smoking Tense Family
Topics To
Talk About
Moderate Moderate None Mild Heavy

Drama: A group of women bands together to survive imprisonment in a WWII Japanese POW camp.
Singapore falls to the Japanese in 1942 and the women and children are put on boats to be shipped to safety. Japanese fighters, however, sink one boat and those on board must swim for their lives. Landing on the Japanese controlled island of Sumatra, the women, including Adrienne Pargiter (GLENN CLOSE), a British graduate of the Royal Academy of Music, Susan Macarthy (CATE BLANCHETT), an Australian nursing student, Topsy Merrit (JULIANNA MARGULIES), a pessimistic American, and "Margaret" Drummond (PAULINE COLLINS), a sweet missionary, are captured and imprisoned in a Japanese POW camp. Suffering from cruel and inhumane treatment, tropical diseases and the uncertainty of their future, the women band together for moral support. Others, including Dr. Verstak (FRANCES MCDORMAND) and Sister Wilhelminia (JOHANNA TER STEEGE) do what they can to tend to the physical and spiritual needs of the group. As the years pass, the women, led by Adrienne, form a "vocal orchestra" that not only softens the guards' demeanor, but also lifts the women's spirits as it provides a purpose in their lives.
Probably not, unless theyíre fans of someone in the cast.
For prisoner of war brutality and violence.
  • For the most part, the women prisoners are good role models. Other than some period drinking and smoking, any bad behavior/attitude they display is directly attributed to their reaction to imprisonment.
  • The guards are stereotypical WWII Japanese soldiers/officers who beat and humiliate the women, but who soften up a bit by the end of the story.


    OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
    I was expecting more from this film thatís helmed by Bruce Beresford ("Breaker Morant," "Tender Mercies," and "Driving Miss Daisy," etc...) but his later films ("Last Dance," "Silent Fall") have lacked the focus and power of those earlier works. That's the case here, where drawing upon recollections of a true life event, this film goes through the standard WWII POW scenes, but never really connects with the audience. Many of the scenes are good by themselves, but never add to a quality collective whole. With a hodgepodge arrangement of scenes, the narrative feels sloppy and lacks the firm approach that would have helped this production. Many of the performances are superb, especially Collins as the resilient missionary, but Frances McDormand's German accent often sounds like a spin on her Minnesotan accent from her Oscar winning performance in "Fargo" and her role doesn't give her much to work with. Close fares much better and is as competent as ever in her role, but doesn't add any special spark to really flesh out hcr character. The film never quite differentiates itself from other POW movies (beyond the music part) and you never get the isolated, horrible feeling that, say "Empire of the Sun," among others, captured so well. The big moment in the story, the first rendition by the vocal orchestra, is nice but certainly isn't awe inspiring and doesn't send chills up and down your spine the way you think it should. This isn't to belittle the actual events regarding those courageous women some fifty years ago, but the film never pulls itself above the high bar that other similar films have already set. It's nice to see the POW plot taken from a female perspective, and audiences who've never seen such war movies may be astounded as to what happens. But those of us who've seen this before have -- well, we've seen it before. Again, had the film created a more coherent feel, we would have given it a higher rating. As it is, however, we give it just a 5 out of 10.
    The brutality and harsh life of the POW experience is the main issue here. The women are beaten and humiliated by their captors and younger children won't understand (and won't like) what they're seeing. Many people, including some major characters, die throughout the movie and these deaths are visualized by the growing number of graves we see. A few scenes are probably too intense for all but the most mature of children, including one where a woman is set on fire and burns to death, and another where a guard prepares to decapitate a kneeling woman. Nude women are seen showering (which includes a brief glimpse of full frontal nudity) and the bare buttocks of several guards are also seen. Beyond a few sexually related lines, that's it for sexual content/nudity and the film's profanity is limited to a few minor words. Other than some typical wartime drinking and smoking, the film is relatively devoid of any other major objectionable material. While your children will probably not be rushing out to see this, we do suggest that you examine the content if you're concerned about how appropriate this film is for them or for you.

  • People drink champagne and cocktails at a Singapore hotel.
  • As a hotel is evacuated, there is a big run on bottles of champagne.
  • A woman takes a swig from a flash before she jumps off a sinking ship.
  • A woman drinks saki.
  • Verstak, Adrienne and several others drink whiskey and a nun says, "Whiskey? I love whiskey."
  • A woman hit by gunfire on a boat is bloody.
  • A decapitated head is seen atop a pole in the ground.
  • A fully engulfed, burning woman screams and writhes in agony.
  • After a while, most of the women have bloody scrapes and/or bruises on their faces and bodies.
  • A womanís dog is shot and injured and is a little bloody.
  • Dr. Verstak chisels and yanks teeth from the mouths of dead women for the gold. While not particularly gory (and not at all bloody), the sight of this will be unsettling to some viewers.
  • The command and guards of the POW camp have extreme cases of both as they beat and humiliate the women, such as when they are forced to clean out the latrine with small ladles.
  • The Japanese are called "Japs," a derogatory term today, but one that was common during World War II.
  • Bombs drop on those fleeing Singapore.
  • Japanese fighter planes attack the ship transporting the women and children to safety and many are hit by gunfire or are forced to jump overboard.
  • Several scenes are accompanied by suspenseful music that is the only real cause for the scenes to be suspenseful.
  • A clandestine trade between a woman and black marketeers nearly goes awry when an alarm clock sheís trading goes off, signaling the guards that somethingís going on. The next day, that woman has gasoline poured on her and is set ablaze. She screams and writhes in agony before succumbing to the flames.
  • A soldier separates Adrienne from the others and takes her at gunpoint into the woods, but nothing bad happens.
  • A woman is forced to kneel on her knees for many hours while surrounded by sharpened sticks that will impale her if she falls over from the island's stifling heat.
  • Later, an officer pulls out his sword, raises it over the above woman's head and swings it down at her. We see the reaction of others at this point, but then learn that he didnít execute her.
  • Fighter planes/Ship guns: Used to fire at each other as the planes try to sink a ship and end up killing many people on board.
  • Canes: Used by the soldiers to beat the women.
  • Rifles: Carried by the soldiers and used to shoot and injure a womanís dog.
  • Sword: Used to threaten a woman with decapitation.
  • Phrases: "Bloody" (used by the British), and "Shut up."
  • A soldier jumps out and grabs one of the women as they walk down the street.
  • A guard suddenly grabs Adrienne.
  • There is a mild amount of suspenseful music in the film.
  • None.
  • 3 damns and 1 use each of "God" and "My God" as exclamations.
  • One woman says (about a man), "I donít know how much he has upstairs," to which another woman replies, "Itís whatís downstairs that really counts."
  • Bare buttocks are seen as several Japanese soldiers prepare to take baths.
  • A woman comments that smaller Japanese men can be "big like this" (stretching out her arms), while bigger European men can be "little like this" (bringing her hands together) and then states (about penis sizes), "You can never tell."
  • As the women shower, bare breasts, buttocks and a very brief glimpse of full frontal nudity is seen.
  • People (men and women) smoke in a hotelís nightclub in Singapore.
  • Topsy smokes throughout the movie, and Dr. Verstak is also seen smoking.
  • Others, including guards, smoke here and there throughout the movie.
  • None.
  • The survival instinct, and while many die in this production, others manage to survive.
  • The true story, and the historical accuracy of this production.
  • Unseen Japanese forces fire upon Singapore and the explosions hit close by those who are fleeing the hotel.
  • Japanese fighter planes attack the ship transporting the women and children to safety. One plane is shot down, but the others fire upon the ship and many on board are hit by gunfire or are forced to jump overboard as the ship is finally destroyed.
  • Japanese soldiers capture and beat several women with canes.
  • A soldier punches a woman for asking a question and other soldiers then hit the other women to make them bow in front of the rising Japanese flag.
  • There are several other scenes where the soldiers hit the women with canes.
  • An officer pours gasoline on a woman and sets her on fire.
  • A group of women fights another group of women in the shower over a missing bar of soap. Some are slapped while others have their hair pulled.
  • An officer shoots and injures a womanís dog.
  • A guard suddenly grabs Adrienne and she punches him, knocking him into the latrine. She is then locked away until the next day where an officer punches and kicks her several times, breaking several of her ribs.

  • Reviewed April 10, 1997

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