‘The Great Escaper’ Ending Explained & Film Summary: Is It Based On A True Story?


Oliver Parker’s The Great Escaper, starring Michael Caine and Glenda Jackson, is a heartwarming tribute to Bernard Jordan, the octogenarian who traveled from Sussex to France to attend the 70th anniversary D-Day commemorations. Glenda Jackson’s performance in her last film is impactful and emotional. The Great Escaper also marks the retirement of Michael Caine, and his last film is surely memorable. Bernard Jordan’s escape from the retirement facility marked his determination as a war veteran to pay tribute to the lives lost at the Battle of Normandy. The 89-year-old was still haunted by the memories of the war, and a part of him felt guilty, considering he was one of the lucky ones who made it out alive. Based on the true story of Bernard Jordan and his great escape, the film addresses a generation that has lived through horror but has now been forgotten.

Spoiler Alert

How did Bernie escape from the retirement facility?

Bernard Jordan was a very particular man who followed a fixed schedule. Every morning, he left the facility to walk by the beach, and he headed to a cafe to grab a cup of tea. He spent the rest of his day with his wife, Irene “Rene,” whose condition required round-the-clock supervision. Rene was admitted to the facility, and Bernie used to be a visitor, but eventually, he decided to move in with Rene, considering how impossible it was for them to spend any time apart. There was a visible disappointment on Bernard’s face when the younger generation treated him as invisible. Their inability to respect and follow basic rules left Bernie a little offended. But the old man did not protest and went on with his life as usual. His morning routine also involved bringing Rene chocolates, and he complained about the German ones sold at the store.

While Bernie was expecting good news from Judith, the manager of the care home, he was disappointed when he found out that she could not get him a ticket to the D-Day commemoration. Rene was surprised that Bernie did not care to share his plan with her. That night, Rene encouraged Bernard to travel to France, even if it meant that he had to go on his own. Rene reassured him that she would be doing alright, considering she had nurses to help her out. Bernie was hesitant, but at the same time, he knew he wanted to attend the ceremony. 

The next morning, Bernie sneaked out of the facility early in the morning. He knew that the nurses would stop him if they found out that he planned on traveling on his own. While he did manage to leave without getting noticed, he met with a caregiver, Adele, on the road. His hesitation did strike as odd for Adele, but she did not think much about it. The nurses soon became concerned when Bernie did not return to the facility at his usual time. He was a punctual man, and this was the first time he deviated from his schedule. Rene’s health was not at its best, and the nurses decided to hide the truth from her. However, they soon learned that Rene was a co-conspirator and that she was the only one who knew about Bernie’s plan. The nurses breathed a sigh of relief when they learned about Bernie’s whereabouts, and the police stopped the search once they figured out what he was up to. Bernie became a legend instantly for having the courage at the age of 89 to travel on his own to France to pay respect.

What was Bernie’s purpose in traveling to Normandy?

Bernie felt at home when he boarded the ferry to Normandy. The forgotten generation had gathered to remember their shared struggle during a dark chapter of human history. Bernie suffered from guilt as he sipped on a drink during the journey. Overcoming the haunting memories was a challenge for Bernie, as the landscape reminded him of the men he lost at the time. Bernie was lucky to have returned home to his girl, but not everyone was born with the same luck. Bernie and Rene had been together from a young age, and Rene remembered how unsettling it was to wait for him to return home. Bernie was not in the mood for celebration; he had his mind set on spending a couple of days in Normandy a certain way, and he wanted to stick to it.

On the ferry, he met RAF Bomber Command Arthur Howard Johnson, and the two bonded during the short trip. Both Bernie and Arthur had certain duties towards the ones they lost, and that was what brought them to Normandy. Arthur’s addiction to alcohol can be traced back to the war that left him scarred for life. He relied on alcohol to overcome the painful truth, and he tried to do the same when he landed in Normandy. Bernie was resolute about visiting the British War Cemetery in Bayeux once he learned about it, and he made sure that Arthur lived up to his plan. Arthur was reminded of his brother when he caught Bernie sleepwalking. His brother was also an RAF commander who later got linked with the Resistance. He was hiding in Caen on his way home to England, and that was when he lost his life. Arthur was responsible for the damage unleashed on Caen, and he believed it was he who killed his brother. The bombing killed a total of three thousand people, and Arthur could never recover from it. He had always wanted to visit his brother’s grave, but he never dared to do so.

The next morning, instead of attending the main event, Bernie decided to take Arthur along to the graveyard in Bayeux. All his life, he, too, had avoided confronting the hurtful past, but he decided it was time that he did so. He remembered a young boy named Douglas Bennett in the Royal Navy who was extremely afraid of the outcome of the war. He had a picture of the girl he loved, and before leaving the ship, he asked Bernie to deliver a letter to her and to tell her how highly he thought of her. Bernie had to watch Douglas die as soon as he reached the shore. He had been holding onto the tin box Douglas had handed him to deliver, and all these years, he could not make himself travel to Normandy to pay his respect to the boy who died too soon. Surrounded by the bodies of five thousand British soldiers who lost their lives in World War II, all Bernie could say was what a waste it all was. 

Bernie and Arthur bid farewell, and they promised to meet on the other side. Even though they were strangers, it was their experience of the war that brought them close, and together, they managed to overcome a difficult chapter of their lives. It was thoughtful of Bernie to ask Scott to get help because he was aware of the trauma the young man was going through, and instead of dealing with it the way he and Arthur did, he hoped Scott would find the help he needed.

How does Rene help Bernard overcome his guilt?

In the end, Bernie returned to his retirement facility, and he was greeted with a warm welcome. People waved flags and cheered him as he entered through the door. He was carrying a bag full of goodies and, of course, chocolates that he had brought for his dear wife. It was only while returning home that Bernie realized how big of a newspaper sensation he had become, and he tried his best to smile in response to the attention he received. But Bernie was tired; he carried the tin box, hoping to return it to its owner. He was glad that he could do so, but he did not expect a fuss to be created around it.

During The Great Escaper‘s ending, Bernie ridiculed the attention he received. While the public celebrated the happy ending, he was aware that there was none. He was titled ‘the great escaper,’ whereas in reality, there was no escape from old age and the looming fear of death. He could not escape the guilt of the false hope he had given Douglas when he was leaving the ship. Bernie had promised everything would be fine, but he was all wrong, and he could never get over the guilt of watching Douglas die in front of his eyes. Rene remembered how severely the war had affected her lover and how she tried to keep his mind off the upsetting memories as much as she could. But now that Bernie finally expressed what he went through, Rene stated that it was his good luck that helped him live through the war, and it was luck that kept them together as a couple. She believed he could not keep beating himself up for something that was never in his hands in the first place. Rene reminded Bernie how they cherished each moment of their lives that they were blessed with. They lived on behalf of all those lovers who could not. In the end, we learn that after six months of the D-Day commemoration, Bernard Jordan passed away, and seven days later, Rene joined him on the other side. The childhood sweethearts could not stay apart for long. The Great Escaper captures the relationship between Bernie and Rene beautifully. Bernie was incomplete without his girl, and home always meant Rene.

What Is The True Story That Inspired The Film?

The drama film is based on the real-life Royal Navy veteran, Bernard Jordan, who in the year 2014, embarked on a journey to Normandy after escaping from his care home. An alarm was raised after it was assumed that he was lost. But later, when he was tracked down, the news of his escape story started to spread like wildfire. Jordan was greeted with love and care throughout his short trip, and he returned home to a cheering crowd. Bernard and Rene’s love story was equally significant, considering how the two were said to be inseparable. It is not just a story of determination or the futility of war but also of immense love and respect between two people who had loved each other for seventy years and continued to look forward to each day they could spend together. In the film, Rene states that it was simply doing the everyday things together that made their lives special and that itself goes on to show how they cherished each other’s company. At the age of 90, Bernard Jordan was awarded the title of honorary alderman of the city.

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Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni has worked as a film researcher on a government-sponsored project and is currently employed as a film studies teacher at a private institute. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies. Film History and feminist reading of cinema are her areas of interest.

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