Directed by: John Krish
Countries & Regions: United Kingdom
Studio: British Film Institute
Length: 62 mins
Region: Region B
Released: 15 April 2013
Cat No: BFIB1146
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Now in his 90th year, John Krish is enjoying a much belated re-appreciation of his work, kick-started in 2010 by the BFI’s A Day in the Life. That compilation of four of his finest documentaries won deserved accolades, but, if anything, Captured, the latest gem unearthed from his filmography, is even more remarkable.
Commissioned in 1959 by the War Office as a ‘training film’ to explore the horrors of Communist brainwashing, Captured actually serves as a narrative far more convincing and disturbing than anything mainstream British cinema could have served up at the time.
Set during the Korean War, it focuses on the interrogation — from subtle manipulation to more insidious forms of torture — of British POWs at the hands of their Chinese and North Korean captors. As a realistic depiction of courage under adversity, it knocks most other POW films into a cocked hat, delivering a unique attention to detail from the admirable (actual Chinese performers in the cast, bleakly accurate sets) to the devastating (a waterboarding scene that is still harrowing to watch).
Krish fulfilled his brief so effectively that the War Office, recognising its power, restricted the film for authorised military viewing only. Finally free, after more than 40 years, from this ‘Restricted’ status, Captured can now take its rightful place as a classic British war film.
This release is also rich in extras. HMP (1976), on the surface a more conventional documentary about the prison service, is a deeply humanistic exploration of (then) newly enlightened attitudes that were both pragmatic and progressive. And the more stylised The Finishing Line (1977), commissioned by British Transport Films to warn children of the dangers of playing on railway lines, is one of the most provocative short films ever made. Staged as an audacious fantasy — a school sports day in which the children risk life and limb, literally, by competing in front of oncoming trains — it hits its targets far more effectively than would any conventional approach to the subject matter.
Almost incidental to their intended official purpose, The Finishing Line and HMP, like Captured, stand as true high points of British ‘documentary’ cinema.