(12A) 133mins

Director: Peter Weir

Starring: Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris, Colin Farrell, Saoirse Ronan

THANKFULLY, Peter Weir is a director who tends to go for quality rather than quantity.

His CV is impressive (eg Witness, Gallipoli, Dead Poet’s Society, Picnic at Hanging Rock) and this latest project will sit very comfortably alongside the others.

There was a slight controversy about the source material for the story so it’s not so much based on Slavomir Rawicz’s book but on a known trek from a Soviet Gulag to India.

The action is set during the second world war when Stalin was purging society of ‘undesirables’, which basically meant anyone posing the slightest threat.

Sturgess is the main character (Janusz), a Polish army officer convicted of ‘spying’ (thanks to a ‘witness’ - his wife who had been tortured).

Sentenced to 20 years in a Gulag, he conspires to escape with a disparate group of fellow prisoners.

The scenes in the Gulag are claustrophobic, dirty and harsh, which contrast superbly with the vibrant, bright panoramic scenes later on.

There are enormous hardships to overcome before the escapees can find freedom and the 133 minutes certainly don’t drag.

The cinematography is breath-taking, especially in the desert scenes and among the Himalayas and the performances are spot on, with Ed Harris simply brilliant as an American caught up in the Russian turmoil.

Considering the subject matter there is actually very little violence, hence the 12A certificate, which means a wide audience can appreciate Weir’s latest masterpiece.

four out of five stars

Steve Payne