Period film: The Brylcreem Boys (1998)


The year is 1941. Ireland is trying to remain neutral amidst the second world war, and the Irish government has made a deal with the governments of Berlin and London in which any soldier – allied or otherwise – that is captured on Irish soil will be kept interned until the war ends.

But what the Irish government didn’t tell anyone was that all soldiers would be kept in the same camp, Curragh Camp. It is at this camp that Miles Keogh (Billy Campbell), a Canadian pilot, meets Rudolph Von Stegenbeck (Angus Macfadyen), a German pilot.

Miles and Rudolph’s planes were shot down in the same battle, but the tension caused by this is not their only worry. Their internment is not incredibly harshly enforced, and the men are given a bit of freedom to fraternize with the locals. Both men end up falling for a fiercely independent Irishwoman named Mattie (Jean Butler).

(Image: movieposterdb)
(Image: movieposterdb)

“There’s more to war than taking sides” in 1998’s The Brylcreem Boys, a romantic wartime “dramedy” directed by Terence Ryan. The name of the film is derived from a nickname that was used to describe the RAF during World War II.

As someone with a great interest in the second World War, I’ve read a bit about Irish neutrality but it’s never been one of my areas of focus when studying the period. This film was incredibly interesting for me to watch for that reason alone. From what I understand, the film’s depiction of the camp is pretty accurate. I read a review of the film by a veteran of the RAF, who said that the film “captured the essence” of his own experience during that time.

Historical context aside, The Brylcreem Boys is an enjoyable watch. The script successfully mixes wit and comedy with tension and emotion, easily drawing the viewer into the journeys of these characters.

The performances and script serve to humanize the POWs, portraying them as men who make the best of their situation, messing about and creating their own fun to keep morale up in the midst of a terrible war. Many of them are young jokesters, driving home the point that the war was largely being fought by inexperienced, immature boys. This plays into the general anti-war tone of the film.


There are periods of slowness throughout the film, but they’re well-matched by periods of higher drama.

The film’s weakest link is Jean Butler as Mattie. Her delivery can be incredibly soapy, and she is the film’s worst performer. The character of Mattie is an interesting one. She’s a strong-willed, independent and resourceful woman. Unfortunately, Butler’s performance diminishes the character’s appeal and believability.

The Brylcreem Boys is an interesting film. It has its flaws, but it’s a decent watch in spite of them. The scenes focused on the interaction of the POWs are undoubtedly stronger than the romantic subplot, and the film would have benefitted from focusing on its wartime intrigue rather than its love triangle.
The score: 2.8/5

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