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Still from The Brylcreem Boys

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The Brylcreem Boys

When Britain declared war on Germany in 1939, the Republic of Ireland declared itself strictly neutral. As a result, any German or Allied servicemen captured on Irish soil or in Irish waters would be interned for the duration of the war. What the Irish failed to mention was that they would be imprisoned in the same camp! Separated by a flimsy stretch of barb wire Curragh became the temporary home for approximately 500 German and Allied airmen, soldiers and sailors.

The Brylcreem Boys opens with a thrilling aerial dog-fight. Both Squadron Leader Miles Keogh (Bill Campbell) and Rudolph Von Stegenbeck (Angus MacFadyen) are forced to abandon their planes and parachute to safety. Keogh believes he is about to come down on French soil and on landing he sprints across the exposed hills, in the hope of reaching the French coast.

On arriving at a farm he encounters Mattie Guerin, a stunning red-headed beauty played by Jean Butler, choreographer and star of ‘Riverdance’ in her first feature film role. He asks her for directions in French and she politely replies, also in French. It is only when Miles is picked up on the road by the friendly Sean O’Brien (Gabriel Byrne) that he discovers he is in Ireland. Unbeknown to Miles, O’Brien is in charge of the Curragh camp.

Reunited with his crew in the local hotel, they are all immediately arrested by the Captain of the Irish Guard (Joe McGann). Miles’ anger and confusion is compounded further when he comes face to face with the pilot of the Messerschmitt which brought his plane down. He too has been captured and when they arrive at the camp, both Miles and Rudi are astonished to find German and Allied prisoners interned alongside each other.

Further surprises are in store as O’Brien introduces the new prisoners to the camp’s peculiar regime - "I discovered many years ago that the best way to keep people in is to let them out".

Unbelievable as it may sound the Curragh prisoners were allowed out of the camp. A day at the races or an evening in the pub could be enjoyed as long as they gave their word of honour that they would return at an allotted time. Both Keogh and Von Stegenbeck resolve to escape as soon as possible but their plans are thwarted by the complicity of the British and German war offices in Ireland’s bizarre arrangement - any prisoner who escaped on a day pass, would be immediately returned to Kildare. Of course the prisoners could escape directly from the camp, but then the guards would have to shoot them! John Gordon Sinclair is the sole member of the ‘escape committee’ but he’s having too much fun baiting the German prisoners from the other side of the fence to put any serious thought into going over it himself.

Miles decides to postpone his escape plans and sets out for a day at the races with his fellow intern Sam Gunn (William McNamara). At the track Miles runs into Mattie again, who is having a heated argument over the fate of an injured horse. Moved by Mattie’s concern, Miles offers to buy the horse and the two return to Mattie’s farm. The connection between them is broken, however, when Rudi Von Stegenbeck arrives with Mattie’s father and Miles storms off, affronted by the insensitivity of the situation.

Mattie is intrigued by both Miles and Rudi and, taking Ireland’s neutral position to its logical conclusion, starts to see both of them outside of the camp. Both men fall in love with her wild and unconventional ways and, although initially sworn enemies, her effect on them ultimately reverses their attitudes and feelings towards each other, and their perception of what an enemy really is.

 Interview with
Jean Butler.

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