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Passchendaele is a 2008 Canadian war film from Alliance Films, written, co-produced, directed by, and starring Paul Gross. The film, which was shot in Calgarymarker, Albertamarker, Fort Macleod, Albertamarker, CFB Suffieldmarker, and in Belgiummarker, focuses on the experiences of Gross's grandfather, Michael Dunne, a soldier who served in the 56th, 5th, 14th and 23rd Reserve Battalions, CEF. in the First World War at the Battle of Passchendaelemarker, also known as the Third Battle of Ypres. The film opened at the Toronto International Film Festivalmarker on September 4, 2008, and was released in Canada on October 17, 2008.


August 20, 2007, was the first day of production as determined by Alliance Films, Astral Media, and the other companies involved. Principal photography for the film began in Calgary, Alberta. The film was shot over a period of forty-five days and involved over 200 actors, some of them Canadian Forces soldiers with combat experience in Afghanistanmarker. Battle scenes were filmed on the Tsuu T'ina native reserve just outside of Calgary, and principal photography finished in October 2007. The film was edited by David Wharnsby, and its score composed by Jan A.P. Kaczmarek.


This film was inspired by Gross's relationship with his grandfather. Like many veterans, he was reticent about sharing his experiences with his family. In a rare conversation on a fishing trip, Dunne told the story of bayonetting a young German soldier through the face and killing him during a battle. A long time later, as Dunne lay in a hospital bed in the last days of his life, his family was mystified by Dunne's behaviour, asking forgiveness over and over. Only Gross knew that he was speaking to the young German he had killed.
"He went completely out of his mind at the end.
He started telling me about a hideous event that happened during a skirmish in a little ruined town in World War I.
He'd killed someone in a miserable, horrible way and that had obviously haunted him throughout the rest of his life.
As my grandfather died, in his mind he was back in that town, trying to find a German boy whom he'd bayonetted in the forehead.
He'd lived with that memory all his life - and he was of a time when people kept things to themselves.
When he finally told the story, it really affected me and I've not been able to get it out of my head."

During the film, a similar scene happens when Sergeant Michael Dunne bayonets a young German machine gunner through the forehead.


In November 2005, the Government of Alberta announced a $5.5-million grant to Gross and the film project as part of Alberta's centennial; the overall budget has been announced at between $16 million and $20 million, making it the highest-budgeted Canadian-produced film ever. The film was publicly announced at a news conference at the Museum of the Regimentsmarker on November 13, 2005.

"The province's centennial is a time to recognize our past and tell our stories, including those about Alberta's military heritage.
We must work to keep our veterans' sacrifices in the forefront of our minds.
The story of Passchendaele pays tribute to a key event in our country's history, and will educate Albertans and all Canadians for years to come."
- Premier Ralph Klein


The main character is Sergeant Michael McCrae Dunne (Paul Gross), introduced in the spring of 1917 after Vimy Ridgemarker, a decorated veteran of the 10th Battalion, CEF. He is wounded during combat, and sent home from Europe as a neurasthenia patient. While recovering from his injuries, he meets nurse Sarah Mann (Caroline Dhavernas) in Calgarymarker, Albertamarker, where he enlisted.

Mann is cashiered from military service because her father had left Canada to rejoin the Imperial German Army in 1915. He was killed at Vimy Ridge. She has become addicted to morphine as a means of dealing with the recurring loss in her life.

David Mann (Joe Dinicol) is Sarah's younger brother. Despite being ineligible for military service due to asthma, he is desperate to win the respect of his girlfriend's father at a time when military service is demanded of all young men. As a result, a series of events places him in the trenches in France. The events are facilitated by a British recruiting office whose malice and goading of David Mann and Michael Dunne makes him the film's principal antagonist. Michael Dunne returns to France to watch over David, and Sarah returns to duty as a nurse. The three arrive in Europe in time for the Battle of Passchendaelemarker.

When the Canadians launch their attack, the 8th Battalion, Royal Winnipeg Rifles, known as the Little Black Devils, faces a German counterattack and becomes pinned down. Dunne's company is sent to relieve them. After the relief company arrives, the Battalion retreats from the battlefield, leaving the job of holding the ground to Dunne's small force. The Germans launch another counterattack, which is repelled in heavy fighting. David Mann, anxious to kill Germans, chases after the retreating Germans and into their trench. He is about to be shot when an artillery shell lands, throwing him onto a metal cross near the trench and crucifying him. Sergeant Dunne is shot by a German marksman in an attempt to rescue him, but the Germans allow him to collect the cross. Dunne carries it across the battlefield to the aid station. Soon after, the news comes in that Passchendaele has been taken. Dunne dies from his injuries

The ending scene shows the wheelchair-bound David Mann, now only with one leg, Sarah Mann, David's girlfriend, and Dunne's best friend paying tribute at Dunne's grave, among hundreds of graves in a war cemetary.

Historical background

. The 10th Battalion was originally formed from Albertans, Saskatchewans and Manitobans, though as the war progressed it became identified solely as an Alberta battalion. The "Fighting Tenth" served with the 1st Canadian Division and participated in all major Canadian battles of the war, and set the record for highest number of individual bravery awards for a single battle. At Hill 70marker, sixty men were awarded the Military Medal for the fighting there, in addition to a Victoria Cross, three Distinguished Service Orders, seven Military Crosses, and nine Distinguished Conduct Medals.

"Named for a village located on a low rise in the Ypres Salient, the very word Passchendaele has become synonymous with suffering and waste.
Strong German defences in this area, developed over the course of more than two years, gave the British extremely hard going.

"The Tenth Battalion were called out of reserve to assist an attack on Hill 52, part of the same low rise Passchendaele itself was situated on. The Battalion was not scheduled to attack, but the CO wisely prepared his soldiers as if they would be making the main assault - a decision that paid dividends when the unit was called out of reserve. On 10 November 1917, the Tenth Battalion took the feature with light casualties."


The battle scene at the end of the movie depicts a relief of the 8th Battalion, CEF (known by their nickname "The Little Black Devils") by the 10th Battalion, an action that actually happened, as described by the history of the 10th Battalion:

At this point, a terrible misunderstanding occurred. Major Bingham knew that he was merely reinforcing the 8th, but The Little Black Devils believed that they were being relieved. Bingham argued the point to no avail, and watched with dismay as the mud-caked survivors of the 8th pulled out and slogged to the rear, leaving A Company to hold an entire battalion's frontage. Undaunted, the major deployed his men in a dangerously thin line, linking up with the 7th Battalion to the right. But Bingham surely realized that it would be impossible to hold this position in the face of a counter-attack.

Lieutenant Colonel Ormond, the Commanding Officer of the 10th (also a character in the film) gave a handwritten account of the relief in which he said:

I then agreed to take over the front line from the 7th and 8th Battalions...On returning to Battalion headquarters I found orders that a relief would not be carried out, but as it had already been done, and the OC 8th Battalion had left to acquaint the GOC of the situation, no other action was taken.


Passchendaele received mixed reviews from critics. As of November 15, 2009, the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that critics gave the film an average of 4.9 out of 10, based on 13 reviews.

Box office

In its opening weekend, Passchendaele grossed $847,522 in 202 screens in Canada, ranking second at the Canadian box office behind Max Payne. As of January 22, 2009, the film had grossed $4.45 million, accounting for half of 2008's box office revenue from made-in-Canada anglophone films.


On March 2, 2009, Paul Gross was honoured for his film Passchendaele, winning this year's National Arts Centre Award for achievement over the past performance year.

At the 29th Genie Awards, the film won the Achievement in Art Direction/Production Design, Achievement in Costume Design, Achievement in Overall Sound, Achievement in Sound Editing, and Best Picture. It also received the Golden Reel Award for Canada's top-grossing film of 2008.


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