Profile: The Way Back director Peter Weir

Profile: Peter Weir

Australian director of Gallipoli, Witness and Dead Poet’s Society

Peter Weir

21 August 1944, Sydney, Australia


There is an argument to be made that Weir is one of the most underrated directors working today. The stats in his favour include having directed five Oscar nominated performances, from luminaries such asLinda Hunt (who won), Rosie Perez, Harrison Ford, Robin Williams and Ed Harris. Hunt won for The Year of Living Dangerously, just one of several impressive titles on his CV. Amongst others Weir has directed Picnic at Hanging Rock, Gallipoli, Witness, The Mosquito Coast, Dead Poet’s Society and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World .

What’s he up to now?
It’s been seven years since Weir’s last film and he’s finally back in the director’s chair with The Way Back, starring Colin Farrell, Jim Sturgess, and Ed Harris. It’s an adaptation of the novel by Slavomir Rawicz about prisoners escaping Stalin’s labour camps during World War II.

On spectacular locations
‘Doing this was almost a reaction to Master and Commander where everything was done using CGI. That was such a technical exercise. This film saw us use doubles for the real locations, Bulgaria was the double for Siberia as the forests look much the same and the Sahara in Morocco was the double for the Gobi Desert. I went to Siberia for research and I also used Kurosawa’s Dersu Uzal as a reference point.’

On the mystery of the book
‘I don’t know whether Slavomir Rawicz was writing about his own experience when he wrote that book or not. I can’t say I know definitively, but the evidence suggests that he wasn’t. What we know for sure is that he was definitely in the Gulag and tortured, but he was released when the Germans came in 1941 and invaded Russia.’

Interesting Fact
Years ago Weir overheard one of the chiefs of media company Endemol say that when he saw The Truman Show he knew that he had to hurry up and get Big Brother off the ground.

The Way Back is on general release from Sun 26 Dec.

The Way Back

  • 3 stars
  • 2010
  • US
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Peter Weir
  • Cast: Jim Sturgess, Colin Farrell, Ed Harris, Saoirse Ronan, Mark Strong, Dragoş Bucur, Gustaf Skarsgård

Bluntly heroic prison-escape drama relating the story of an epic jailbreak by a group of men from a Siberian gulag and their subsequent trek home. Scenic and powerful, but poorly scripted and light on the characterisation.

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