The War Below

The Film

The War Below is a 2021 British war film directed by J.P. Watts, in his directorial debut, and written by Watts and Thomas Woods.

Based on true events, the film is about a group of British miners (known as 'Claykickers' or 'Manchester Moles') recruited during World War I to tunnel underneath no man's land and set bombs below the German front at the Battle of Messines in 1917.


It was announced in May 2019 that Florian Zeller was to direct a screenplay with Christopher Hampton based on his play. Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman were cast in the film. Olivia Williams, Rufus Sewell, Imogen Poots and Mark Gatiss joined later that month.

Filming commenced on 13th May, and filming locations included West London Film Studios, and Hayes, Hillingdon.

The Story

To his shame, pit-village miner William Hawkins (Sam Hazeldine) is turned away for conscription because of a “crackle” in his lungs. The stalemate on the western front means he gets his chance to do his bit when Hellfire Jack (based on real-life officer John Norton-Griffiths) proposes tunnelling underneath enemy lines – and that a crack squad of Yorkshire mole-men are the ones to do it.

But with Field Marshal Haig (Douglas Reith) unconvinced and Jack’s immediate superior Fielding (Andrew Scarborough) actively hostile, Hawkins and his four fellow 'claykickers' are sneerily welcomed as working-class no-marks when they arrive.


On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, The War Below holds an approval rating of 88%.

Writing in The Sunday Times, Kevin Maher awarded the film 3 out of 5 stars and stated it is "a fascinating Great War side story and a gritty central turn from Sam Hazeldine..." Writing in The Guardian, Phil Hoad described the film as having "an innately fascinating story".



Sam Hazeldine as William Hawkin
Tom Goodman-Hill as Hellfire Jack
Kris Hitchen as Harold Stockford
Elliot James Langridge as George MacDonald
Sam Clemmett as Charlie MacDonald
Joseph Steyne as Shorty
Sonny Ashbourne Serkis as Henry
Anna Maguire as Jane Hawkin
Andrew Scarborough as Colonel Fielding
Douglas Reith as Field Marshall Lord Haig
Jake Wheeldon as Cpt. Leonard Graves