This Oscar-winning epic is part of movie folklore and widely considered to be one of the greatest films ever so I really wanted to see the area where director David Lean shot it way back in 1957. It was filmed in Kitulgala which is 60 kilometres south-west from Kandy and Colombo is nearly 100 kilometres west of there. It would be a long detour and a much more expensive one too when compared to simply taking a train between the two aforementioned cities. It was a now or never situation though so we went for it.
The Plantation Hotel in Kitulgala has a couple of framed pictures relating to the movie in the hotel (below). That was our starting point for this adventure and from there we had to walk about a kilometre up the road (in the direction of Adam’s Peak) to find the part of the Kelaniya river where the bridge used to be.
About 15 minutes later we finally arrived at this sign (below) and from there, steps and a path lead you down to the river which is a popular white water rafting site these days.
After a few minutes a green-coloured house (below) can be seen which is home to Samuel Perera, who played the Jungle Boy in the film, and his wife Chandra. I was hoping to meet them and hear some stories but typically they were out of town that day.
I was disappointed but it’s not like I was missing out on meeting acting royalty! I did meet his son and daughter-in-law though with the latter finding a sign (above) for me from within the house to pose with!
Finding the exact spots wasn’t as easy as I thought but as expected there was a local around to help me out in exchange for a dollar or two! He pointed out where the bridge once stood and the spot where Lieutenant Joyce (Geoffrey Horne) was ready and waiting with the detonator.
The real bridge is of course in Thailand in a place called Kanchanaburi which is often included on many day tours from Bangkok. That isn’t anywhere near as aesthetically pleasing as the one that was portrayed in the film. However, that was of course blown up at the conclusion of the film! Ooh, should I have inserted a spoiler alert there?! So what we’re left with in the present day is the river itself and just a few holes on the banks showing the concrete foundations.
Admittedly, this was a bit of a long detour just to see a few holes in the ground! Major Clipton mutters the words “madness! …….madness!” at the films climax and those words are quite fitting for my quest to see a place without the bridge some 60 years on!
Now for some proper match-up shots which is quite remarkable really for a film that came out in 1957. The Mount Lavinia Hospital (below) seen on 74 minutes is the fading colonial Mount Lavinia Hotel (100 Hotel Road, Mount Lavinia) on the beachfront just eleven kilometres south of the capital city Colombo. In a way, this scene does actually play true as during WWII it functioned as a military hospital.
Having successfully escaped the Japanese prison camp, Commander Shears (William Holden) ends up at this hospital where he enjoys frolicking with a nurse (Ann Sears) on this part of the beach where the rocks still remain six decades later. There are the two more visible ones in the screenshot below but it is actually the one behind Major Warden (Jack Hawkins) which helps just as much. The white building has been enlarged since filming finished.
Getting to that particular part of the beach actually involves walking down the rail track for about 100 metres to the right of the hotel as you look towards its entrance.
The British HQ is the Peradeniya Botanic Gardens (below) which are six kilometres west of Kandy. These wonderful gardens first appear on 78 minutes and are where British Major Warden leads a force on a commando mission to destroy the bridge before it’s completed.
The other big international production to have been filmed in Sri Lanka was ‘Indiana Jones & The Temple Of Doom‘ (1984).
As much as I tried to locate the “Sankara Stone Shrine” of “Mayapur Village” (above) for the latter near to the Hantana Tea Planatation I was gutted to have failed. However, that disappointment made capturing some of the locales from ‘The Bridge On The River Kwai‘ even more sweeter.
Click here to read ‘SE Asia 2013/14 Pt XIV: Bridge On The River Kwai’