The Purple Plain

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The Purple Plain
Theatrical poster
Directed byRobert Parrish
Produced byJohn Bryan
Screenplay byEric Ambler
Based onThe Purple Plain
by H. E. Bates
StarringGregory Peck
Win Min Than
Maurice Denham
Lyndon Brook
Bernard Lee
Music byJohn Veale
CinematographyGeoffrey Unsworth
Edited byClive Donner
Distributed byGeneral Film Distributors (UK)
United Artists (US)
Release date
  • 14 September 1954 (1954-09-14)
Running time
100 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
United States
Box office$1.3 million (US)[1]

The Purple Plain, also known as Llanura Roja, is a 1954 British war film, directed by Robert Parrish, with Gregory Peck playing a Royal Canadian Air Force pilot serving in the Royal Air Force in the Burma Campaign in the closing months of the World War II, who is battling with depression after having lost his wife. It was nominated for two BAFTA awards.


Bill Forrester (Gregory Peck), a RCAF pilot serving in the Royal Air Force in Burma, flying de Havilland Mosquitos, a two-seat fighter-bomber. Forrester is emotionally distraught after losing his new wife in the Blitz in London and has become self destructive, seeking to end his life in action. "You'd think that would be easy in a war", he explains to a Burmese woman, Anna, "but I just kept getting medals instead." With Anna's support, Bill begins to recover his emotional stability.

Forrester and his new navigator, Carrington (Lyndon Brook), on a routine non-combat flight to Meiktila, with Flight Lieutenant Blore (Maurice Denham) as passenger in the Mosquito's bomb bay, because of an engine fire, is forced to go down in a remote desert area of Burma's central plain controlled by the Japanese. As the three men struggle to survive in the hostile environment, the self-destructive Bill finally realises that he can depend on support from others and that he may have someone to live for. Blore, however, abandons them to attempt to return to the crash site and commits suicide.



The use of RAF de Havilland Mosquito aircraft provided an authentic detail to The Purple Plain, although for flying sequences as pictured here, models were used.

The Purple Plain is regarded generally as historically accurate with good production values and attention to detail, and depicts the native Burmese in a respectful manner. The film is based on the 1947 novel The Purple Plain by H. E. Bates,[2] one of three novels he wrote after his travels to Burma and India in 1945, on military assignment to write short pieces portraying the Burmese war for American readers. The novel was first serialised in the Saturday Evening Post in September and October 1947.[3] The film script was written by novelist Eric Ambler in consultation with Bates.

The film was produced with a relatively modest budget by Two Cities Films and was directed by the American director Robert Parrish with Technicolor photography by Geoffrey Unsworth. The film was shot in Sigiriya, in what was then Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), and utilised several locations later used in Bridge on the River Kwai. The aircraft in the film were repainted in accurate SEAC camouflage and markings, and were provided through the co-operation of the Royal Air Force, which also provided several staff on-site during the filming. Some of these are credited as extras.

Anna is played by Win Min Than who was born Helga Johnston,[4] the wife of Burmese politician and businessman Bo Setkya (1916–1969; aka Thakin Aung Than, Bo Set Kya or Set-kya), in her only film role.[5][6] Her father was Australian and her mother Burmese. In 1964 she shaved her head and became a Buddhist nun in Rangoon, adopting the name Daw Wanthalamar. Her husband had fled the country, went underground, and had not been heard of since General Ne Win had taken over the country in March 1962.[7][8] She left the convent a year later and went into business selling gourds.[4] Both Bo Set Kya and Ne Win were members of the Thirty Comrades.[9]


The Purple Plain was successful at the box office, being the 11th most popular film in Britain in 1954.[10] It was ultimately nominated in the category of Best British film of 1954 at the 8th British Academy Film Awards, while actor Maurice Denham was nominated for the award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his performance as Blore.



  1. ^ "The Top Box-Office Hits of 1955." Variety Weekly, 25 January 1956.
  2. ^ "BFI | Film & TV Database | The Purple Plain (1954)." BFI, 16 April 2009. Retrieved: 10 March 2010.
  3. ^ "The Purple Plain." H.E. Bates Companion. Retrieved: 2 September 2011.
  4. ^ a b "Bits of Show Business." The Milwaukee Journal, 18 March 1965.
  5. ^ "Bio for Win Min Than." IMDb. Retrieved: 10 September 2011.
  6. ^ "Win Min Than." Der Spiegel, 19 May 1954: Translated to English using Google Translate. Retrieved: 31 August 2011.
  7. ^ "Eurasian Beauty Will Enter Convent." Australian Associate Press (The Age), 29 June 1964.
  8. ^ "Actress Enters Buddhist Convent." The Palm Beach Post (United Press International), 27 June 1964.
  9. ^ Yawnghwe 2010, p. 228.
  10. ^ "U.S. Star heads film poll. The Advertiser (Adelaide), via National Library of Australia, 31 December 1954, p. 11. Retrieved: 24 April 2012.


  • Bates, H. E.. The Purple Plain. London: Michael Joseph, 1947. ISBN 978-0-7451-6934-7.
  • Yawnghwe, Chao Tzang. The Shan of Burma: Memoirs of a Shan Exile. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2010. ISBN 978-981-230-396-7.

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