290. The Battle of Britain (GB 1969)

Director: Guy Hamilton

Starring: Christopher Plummer, Susannah York, Ian McShane, Michael Caine, Lawrence Olivier, Edward Fox, Michael Redgrave, Trevor Howard and many others

Bit Part SV.com TV Favourites - Nick Tate (Alan Carter - Space 1999); Derek Waring (Roland Moody - Moody and Pegg)

Music: Ron Goodwin; Sir William Walton

Cinematography: Freddie Young

Screenplay: James Kennaway, Wilfred Greatorex

Fact: Christopher Plummer plays 'Colin Harvey' in the film

Lie: The high-ranking Nazis include Tomas Schmitt, Stefan Gerhard and Luis Suarez

Time: 133 minutes

 In one line: they don't like it up 'em!

Summary

The British army retreats in disarray from Dunkirk. The Germans wait to invade England. The Luftwaffe needs to destroy the British airfields, the RAF and the spirit of the British people. It doesn't.

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A problematical film and indicative of how difficult it is to encapsulate the bigger and smaller 'pictures' of major historical events.  The Battle of Britain has fantastic and quite beautiful aeronautical imagery, but it's pretty awful in many other areas.

The film was very expensive for its time (it was produced by the United Artists team behind the James Bond films) but did little business outside of the UK - there are no American heroics so the US market wasn't interested and obviously France and Germany weren't exactly queuing up to show the film.


Ian McShane contemplates the horrors of a Nazi invasion and a starring role in Yesterday's Hero

The screenplay and much of the acting leave a lot to be desired. Stereotyped gentlemen British pilots abound (Fox is particularly dire here, and as someone once said: the only man with a bicep in his face), and there is the usual irascible, bombastic turn from Trevor Howard. Kenneth More plays his usual grown up rugger bugger 'Kenneth More' role (how DID these people become stars?) and Ralph Richardson plays his usual mildly distracted upper middle class type to a 'tee' (whatever that may be).

When director Hamilton and composer Goodwin aren't completely in thrall to the the Nazis and their Hugo Boss-designed pervert wear, those self-same Nazis are making toasts, eating sumptuous dinners and 'Ha! Ha! Ha!-ing' their way to their future deaths as 'our young men' wipe out 'their young men' at a ratio of four to one.

"Oh Heinrich! Zat bomber jacket is just divine!" Stereotyped homosexuals made up 90% of the Luftwaffe's fighter pilot elite.

Most of the actors have thankless, rubbishy roles. Susannah York does her best as the token lady, in a role turned down by future Magpie star Jenny Hanley, and there's a decent role and performance from Sir Lawrence as Air Chief Marshall Sir Hugh Dowding. Getting a decent performance from Sir Larry was not always guaranteed, as those of you who've seen The Betsy, Marathon Man and particularly The Boys from Brazil will testify.

An important scene from the film

As I've said, the aerial scenes are fabulous. I remember as a boy sitting enthralled by the simple, beautiful imagery of Spitfires, Me 109s and blue skies and white Dover cliffs filling the giant screen accompanied by Goodwin's and Sir William Walton's tremendous music. Ron Goodwin was never the subtlest of film composers (as can be seen in the dramatic, 'on the ground' scenes in this film), but there's no denying his ability to write a memorable and rousing film theme.

Susannah York grabs hold of Kenneth More. Kenneth More grabs the rim of his helmet.

The main achievement of the film is its logistics - the incredible assembling of the giant fleets of aircraft is largely due to the film being made just 24 years after the end of World War II, and is seen to its best effect as a high ranking German officer inspects a squadron of Heinkels in a very impressive pre-CGI sequence.

Mind you, there has to be more to film than decent ordnance, so The Battle of Britain stumbles to a disappointing

 6/10