Saturday 7 April 2007

The Battle of Britain (1969) Guy Hamilton

Guy Hamilton was well established by 1969. He'd made Goldfinger, one of the best Bond films of them all, five years earlier, and three more of the best to come with his name on them. He'd also handled World War II material as well, having The Colditz Story to his credit. And in 1969 he was given almost every great British actor of the period to instil character into a great British story. The Battle of Britain was fought between the woefully outgunned, outmanned and outequipped Royal Air Force and the might of the German Luftwaffe. The British victory, one for tenacity and courage, is one of our real hero stories.

To tell it, we have Michael Caine, Trevor Howard, Kenneth More, Laurence Olivier, Christopher Plummer, Michael Redgrave, Robert Shaw, Ralph Richardson, Patrick Wymark, Susannah York, Edward Fox, you name it. It's an incredible cast, none of whom disappoint, and it's backed up behind the camera too. The music is by no less a name than William Walton and conducted by Malcolm Arnold. Then there's a long list of technical advisers, all of impressive rank. Some of these people had already been knighted and a lot more would join the list in the future.

We open in May 1940 in France where the Germans are taking over. The Brits fighting on and over the continent are soon to head home to defend their own country. It's a patriotic film and I'm sure no Englishman alive can fail to be stirred by the way it's set up. An early scene with the Germans talking to the British ambassador to Switzerland, played to perfection by Ralph Richardson, is an admirable example, but it's only the first of many.

The only downside to the film to me, other than the odd noticeable model, isn't really a flaw at all. It's that there's just so much airborne warfare going on, which of course is entirely the point of the film. I can appreciate the magnificence of it all and the heroism and the skill, but my eyes are not trained to military detail and to be honest not particularly interested in it. I'd have liked a lot more background of how we did what we did from the ground as well as the air. I could have done without the Christopher Plummer/Susannah York troubled relationship too, but at least that's a valid complaint. Wanting to see less dogfights is not. That's precisely what got the job done and precisely what most people wanted to see. The fact that they all look the same to me is partly my fault and partly the fact that a lot of them presumably did look the same.

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