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By the late 1920's aircraft designer R.J. Mitchell feels he has achieved all he wants with his revolutionary mono-planes winning trophy after trophy. But a holiday in Germany shortly after Hitler assumes power convinces him that it is vital to design a completely new type of fighter plane and that sooner or later Britain's very survival may depend on what he comes to call the Spitfire. Written by
Jeremy Perkins <firstname.lastname@example.org>
In the opening scenes, the RAF pilots who are being briefed are from No. 501 Squadron. The Spitfires are carrying the markings "SD", which were carried by No. 501 "Mandrel" Squadron. At the height of the battle these pilots would have been flying the Hawker Hurricane instead of the Spitfire. The squadron had fought in the Battle or France before the evacuation of the BEF at Dunkirk at the end of May 1940. The squadron then moved to RAF Kenley, from where they fought the Battle of Britain. See more »
Where David Niven is talking to Leslie Howards' secretary, she is using a 'Royal' typewriter. Later, when Leslie Howard comes out of his office and talks to Crisp (Niven), the typewriter is a 'Jaydo' or 'Jaybo' brand. See more »
The development of the Spitfire fighter plane by the Royal Air Force is considered a crucial factor in winning the Battle of Britain in that crisis year of 1941. It could fly faster and higher than the best German fighters and of course being right at home base it had the advantage of being able to instantly refuel. Unless a German pilot could shoot one down, a tie was always to the defenders because the German eventually had to return home for fuel.
Though he didn't live to see it, credit for the design of the Spitfire and a share of winning the Battle of Britain goes to Reginald J. Mitchell who had been dead four years before the Battle of Britain. This film is a tribute to him as realized by Producer/Director/Star Leslie Howard.
The problem one encounters in biographical films of this sort occurs when the subject lead colorless lives. We don't get that much of Mitchell here I suspect because outside of designing aircraft he probably was a pretty dull fellow. But Howard and David Niven who played his friend and test pilot are capable players and there's enough aerial footage to satisfy any buff.
Howard's seminal moment in the film occurs when he goes to Germany to view their nascent airplane industry and realizes just who is the target of all these new warplanes. He comes back and through sheer persistence and conviction persuades the Air Ministry and the Baldwin government to start the development of a better fighter plane.
Curiously enough the American aviator hero Charles Lindbergh got the same treatment from the Germans and came back to America with a message of defeatism. Interesting the different reactions when aviation people start talking shop.
Had Leslie Howard not died ironically enough a battlefield casualty as the airliner he was on shot down in 1943 in the Bay of Biscay, The First of the Few might have been the beginning of a great career behind the camera. Probably would have extended into British television as well as the cinema.
Still this film is a fine farewell and a tribute to two British patriots, Leslie Howard and Reginald J. Mitchell.
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