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This dramatized biography to my mind represents one of the most difficult sorts of film to make. I believe the makers of "The Battle of Britain" succeeded in making it a stirring war film, and one that deserves to be watched and remembered often. Many people find the battle scenes in the air in this film among the best ever staged. Cliff Richardson deserves praise for his special effects; and Guy Hamilton, director in charge, has frankly done marvelous work of a very difficult-to-achieve sort. He has interiors, intimate scenes, outdoor lectures, strafings, bombings, aerial battles, airplane landings, group shots and conferences to handle.Wilfred Greatorex and James Kennaway. In addition, Ron Goodwin and William Walton supplied memorable music, veteran Freddie Young the lucid cinematography and Maurice Carter wonderful art direction. The story-line chronologically follows the "Battle of Britain", No aspect is overlooked. The success of Luftwaffe air attacks on forward bases is noted; and so is the lucky decision by Hitler to start bombing Londoners instead that caused a shift it tactics and saved Britain's radar towers, key to targeting incoming attackers for interdiction by British aircraft. We hear a lecture by an Air Marshal, see firefighting squads and female drivers in action; we see both sides talking in their own languages--the Germans being subtitled; and we see action in the British War Room and at the highest levels of military planning. A couple is followed to illustrate what pilots and their wives, she being part of the war effort also, had to undergo and the pressures they faced. The pilots are also seen waiting between sorties at their bases; and finally when none come, the first phase of WWII, the expedition and subsequent Battle of Britain is over. In the huge cast are most of the leading male actors in England, including Laurence Olivier as Hugh Dowding, chief of the air effort, Trevor Howard as Keith Park, Patrick Wymark as Mallory, their chief opponent within the air corps,, plus Christopher Plummer and Susannahh York as the troubled couple, Harry Andrews, Michael Caine, Ian McShane, Kenneth More, Curd Jurgens, Nigel Patrick, Michael Redgrave, Robert Shaw, Robert Flemyng, Michael Bates, Ralph Richardson, Isla Blair and Edward Fox. This is a splendid, well-paced and beautiful recreation. The music is superb; the combat footage unexcelled and the acting far-above-average. I rate this film on many counts above anything else ever done concerning the defense of Britain by its air forces during the late war.
Battle of Britain which depicts same owes a lot of its inspiration not
only to The Longest Day, but to The Magic Box. In that film Robert
Donat played William Friese-Greene who many in the United Kingdom and
Commonwealth claim to be the real inventor of motion pictures. It was a
biographical film in which as many stars of British cinema that were
available got to play even bit parts.
Here as many stars as could be gotten under one roof paid tribute to the valiant fighting heart of the United Kingdom's Royal Air Force which did nothing less than save civilization itself in their defense of their 'blessed isle.' Such folks as Christopher Plummer, Michael Caine, and Robert Shaw portrayed RAF squadron commanders who had to be mobilized at an instant notice to face the German Luftwaffe which outnumbered the Royal Air Force 4 to 1. As Laurence Olivier put it just to stay even our young men will have to shoot down their young men at a rate of 4 to 1.
Olivier plays the guy ultimately responsible for the success of the RAF as Fighter Command chief Air Marshal Hugh R. Dowding. Olivier did very well in capturing the essence of character that was Dowding who was a brooding pessimistic sort not given to wild claims of bravado. That in itself did not near and endear him to his Prime Minister who liked a great show of spunk from his military commanders. Dowding was also into spiritualism and after retiring in 1942 claimed contact with the spirits of dead RAF men from the other side.
Dowding had to referee between dueling Air Vice Marshals Keith Park and Trafford Leigh-Mallory played by Trevor Howard and Patrick Wymark. Leigh-Mallory wanted a more offensive type strategy and Park was for husbanding what resources the RAF had. Good arguments were put forth by both men. Dowding came down eventually on Park's side though after Dowding was retired by Churchill, Leigh-Mallory got his way. By that time through Lend-Lease, Britain had enough planes to do what Leigh-Mallory envisioned. The conflict between these guys was a great deal nastier than portrayed here. But Olivier, Howard, and Wymark give you some insight into the character of each.
My favorite bit in Battle of Britain is not any of the aerial combat sequences which are spectacularly done, nor is it the conflict in the higher command. It's a scene that takes place in Geneva where the ministers from Great Britain and Germany meet. The German minister is not a Nazi party hack, but a career diplomat. Yet he's real full of himself when he tells Ralph Richardson that you British might just as well surrender because we got the resources to take you out right now.
Classical actor that Ralph Richardson was, his reply was in the spirit of John Wayne when he tells them if you think you can, you're welcome to try, just don't make with the mouth. Minister David Kelly was echoing the bulldog defiance of his prime minister who was stiffening the backbone of his people for the long haul.
One thing I wish had been showed in Battle of Britain. There was reference to Buckingham Palace being bombed and it did get hit a few times over the course of the next five years. King George VI and his family stayed there, they certainly could have left for the relatively safer areas where Sandringham, Windsor, and Frogmore were. But they chose to stay as well. Not enough is ever spoken about the King and the other royals in that period. They too were an inspiration to their subjects. I wish that the Royals had been portrayed here, it might give some insight to non-Commonwealth people about why the Monarchy is held in such respect despite recent antics by some of its members.
Of course the Germans took Ralph Richardson's invitation to step up and get the job done and they failed. Thanks to some 600 RAF pilots which included volunteers from other commonwealth countries, from exiles from such places as Poland and Czechoslovakia and even from the USA, Great Britain kept control of its skies and a planned invasion never took place. Although aerial attacks took place over the United Kingdom for the length of the war, the threat of invasion was officially over when Hitler turned his attention east and southeast.
Battle of Britain is a wonderful tribute to the 20th century's noble 600.
I have always been a fan of this film and have been impatiently waiting
for a DVD release for some time. When I found out that MGM were
releasing this film on DVD, I was delighted followed by some irritation
when I found out the RRP (£19.99), as the film was out in the US for
$8. Yet another special edition second disc of bits and pieces with a
hiked up price tag.
I hereby apologise to MGM for such unkind thoughts, because this edition is superb. The US version is in mono, where this release has 5.1 & DTS (it is excellent) and for fans of William Walton (they only used about 5 minutes of his score in the original film, Ron Goodwin supplying the rest), the soundtrack with the full Walton score as an alternative. The picture has also been restored and has a full anamorphic 2.35:1 picture.
It is a well worn cliché, but in summer 1940, Britain stood alone, facing the might of the Luftwaffe and the German army which had swept all aside. The Battle of Britain is one of the pivotal moments in the history of this country, and I believe that this film does it justice. The cast are excellent but particularly Laurence Olivier as Hugh Dowding and Robert Shaw as Squadron Leader Skipper. The film has been well researched and manages to weave all aspects of the battle into the film.
Some of the special effects are a little bit dated, but this was made 35 years ago, and they do not detract from the story. But what makes this film convincing are the real aircraft used to make it. Various reports suggest that when assembled, the aircraft were anywhere between the 11th and 35th biggest air force in the world. The aerial battles are just excellent, and the shots of bombers and fighters in formation over the real life locations in 1940, give a powerful sense of authenticity. When I think about scenes like the flight of Me109's breaking to attack a flight of Spitfires, and compare it to the awful battle of Britain CGI of Pearl Harbour (which was an awful film in itself), I cannot help but think that this film is something special. I have read reviews from some 'rivet counters' who state that the German Bombers are not authentic. This is true as the aircraft were built by CASA in Spain for the Spanish Air Force after the war, but you do not notice.
I cannot recommend this film enough and at last the DVD version lets us see it in all its glory.
The Battle of Britain deserves it place in the great World War II
In Australia this one has beeen dragged out on Saturday afternoon TV ever since its debut to educate generations of young boys - a great when one discusses 'Warries'.
Made early enough to use (reasonably) accurate aircraft, with the de rigeur sixties ensemble (when all the good warries really had a stellar cast), original and actual dog-fight footage (even if they do slip up repeating the same crash 3 times), a stirring score and even Michael Caine's black lab waiting in vain for his return.
This flick isn't afraid to show the rivalries amongst the top brass, the German fighting man in a good light (with a big poke at 'fat Herman'), the realities of romance with flaming death around the corner(groan from the kiddies), - and they even switch to a poetry of the air without screenplay for a while! There are so many brilliant scenes that are pulled together masterfully into a cohesive, stirring story.
An excellent attempt to depict the Battle of Britain from both historical
and human perspectives. The history is accurate but doesn't overwhelm the
viewers. However the emphasis is on the people, the men who flew the
planes, and the commanders who sent them into battle.
Great effort is made to treat the combatants fairly. The battle is not "good guys" vs. "bad guys". Both the British and German airmen are depicted as young men fighting bravely for their country. They each have their friendships and know sorrow when comrades are killed.
On the command level, the personal disagreements and rivalries are shown, in the RAF as well as the Luftwaffe. Ultimately the battle is decided as much by political decisions as by the fighting qualities of the airmen.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I found the secondary sub-plots and "personal dramas" to be hokey and
formulaic, to wit, the Susannah York character Maggie is horrified and
transfixed by the appearance of a badly burned pilot, only to hear
moments later (in screen time) that her own pilot boyfriend has been
badly burned. Nevertheless, what struck me much more than any of the
performances, effects, or writing, was the simple fact that the RAF
adviser on this film was the exceptional Sir Douglas Bader, who was one
of the most aggressive flyers in Fighter Command despite having lost
both legs in a flight accident in the early thirties, while the
Luftwaffe adviser on the film was the man who shot Bader down in 1941,
Adolf Galland. Each man was a fighter ace, and each was among the most
famous and respected pilots on his respective side at the time of the
war itself. That is to say that these men were not only in the Battle
of Britain, but played significant roles in it and were privy to, if
not party to, many of the tactical and strategic decisions and debates
depicted in the film. In fact, the sardonic request to Goering to "give
me a squadron of Spitfires," voiced by Major Falke in the film, was
spoken by Galland in real life. No quantity of flashy CG effects could
outweigh the guaranteed authenticity of having the real thing on hand.
An amusing side point: The roll of nationalities at the end of the film concluded with one "Israeli" pilot, a mild anachronism as there was no Israel until 1948. At the time of the war, he would have been referred to as a Jewish Palestinian, or simply a Palestinian, but of course the film was produced shortly after the Israeli victory in the Six Day War (1967), and the term Palestinian was coming to refer uniquely to those Arabs inhabiting the territories captured by Israel in that war.
Anyhow, in summary, while I found much of the melodrama to be overplayed and unnecessary, the central action of the film, both at Headquarters and in the air, vibrates with an authenticity which is ever more difficult to reproduce as the remainder of the wartime generation ages and dwindles, particularly those who were old enough to be in staff and leadership positions during the war.
This is my favorite WW II movie and I have seen and liked flicks like "Saving Private Ryan". The kind of War Movies I like are that ones that focus on both sides with personalities and details although most of the personality is on the Allied side. Other War movies that I loved are like this such as "Gettysburg", "Tora, Tora, Tora" and "The Enemy Below". In "The Battle of Britain" everything is realistic except for some special effects which is forgivable since this movie was made in 1969. The French speak French. Poles speak Polish and so on!!! I especially liked watching the Poles who relay this sense of 'payback' on the Germans now that they fly in excellent warplanes. There is this sense of admiration for them as well since they could have sat out the War but chose instead to keep fighting the Nazis. They probably were not even sure that Poland would be liberated from the Nazis. The Poles are still like that today. They gladly help us in Iraq compared to other Europeans. I liked watching the Germans, too, even though they are 'the bad guys' so to say. Just to let everyone know, I myself am Jewish. I watch the hordes of Nazi aircraft swarm over England like a wave of great Evil. I shudder to think what if Hitler really conquered England. Then in the scenes of dogfights, I see the Spitfire blast away a Nazi plane and I cheer. "Die you Nazi !@#$%"!!!" Movies have a way of taking your mind in certain directions especially when you are already pre-disposed. Then right after the Nazi bomber catches on fire, a very contrary camera shot happens. I see the German crewmen want to live. I know that even bad guys want to live, but then you see something else transpire with the German crewmen. These German men think. They feel. They care for each other. They see that combat against a non-pushover European is terrifying and they take no pleasure bombing cities full of civilians. You get the sense that they are only men born into the wrong generation of Germans. In five close up shots I saw these guys courageously help each other. They make sure everyone bails out. They comfort their wounded. Seeing a friend in deep trouble or dead makes them still. In the beginning they were cocky, but that comes after fighting the French, Belgiums, Danes and so on. I rather liked watching Goering with the Staff meeting in the woods fly off the handle at his executive commanders and immediate subordinates. They tell him that they are doing the best they can with what they have. "Nobody is suggesting cowardice!!!!!!" one of them replied to Goering. I was thinking of MGM telling the prospective German Actors that they have an opportunity to show that most Germans are not robots. I myself got to know a lot of Germans in my 45 years on Earth, and I must agree. Now, to the Allied side. Naturally, most of the focus in the movie are on the British characters as it should be. After all, the British must win. Must!!!! I see English wives, children, marital spats, failure and success. A pilot gives his two boys toy Spitfires. But one expects a WW II War movie to show that the allied troopers are more like yourself except for the 1957 movie "The Enemy Below". The 1993 movie "Gettysburg" equally showed personalities on both sides, too, but both sides were American really. The music is also tops. I often hum that intro martial music to myself as well as the British victory tune. This movie is clearly my favorite War Movie.
Being a WWII buff for 25 years, I found this movie to be easily one of the best ever filmed. From the very start of the film, Guy Hamilton's direction and the great musical score left me spellbound even when I knew how the story ended. The casting was flawless. Olivier looked like Dowding. Trevor Howard could pass for Keith Park's twin brother and I swear Goering himself had a small part in the film too. I've always wondered if Robert Shaw's role of the squadron leader "Skipper" wasn't patterned after famed RAF pilot A.G. "Salior" Malan. If it was, Shaw looks alot like Malan. "War in the Air" is one of my favorite pieces of music and it flows beatufully through the film. Great acting by Christopher Plummer, Michael Caine, and one of my favorites, Edward Fox makes this movie a must see for any WWII buff.
I first saw this movie in the theater in 1969. In the middle eighties I
purchased the VHS tape for a whopping $69.95! I did this because I have
been and remain a life long WW II addict. In my humble opinion this is
the finest WW II Fighter movie ever made, bar none. Considering the
constraints the movie makers were working under, their efforts resulted
in a 99% historically correct movie. Only Tora Tora Tora is in this
class. All of the of events, both RAF and Luftwaffe, are portrayed in
their proper sequence. Every effort was made to show the correct
aircraft. WW II crazies like me will recognize the minor errors and
omissions i.e. no Bf-110's, Ju-88's, or Do-217's.
With superb casting there is no Hollywood overacting. The British audience also played a part as most of the survivors were alive and would have laughed a mediocre effort right out the theater. The furor created by the later production of A Piece of Cake will bear witness.
If you love high quality WW II movies and there certainly not enough of those you can't go wrong in purchasing a DVD copy.
This must be the best film about air combat ever. Well made and with effects
that don't read "1969" all too clearly - and I'm not even going to mention
the impeccable acting - this film has it all. The ending is somewhat of an
anti-climax, but that can't reduce the score - after all, this film is based
on historical events.
If you want to see a great film about WW2, and you don't want to see the ordinary ground-based war movies - rent this one. Or even buy it.
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