Battle of Britain (1969) Poster

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A Historic event recreated with skill and wit.
jlpicard1701E10 July 2003
Perhaps not many new viewers of this gigantic recreation are aware of the fact that this movie was filmed almost 30 years after the actual events took place.

The efforts to put History on screen were huge. Everything in this account of the facts, comes directly from those who were actually involved in it: from the British and German fighter aces to private Londoners, they all contributed to make this not just another "war movie", but rather a dramatized documentary with accurate precision.

This by no means signifies that it is just that. The sky battles were very carefully choreographed, in accordance to rules of combat, which were followed in the 1940s. Some planes were flown by the same veterans, so that when you see a Messerschmitt Bf-109 followed by Spitfire Mk 1, you know it's for real.

The technical efforts were immense and although the Messerschmitts have reworked engines and even the Heinkel He.111s have different aerials and engine specs, because they were updated by the Spanish Air Force for later use after World War Two, the difference is barely noticeable when one watches one of those spectacular aerial battles.

On the whole, this is a history lesson about how a people, isolated from the rest of the world, and in a minority position, withstood the overwhelming crushing machine of the Axis: the Luftwaffe.

More than a movie, this is a celebration to those brave people, both civilian and military, who did commit themselves against all odds, to resist and fight back a very aggressive and dangerous enemy.

This, together with "The Longest Day", "Sink the Bismarck!", "Tora! Tora! Tora!" and "A Bridge Too Far" is one of those rare examples to make history come to life again and should be considered as didactic material for schools.

An excellent multi-national cast and a skillful direction, make this a masterpiece of its genre.
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Very good.
magellan3335 February 2002
Never knew this movie existed until I happened upon it at the local video store. I decided to give it a chance. This movie can be compared to "Tora! Tora! Tora!" in that it gives one the factual perspective of the Battle of Britain and not some love story or "shoot'em up" action adventure set around the Battle of Britain. It is the absence of such elements that makes some viewers not enjoy this kind of film. However, if you are interested in seeing history played out on the screen, or are a history buff like me, you will enjoy this movie. The characters are not deep or complex and there is little character development, but in a movie like this, it is not necessary. There is a pretty useless subplot involving a man and his wife, but other than that, this film is not to be missed by those who enjoy WWII history.
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9/10
Holds Up Well
Bruce Jones21 January 2002
I recently reviewed this film after having not seen it since it was new. Being a 31 year military veteran I have a somewhat different frame of reference for watching films such as this. I look for things in a film many civilians never will. I don't think this one has ever been shown on TV in the US, at least not within a couple of decades, so it's certainly not overplayed here. Luckily, the tape I accessed was in excellent condition so it was crisp and new in appearance. It is still a very excellent film depicting one of Britain's most harrowing times and the unwavering heroism of those who fought so desperately to secure their victory. The film didn't enjoy many fine reviews when it was new as it was compared, as most war films are, to the plethora of fiction produced by the movie industry and REAL history usually comes off looking mundane by comparison. I have found this a similar oddity for many excellent films of war. This is one film that more than adequately stands the test of time and I would absolutely love to see a wide-screen DVD version of it offered. Although it helps to have an understanding of war in general, and in particular the second world war and the actual battle of britain, one can be ignorant of those facts and still come away well entertained. It is a wonderfully produced film, acted with talent and grace by a cast of performers who are now legendary. The sets, costumes and musical score are wonderful and perfectly compliment the cinematography. If I can find a copy I am going to add it to my library.
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A very good watch
heckles6 July 1999
A movie commonly praised while in the air but damned once the scenes move to the ground. I found it all watchable and quite inspiring. Not every actor rises above cameo level, but Michael Caine is good, and I would follow Robert Shaw into the thick of any battle fought in human history. The battle scenes are still the best aerial combat sequences on celluloid.

It's odd that Maltin gives this movie fewer stars than the Europroduction "Blue Max", with its staged-looking combat sequences and campily awful dialogue.
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7/10
A good film, unfortunately for Hollywood, WW2 started in 1939!
jmb32225 March 2002
Warning: Spoilers
This film does have its flaws, but is still a great film. It had to be made when it did (sic) if only because the Spanish Air Force still had their Merlin engined Hispano HA-1109 and HA-1112 "Me 109s" and Casa C.2111 "111s" flying in 1968!

It's good that some "stars" do not have big roles. Michael Caine whilst being "hot box office" is shot down - many pilots who seemed invincible were lost. A number of the parts are based on real characters Robert Shaw's is based on Adolf 'Sailor' Malan - 74 Squadron Ace, Susannah York's Harvey is based on one Felicity Hanbury (who later became the Commandant of the WRAF). The scene where she has to deal with a bombed slit trench is based on what happened when Biggin Hill was attacked. Being burned and still being alive was one of the biggest risks - sitting next to a tank of 100 octane whislt being shot at was risky.

It's chief flaws are i) Hurricanes shot down the bulk of the German losses during the Battle - this "error" is primarily because there were more flying Spitfires available. More serious is depicting "The Few" as a group of equals - in reality the class system was still to the fore in some places more so than others. Officer would not mix with NCOs, Auxilliary Air Force pilots (predominantly from the upper classes) looked down on Volunteer Reserve pilots (predominantly from the working/middle classes). But bear in mind this was made less than 30 years after the event when some of the myths and propaganda surrounding it were still treated as the truth, unlike "Pearl Harbor" and "U-571" and other recent films they haven't just thrown historical fact out because it doesn't fit the desired story line!

Many pilots were killed simply because of the stupid tatics they used - fighting by the 1930s RAF rule book until lessons were learnt. Many didn't see what hit them. In most other ways the film is by and large correct. The British were very reluctant to use Polish and Czech squadrons; despite many of these pilots being much more experienced than British.

Oh and having read the other comments here - this does not follow just one squadron, Robert Shaw is one, Michael Caine another, The Czech/Poles others, Christopher Plummer another. I seem to remember that the film makers went out of their way not to show any one squadron as being the "winners" hence no squadron numbers are mentioned - all aircraft codes are ficticious.

A film has to keep an audience's attention for 100+ minutes real life isn't like that just showing the fear and boredom of sitting around on hot summers days dreading the 'phone call would not make a good movie instead compromises are made. When you watch it remember that this wasn't just dreamt up by some scriptwriter this really happened.
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10/10
Historical And Human Portrait
Cairo-59 March 1999
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.
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A Classic!!!
tom sawyer2 April 2003
The Battle of Britain is a classic movie about one of the key battles of World War 2. It stands up there with the epics The Longest Day, Tora,Tora, Tora and a Bridge Too Far. The all-star cast has well known and lesser known English, Canadian, German and others actors who play their roles well. The movie does a good job of portaying both sides of the battle. The special effects and the air battles hold up well after well over 30 years. The criticisms that people have to me are quite unfair. As for charcter development, the movie is about the battle, much like the Longest Day was and there was no time to develop that part of the movie because it focused on the entirety of the battle. Also this is not like Cross of Iron that someone compared it to. Cross of Iron was a fictious story, while this is done in semi-docudrama style.It is an unfair comparison. The best comparison would be with the three previously listed movies. I liked that fact that some big stars characters did get hurt or died just like many of the better pilots did in the the battle and the war. The movie gives an excellent overview of the battle, much like the other movies listed here. I like the fact about the bit of English snobbery concerning the foreign pilots that they were training even if some were as good or better than they were.This is a four star war movie obout Britains Finest Hour. Where if it wasn't for the Brits holding off the German's, the Allies would not have been able to launch D-Day against the German's. The movie showed bravery and courage from both sides men and pilots. It is a great portrayal of young men in battle as knights of the early war skies. Rent it or buy it, because this is a classic.
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Their Finest Hour
Britlaw17 January 2000
This has some of the best aerial fight scenes ever - 'Top Gun' nothwithstanding. If it has faults it is that it can sometimes be a bit dull as it is very historically accurate, as it was a very well documented battle and presumably because when it was made many of the participants were still alive (and some still are).

It might have been better if like the 'Dam Busters' it had adopted a rather more documentary style, rather than having ground based ficticious sub-plots.

There are no particular stars (save the aircraft) but many cameos and it is even handed to the Germans as well, who lost many brave men.

The bits I liked were, as one other has commented, British diplomat Ralph Richardson telling German Curt Jurgens (over tea of course) that we wouldn't be dictated to and the scene in the RAF command bunker as one of the biggest daily air battles develops, where Churchill (suggested only by a puffing cigar but very much a hands on war leader), on surveying the plotting board showing hundreds of attacking German aircraft, orders more reserves into the battle only to be told there are none left, everything we had was in the air or on the ground being refuelled.

If the technology looks dated now, we must not forget that at the time radar was ultra secret and definitely cutting edge - this was the start of electronic warfare.

I believe I am correct in saying the film opened on 15th September 1969, celebrated in the UK as Battle of Britain day and the actual anniversary of the Churchill incident above.

This was truly the finest hour of those young pilots and we did it all without American help or even a Yank guest star..........

PS Christopher Plummer is Canadian!
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7/10
Formulaic, yet uniquely authentic. (Very minor spoiler)
boazbenjamin12 August 2004
Warning: 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.
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What this film is really about, and some trivia.
fg52home22 May 2004
This film was an attempt to deal with the crucial events of 1940, when Britain might have been invaded and oppressed by Nazi Germany. Had this succeeded then subsequent history might well have been very different, a Europe subjugated by the dark evil of that regime.

As a straight historical account this film fails rather badly. Most of the characters are artificial, created for the Stars and stars involved. Dowding and Park, historically absolutely crucial, never develop properly - a pity. Goering is cartoonised, but at least reflects his total failure to conduct a strategic assault on the UK.

The flying sequences are, mostly, superb. It was a huge achievement to bring together the aircraft used. As an enthusiast I can pick massive holes in those used. None of the 'German' aircraft have correct engines - they were post-war Spanish Air Force stand ins. And that's before we start on the late war mark Spitfires etc. But who cares? The point is the conflict in the air. It is not close enough to 'real' aerial combat - 10 seconds of terror in 60 mins of boredom. But that is the nature of the cinema medium.

The distraction of Suzanne York (BTW she's not trying to get divorced!) in full 40's u/wear was very exciting when I was 16. At 52 I suppose it still gives me the odd moment!

And look for the hanger being 'bombed' behind Suzanne York and Kenneth More, it really WAS blown up at Duxford - boy, were they cross!

The revisionist historians like to claim that the (actual) Battle of Britain was not that important. That the Germans couldn't have crossed the Channel anyway because of the Royal Navy (probably, but not necessarily so. With air supremacy JU87s would have massacred RN vessels). That the Germans already had eyes on Russia and really wanted to ignore GB as a sideline, possible and a fatal mistake. That the Germans lost the battle, rather than the RAF won it (no statistical basis for this, the Luftwaffe smashed itself against the RAF).

But the Battle WAS fought, and won by the RAF.

Which is why I believe this film is worth a viewing.

Especially the Walton scored sequence, where the Luftwaffe's bombers are hacked down by the Hurricanes and Spitfires of the RAF. An impressively moving sequence of the horror of war in the air. To which the music adds enormously.

I place this film well ahead of the 1990's Memphis Belle travesty in depicting the reality of war. It is certainly on a par with 12 O'Clock High.
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