★★★ OUT 7 sept (cinemas and rakuten tv) CERT 15 / 115 mins
director David Blair
cast Iwan Rheon, Milo Gibson, Stefani Martini, Marcin Dorocinski
Plot In 1940, Polish pilot Jan Zumbach (Rheon) steals a plane and escapes from Nazi-occupied France to England. There he joins the Royal Air Force, along with several of his countrymen, and is faced with battling not just the Luftwaffe in the air, but the xenophobia of the British pilots on the ground.
Hurricane is an old-fashioned war yarn, complete with requisite dogfights and derring-do, but despite that, it strikes an unlikely melancholy tone. its focus, 303 squadron, an RAF unit composed of Polish exiles, are fêted by the British establishment, but really they’re fighting for a country they’ve already lost. and, thanks to dirty dealing near the end of the war, almost certainly won’t get back. The film reflects a hardbitten Polish fatalism that out-does even the grimmest British accounts of battles won at enormous cost.
iwan Rheon, after a run of Particularly Evil Bastard roles on television, must have been delighted to be cast as a goodie for once, and makes a decent lead pilot. He divides his time between keeping fractious comrades in line, romancing a blonde back-room girl (stefanie Martini), flashing back to the horrible fates of his loved ones in nazi-occupied Poland, and looking determined in his flimsy cockpit as bullets rake his fuselage and he tries to get Messerschmitts in his sights. sub-plots involve the difficulties of training airmen who may be great pilots but don’t have English as a first language, and an obsessed airmen who is too intent on racking up nazi kills to fly in formation and protect his comrades.
as World War ii recedes into history, it becomes harder to get enough flyable period planes to stage the big-scale air battles that remain the highpoints of Bank Holiday afternoon TV favourites such as 633 Squadron, The Dam Busters and The Battle Of Britain. Forced to rely on CGI rather than air show relics, director David Blair — who made the paranormal thriller The Messenger and the Timothy spall-juno Temple odd couple crime picture away — stages incidents that couldn’t be done practically as pilots are shot or burned at the controls.
Like the fairly similar Dark Blue World, which was about the Czech equivalents of 303 squadron, this is an introspective, miseries-of-war saga rather than another instance of the triumphalist nostalgia found in a recent run of films about finest hours and darkest days that concentrate on British indomitability. Rheon’s cheek muscles tighten every time he loses a comrade, and his character’s nationalist self-pity cracks only when he’s forced to realise how much the faux cheery Brits around him are sacrificing without resorting to vodka or religious angst.
But, as is so often the case, it also speaks to contemporary issues — a plot thread deals with supercilious, arrogant posh English officers who resent Poles coming over here, taking English jobs and copping off with British women (with one closing caption in particular feeling very much like an editorial on UKIP insularity). and one of the pilots punches a Daily Mail reporter. Just in cased you’d missed the point.
Verdict a niche film for world war ii buffs, Polish patriots and air display patrons. Not exactly subtle, but few war films are — and it’s hard not to get caught up in fighting these old battles.
Magnificent men not in their flying machines.