Bat­tle of Bri­tain

20th Cen­tury Fox, 2003. DVD, 132 min­utes. Rated G, $14.98.

Air & Space Smithsonian - - Reviews & Previews -

TO MAKE MGM’S 1969 TRIB­UTE to the Union Jack, high tea, and aerial havoc, pro­ducer Harry Saltz­man (of James Bond fame) as­sem­bled what at the time be­came the third largest air force. He spent a rea­son­able chunk of the movie’s re­ported $12 mil­lion bud­get as­sem­bling a fleet of Spit­fires, Hur­ri­canes, Messer­schmitts, and even one of those butt-ugly Stukas. The Stuka—on loan from the Royal Air Force Mu­seum—turned out not to be fly­able, so Saltz­man con­verted two Per­ci­val Proctors (equally un­ap­peal­ing) to stand in for the Junkers. And when he couldn’t find enough Ger­man bombers on the open mar­ket, he did the next best thing: He went to the Span­ish air force, which was still fly­ing Heinkel He 111s.

In Bat­tle of Bri­tain, the air­craft are the stars. Fly­ing tail-end-char­lie to them (and that’s not hard to do when Rolls-royce Mer­lins are a-turn­ing and Stukas a-burn­ing) is the cast, which in­cludes Michael Caine, Trevor Howard, Robert Shaw, Christo­pher Plum­mer, and Lawrence Olivier. Prob­lem is, the stars are crammed into a plot­line tighter than the cock­pit of a Spit­fire. The story in­cludes seem­ingly ev­ery his­toric nugget hav­ing to do with the Bat­tle of Bri­tain. Just when you start to get a feel for life in a Spit­fire squadron, you’re off to see how the Jerry pi­lots are fair­ing or off to the hos­pi­tal, then press­ing on re­gard­less (sorry, slipped in a RAF Bomber Com­mand motto there) to get in­side the mind of Hugh Dowd­ing, the head of Fighter Com­mand. Two hours and 12 min­utes of this stuff is al­most enough to make you want to hit the silk.

Re­mem­ber, though, that in the Bat­tle of Bri­tain, the air­planes have the best parts. All that aerial fire­power is dis­played on screen al­most to a fault—al­most. The majesty of a squadron of Spit­fires in bat­tle for­ma­tion sail­ing across the screen, the dog­fights with Messer­schmitts, the pi­lot’s point-of-view shots (how­ever fleet­ing)—most ev­ery­thing is real. It is some of the best aerial footage of World War II air­craft you will ever see, be­cause the pro­duc­ers did not rely on some CG whiz kid. What you see when you look at a Spit­fire in flight in the Bat­tle of Bri­tain is 5,000 pounds of stressed-skin alu­minum, Per­spex, doped fab­ric, and eth­yl­ene gly­col do­ing what it was born to do.

Bloody mar­velous.




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