MOVIE REVIEW | Battle of Britain (1969)

There’s something about good, old fashioned, buttoned up, tally-ho good chap, oh so British Britishness.  And there’s something especially endearing about it in war pictures.  What can so easily seem pretentious, stuffy, dated and out of touch in almost any other situation, for some reason comes across as steadfast, dignified and somehow appropriate in the arena of World War II.  Like Churchill himself, the bluster of these toffy nosed, silver spoon in mouth officers seems strangely and perfectly appropriate in that setting.  And if you agree with that, you’re gonna love Battle of Britain.

It’s early 1940 and the German domination of Europe is complete.  Realising they’re sitting ducks in France, the Royal Air Force decides to bring all their squadrons home and get ready for the inevitable German excursions across the Channel.  Battle of Britain then gives an almost equal focus to both sides as they spend the next few months defining and redefining aerial combat.  Usually through the eyes of their fighter pilots, but with glimpses at high command and ground support as well.

Starring Michael Caine, Ian McShane, Laurence Olivier, Christopher Plummer, Michael Redgrave, Robert Shaw and heaps more English dudes, the cast really is amazing.  It also points to the one real weakness in Battle of Britain.  There are so many characters, I never really got my head around exactly who was who, how they were connected to each other and who was responsible for what.  And the fact that the pilots all wear and goggles while flying, just made it even harder.

But that really is the only downside of this movie and it was never anywhere near enough to take away from everything else that I really, really liked.  It manages to teach and demonstrate a lot about the war, battle tactics and life at the time, without ever feeling like it’s trying to teach you anything.  Of course, for all I know it’s all a load of old bollocks and in no way accurate, but it felt real, and that’s what counts.

The other thing I liked was the surprisingly even handed approach.  When we’re with the Germans, it never makes them out to be evil or pointlessly bad.  They’re soldiers trying to win a war, just like the allies.  Of course, you sympathise more with the allies and hope for them to win, but I never expected a movie this old, and made by poms, to be anywhere near this unbiased.

Battle of Britain also makes the right decision to minimally use recognisable real characters of the time.  Churchill is only seen once, through a window, smoking a cigar and looking intensely intimidating.  And while Hitler does get a rousing, propagantically impressive speech, director Guy Hamilton always keeps it in long, wide shots, so you never get distracted by a close up, forcing you to scrutinise how good (or bad) their Adolf lookie-likey is.  By keeping the focus on the low level pilots, it makes the story much more relatable.

And then of course, there’s all that good, old fashioned, buttoned up, tally-ho good chap, oh so British Britishness.

Battle of Bristain
Directed By – Guy Hamilton
Written By – James Kennaway, Wilfred Greatorex 

6 thoughts on “MOVIE REVIEW | Battle of Britain (1969)

  1. I always thought this film was a lot older than 1969. That’s how good their art direction was. I completely believed the film was made in 1941!

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