Showdown Over London
"Battle of Britain" is a war movie but not a war movie in the traditional entertainment sense but one which endeavours to accurately portray a crucial period of time. Now on one hand it makes it quite special because so few war movies, even those like this which were made decades after the events, go for historical accuracy but it also makes it hard work for those not use to this sort of movie. What I mean by that is that whilst we have a cast of big stars the focus is not on their characters but the chain of events and battles which lead up to the air battle over London on 15th September 1940. And whilst it is an epic battle, as are many of those shown prior to this, it ends up coming across almost like a movie without a story because there is no central character which takes us through it.
The thing is that whilst I am sure "Battle of Britain" was made to celebrate the bravery of the men who thought in the skies against the odds and remind us of the sacrifices and danger they faced it also feels like a movie made for those who lived through it. I say that because of the simple fact this is an accurate portrayal rather than some Hollywood movie but it makes it difficult for those who weren't around during the period to fully appreciate and understand it. In fact it at times feels like it is a movie made for war historians rather than the cinema going public which may be why it didn't garner a lot of praise when first released.
But whether you follow the events with interest or not one thing for certain is that "Battle of Britain" does a fantastic job of recreating the era. Ignoring the air battles for a moment and the action down on the ground is brilliant; from pilots waiting eagerly to be scrambled through to those in London sheltering in the underground when the bombing starts you can sense the fear. And it all feels very authentic because whilst we have characters central to each element, such as Sgt. Pilot Andy finding himself in London during a night of bombing it is the general feel of a scene, the sight of a building crumbling, kids running in the underground and so on which makes it feel right. One of the stand out scenes is watching a pilot having returned after a heavy battle become so on edge when he hears the phone ring that it makes him sick at the fear of having to go through it again.
But much of what is great about "Battle of Britain" is the air battles and it features some of the best air battle shots you are ever going to see. From planes swarming in the skies to being hit and exploding it looks absolutely fantastic and considering this is a movie which is now over 40 years old very few movies have come close to delivering such stunning in air action. It's not just the in air action which is stunning, so is the action at the airfields when they come under fire and seeing a plane or a hangar blown to pieces has such a huge impact. When you watch the action in "Battle of Britain" and compare it to the CGI enhanced action movies of these days not only does it looks better but you really appreciate the skill of the stunt men and special effects guys.
As for the acting well considering the calibre of the cast which includes Laurence Olivier, Kenneth More, Trevor Howard, Michael Caine and Ian McShane to name just a few there is not a single ego on show. In fact what is surprising about "Battle of Britain" is that because this isn't a movie about the people we have big actors playing characters that end up dead and not dying in some over the top heroic way.
What this all boils down to is that "Battle of Britain" is not just another war movie because rather than being some fictionalized account or character based drama this is an epic movie which attempts to retell the events which lead up to the climatic battle over London on the 15th September 1940. It does mean that it doesn't really have a traditional storyline with a character which drives it but it still gets across the bravery and the sacrifices of all those involved in the war and does so with some epic visuals which are still impressive now over 40 years after it was made.