They Flew Alone (1942) starring Anna Neagle, Robert Newton, Edward Chapman, Nora Swinburne, Joan Kemp-Welch, Brefni O'Rorke, Charles Carson directed by Herbert Wilcox Movie Review

They Flew Alone (1942)   3/53/53/53/53/5

Anna Neagle as Amy Johnson in They Flew Alone (1942)

Soar Like a Neagle

If "They Flew Alone" or "Wings and the Woman" as it is also known was made now it would fail. Now that may sound harsh considering this is a "biopic" of pioneering English aviator Amy Johnson made the year after she died but in truth it is less of a biopic and more of a war time propaganda movie. I say that because whilst "They Flew Alone" features various achievements as Amy paved the way for female fliers and also highlights her difficult marriage to fellow aviator Jim Mollison the end result is a movie made to inspire and lift a nation worn down by the war. There is nothing wrong with that and I am sure the rousing ending which aims to inspire would have done just that but as a movie which does justice to Amy Johnson it comes up short.

"They Flew Alone" actually starts on that fateful day in January 1941 when Amy is forced to bail out of her plane and parachute into the Thames Estuary and we see her life flash before her eyes in reverse. It is a novel way to take us back to Amy's youth and an introduction which sets out to show Amy as an individual, rebelling against school rules over wearing straw boaters to school. This then leads us through her early life where she tried various things from business school to shop work but could not find her place in the world till she started flying.

Anna Neagle and Robert Newton in They Flew Alone (1942)

Now what follows is for me is like a cherry picked look at Amy Johnson's life and career as we watch her set out to fly to Australia and break records in doing so. And this is followed by more record attempts and also her marriage to fellow pilot and record breaker Jim Mollison which as we quickly learn is not a smooth marriage as both Jim and Amy were independent people. But it is very much a potted, almost shallow look at Amy's personal life and record breaking flights never fully capturing the danger or magnificence of her achievements.

But then for me "They Flew Alone" is less of a biopic and more a war time propaganda movie because there are numerous scenes which have dialogue specifically made to uplift the audience. From Amy's speech when she makes it to Australia encouraging the youth to command the skies to the final messages as the movie ends it just seems like they have used Amy's story to inspire a nation caught in the middle of war. Now there is nothing wrong with that, these propaganda movies served an important purpose but it does mean that if you watched "They Flew Alone" out of an interest in Amy Johnson and her achievements you are going to be left wanting.

It's because "They Flew Alone" is more of a propaganda movie it is wrong to criticize Anna Neagle as Amy Johnson because she has the right look and spirit to make people want to watch and feel inspired, basically she is lovely. But at the same time Neagle doesn't really look like Johnson and the character in the movie seems more aimed to please audiences rather than be authentic. It is the same through out as whilst Anna Neagle and Robert Newton do a decent job as Amy and Jim it is just a typical performance for the era.

What this all boils down to is that for me "They Flew Alone" whilst supposedly a biopic about Amy Johnson doesn't do her story, her achievements and her life justice. But then as a wartime propaganda movie made to lift the flagging spirits of a population warn down by years of war it works.