Battle of Britain (1969)

Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few. (Winston Churchill)

Battle of Britain is one of the great war movie classics. It’s the favourite movie of many people and certainly the favourite air combat movie of many more. I have watched it for the second time on the week-end and I’m glad I did so, because now I know better what worked for me and what didn’t. The strength of this movie is – funny enough – also its weakness.

The depiction of this crucial moment in British history is done with great detail and accuracy. The director tried to get everything right, down to the cloud formations. An incredible amount of original planes was gathered from different collectors all over the world to make the battles look authentic. And yes, the battle scenes look very convincing.

The Battle of Britain was Göring’s idea. He had been a fighter pilot in WWI and the whole strategy of gaining the air supremacy over England was his. Only he miscalculated the whole thing and they made crucial mistakes.

The idea was to bomb all the air fields, hangars, docks and the like. Starting on November 14 1940 they dropped huge loads of bombs and also destroyed, among other things, the city of Coventry on November 15. Unfortunately they also bombed London which led to the bombing of Berlin and was ultimately the beginning of the Blitz.

The movie shows all these elements and changes constantly from the British HQ to the German side, from there to the air fields and the pilots. Unlike most other movies of the time they did cast Germans for the German roles and French actors for the French which adds another layer of authenticity.

What looks at first like a desperate and hopeless case, later becomes one of those incredible tales of heroism and courage.

Not only did the Germans make the capital mistake to bomb London, they also underestimated their enemy. The British pilots, later helped by Free French, Polish, Czech and others, were the far superior pilots and their fighter planes were superior as well.

When Göring asked one of his commanders what they needed in order to win the answer was “Spitfires”.

The tactics, the battles, the details, all this is incredibly well done but,  due to the epic nature of the movie, there are a lot of characters in this movie and one doesn’t really warm to any of them. Sure Michael Caine is great as Squadron Leader and there is a mini love story at the heart of which is Christopher Plummer but the characters are not very well developed. This was clearly not the focus. Battle of Britain is much more a documentary style movie and, as I already said, this is its strength and its weakness and that is why I will always prefer The Dam Busters. I like my movies to be a bit more emotionally engaging than Battle of Britain.

Still, despite all the criticism, this is one of the great epic war movies and an absolute must-see that one cannot rate less than 5/5. I would say it’s  a great companion to the US Pearl Harbor movie Tora!Tora!Tora!, another great and very authentic air combat movie.

Sorry for this lousy looking trailer but it was the only one I could find.

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5 thoughts on “Battle of Britain (1969)

  1. […] 4. Battle of Britain (1969): WWII. A hymn to British heroism. The use of original languages makes it very authentic. Great and realistic aviation scenes. (Here is my review) […]

  2. TBM says:

    I’m going to add this to my list. In fact I just requested it. This looks great! And thank goodness I saw this posting since it reminded me to watch Master and Commander for our group watch. I’ve had it sitting on my TV for a week and I forgot it.

    • It’s an interesting movie, well done, with a lot of details, not that i would recognize every palne type but it’s good to know they did it right.
      I re-watched Master&Commander and liked it very much.

  3. warmoviebuff says:

    I am not as big a fan. I went back and read my review (it is #90 on the Military History magazine list) and refreshed my memory.

    Strengthes: the dogfights are excellent (if repetitive) / it is historically accurate / good tutorial for the ignorant / some good performances (Caine, Shaw)

    Weaknesses: unclear when events are happening / hard to relate to the characters (or tell who is who in the planes) / lame romantic subplot

    Still a good movie, but not as good as Tora and not in the same league as “The Longest Day” and “A Bridge Too Far”. Better than “Midway”, though.

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