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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Harry Brown (2009) Michael Caine Starring as WWII Vet

If Gran Torino had been good it would have been Harry Brown. This is one hell of a gritty movie. A pretty unvarnished look at today’s Britain. If you are in a somewhat no-future, modern-life-is-pointless-and-ugly mood, better stay away from Harry Brown as it will certainly not cheer you up. If you like movies like Let the Right One In (The Swedish film!!!), then you might like it although there are no vampires in this movie, only very ugly and depraved humans.

Harry Brown (Michael Cane) is a lonely man. He spends his time visiting his wife at the hospital or playing chess with his only friend Leonard. When his wife dies there is only Leonard left. The two men live in the same depressing housing estate, somewhere on the outskirts of a big British city. Local gangs are roaming the neighbourhood day and night and some of the places and pedestrian walkways are far from safe. Violence and drug trafficking go on, people who pass are molested and harmed. The kids from the gangs are a bunch of real scum, the lowest of the low. No education, no future, only using and abusing.

Harry and Leonard regularly meet in a bar nearby where they play chess. Leonard has been the gangs’ target for a while. They hustle him, threaten him, shove dog shit into his letter box. The old man is terrified and cannot take it any longer. One afternoon he tells his friend that he is now armed. He is carrying an old bayonet and, if necessary, will defend himself.

Not long after this conversation two detectives (Emily Mortimer and Charlie Creed-Miles) come to see Harry Brown to tell him, that his friend has been killed. Beaten up and stabbed to death. Four young blokes are arrested, one more horrible than the other, some in and out of prison and coming from families in which the father, uncle or some other male relative is constantly in prison. The police questioning shows them from their ugliest side. They verbally abuse the female detective, swear and cheer because they know there is no evidence.  Despite their obvious violent tendencies, the police have to let them go.

And that’s when Harry Brown takes a decision. He will avenge his friend. After the first gang members and drug dealers are found dead, the police now shifts from looking for the murderers to trying to catch a vigilante.

Up to now it may seem as if it wasn’t justified to include Harry Brown in this blog but the fact that Harry Brown is an ex-Marine and has served in WWII is important and gets even more important from the moment he decides to take justice into his own hands.

This isn’t a glossed over movie with a tacky ending, this is a tale that might happen, that shows an ugly reality that is far from overdrawn. It also takes a close look at the frailty and loneliness old age can bring.

Harry Brown is one of those old-school soldiers who never spoke about what happened in the war, who possibly tried to avoid thinking of it. The loss of his wife and friend and the brutality of the murder triggers something and liberates him.

Funny enough, this is as well a movie of vengeance as a movie of closure. It’s not pretty, it’s not nice but it’s highly watchable and it shows an absolutely excellent Michael Caine.