History Challenge 46-47 | An Island Alone

This is where we have now reached in the history challenge: Nazi Germany has invaded Poland and the world has been plunged once again into a bitter struggle for survival. Now Britain stands alone in the darkness, waiting for them to come…

#46: The Battle of Britain

General Opinion: Good if slightly compromised by age and character.

Review: What strikes you first about this one is the awesome majesty of the flying scenes. Aces High had some good quality flying scenes but they were nothing compared to this. These have a startling beauty to them, like no other film has. Again, they’re real planes flying over southern England, most of the time… Although in the shots where they’re flying through clear blue skies with no ground in sight… Yeah… They were filmed in Spain… We can’t begrudge them that though as the sky is the sky. But still, the flying scenes, accompanied by the fantastic music are really beautiful. The Planes loop de-loop, they chase each other and they dance around in the sky in very much the same way that the real WW2 aces did. It all looks, for the most part realistic.

There are a few problems with these scenes however. Some of the explosions in the air are very dire and obviously fake. This isn’t due to the filmmakers though. It’s more to do with the fact that the film is nearly forty five years old and as such the techniques they used then have become a little dated. Granted, these days the explosions would probably be better, but the planes would undoubtedly be CGI and look a little rubbish. (Apparently they are remaking this film and this WILL happen.) But that’s only the aerial explosions… You can’t really blow up Heinkels and Spitfires in mid air… It wouldn’t be cost effective or safe. Admittedly, some of the interior shots of pilots are a bit weak as well… But who cares about them?

Nevertheless, the rest of the explosions are awesome… and real… at REAL RAF sites. No using mocked up sets here… It’s all real. How they actually did it astonishes me as even all these years later most of it still looks good. If somebody had put me down in front of this film and not told me the year I would have guessed it was younger than it actually is. In most ways, this film defies it’s age and puts it’s modern counterpoints to shame (Yes… I’m looking at you… Pearl Harbour!). And although they make a few things up for plotting and there are mild anomalies here and there, this is about as accurate as it gets. I doubt we’ll see anything more accurate this late on in the challenge. Again, it puts it’s modern counterparts to shame (Again… Looking at you, Pearl Harbour.)

But although this film is likeable and entertaining one thing lets it down. It doesn’t really have any proper ‘characters’ as the film is more about the battle itself, which is also kind of a good thing as there is less to distract from the main plot. There are a lot of characters but unlike in Gosford Park you do kind of know who each one is. The problem comes when it’s time for them to exit stage left. You don’t really know when they do. Michael Caine goes at one point (Yes… he’s here, with a bad accent this time) and Christopher Plumber (Yup… Again!) survives but is badly injured… When these two things actually happened I’m not so sure. It might have been better if the film was a bit more character centric, but that’s only a might.

Oh… And for some reason Barrack Obama turns up as a Polish pilot… Blink and you’ll miss him.

Rating: 8/10- A few minor faults drag it down.

#47: Hope and Glory

General Opinion: Depressing… Oh God… this is soooo depressing!

Review: I don’t think this film is supposed to be depressing… But when you’ve been through nearly two thousand years of history it turns out that’s what it is, depressing. To see the country we’ve watched grow from a small backwater province of the Roman Empire to a huge global superpower reduced to cowering, alone and facing impossible odds of survival… It gets to you right from the off and then it kind of keeps biting your heels for the rest of the film.

But overall, this is a different kind of war film than what we’ve seen. It’s not soldiers going off to fight in distant lands or daring heroes in flying machines… This is about ordinary people and how they cope as the world they know crumbles and changes around them. It’s really, at it’s heart, a black comedy about the blitz as seen through the eyes of a ten year old boy, Billy. But like I said… It’s depressing, especially in the darker scenes set during the air raids. At one point there is a long, panning shot of a ruined street and people walking among the debris and the ruins against a backdrop of smoke and more rubble whilst sombre music plays in the background. And later on, after Billy’s  house catches fire it’s fairly sad as well. The beginning isn’t cheerful either. It’s kind of bleak and foreboding, referring to the sound of lawnmowers and how it was never the same after the war started.

But it is a black comedy and it’s not all depressing. There are some light, humorous moments in there, such as where Billy learns to swear after catching a couple of people having a shag in a ruined house, where a group of boys line up to catch a glimpse at some girls growler or where a school full of children recite their times tables in gasmasks… The film essentially prods at the absurdity of war with a long stick, mainly through Billy’s perspective.

And then there is a nice contrast between town and countryside. In the town everything is falling apart and bombs rain down from the sky and everyone is paranoid, in the countryside however it’s almost as if Edwardian England still exists in a weird ‘Wind in the Willows’ blissful childhood playing by the riverbank kind of a way. It’s a nice contrast though we still see the war filtering through (a stray bomber, a propaganda film being filmed etc.) At least the countryside bits aren’t depressing. In fact they bouy up the whole film.

It’s an entertaining film well worth a look if you haven’t seen it. But a couple of things bug me. First off, Billy’s sister gets pregnant by a Canadian soldier boy and by the end he deserts so that he can marry her… But then he dissappears, the baby is born and he’s never mentioned again… Didn’t they shoot deserters? Not sure… But it would explain why he’s not mentioned again.

And the other thing… At the end (Ok… spoiler here… stop reading if you want!) Billy’s school gets bombed and all the kids dance around happily whilst the teachers loose control… But one kid just shouts ‘Thank You Adolf!” and runs off. About a minute later the film ends… What you don’t see is that kid being arrested and imprisoned for being a ‘Nazi sympathiser.’ (Potential Sequel Alert!). Come on… You know it happened.

Rating: 9/10


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