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Battle of Britain (1969)

But the essential arithmetic is that our young men will have to shoot down their young men at the rate of four to one, if were to keep pace at all.

Rating: 6/10

Running Time: 151 minutes

US Certificate: PG UK Certificate: PG


Chocks away, tally ho, no-sex-please and off into the wild blue yonder we bally well go! It’s 1940, it’s World War II, and Gerry can do his ruthlessly-efficient worst for all we care – because this is Blighty, and neither we nor our large moustaches are going anywhere!

What a film ‘Battle of Britain’ should be. It is, after all, based on one of Britain’s best war stories. It’s about the Luftwaffe arriving in their thousands, and the RAF beating them back (I hope I’m not giving away the ending for anyone!) through sheer spirit, determination and stiff-upper-lippedness. Its cast list reads like a veritable British dream team, from Michael Caine and Laurence Olivier to Christopher Plummer and Robert Shaw. Even the mahogany-faced Ian “Lovejoy” McShane is in there, along with Sir Ralph Richardson, and big John Savident, better known as ‘Coronation Street’s Fred Elliott (I say Fred Elliott).

Even better, it’s now been given the special edition treatment, and comes at us all guns blazing with commentaries, documentaries, featurettes, and Caine strolling through 1960s London telling us things that not a lot of people know.

Unfortunately, the whole thing is a bit of a let-down. As already mentioned, there’s a fantastic cast, but there’s just so bloody many of them that it’s all too easy to lose track of who’s doing what and where they’re all going – and, even if you’re able to keep up with it all, none of them get enough screen time to really make them interesting. When you consider the film runs at well over two hours – more than enough time to work in a bit of character development – it’s a flaw that there’s really no excuse for.

What saves it from becoming an extremely expensive flop is the all-out impressiveness of the mid-air battle scenes. Sure, it was made way back in 1969, but the sheer splendour of seeing those old Spitfires tossing and turning in the skies hasn’t been matched in the years since. It’s also extremely brightly-coloured and glossy-looking for a piece of work that’s now more than 30 years old, and that – combined with the historical subject matter – means it hasn’t dated in the slightest. It really is quite incredible to see a film this old looking quite so fresh.

By far and away the best thing about it though is William Walton’s rousing score, not used on the original version of the film but now available as an accompaniment for the first time thanks to the wonders of DVD. It’s almost enough to have you standing saluting for the full two-and-a-half-hours. Almost.

It's Got: John Savident – better or known as ‘Coronation Street’s Fred Elliott (I say Fred Elliott).

It Needs: For us all to thank our lucky stars the battle wasn’t settled by penalty shoot-out.

DVD Extras Two behind-the-scenes featurettes, a couple of historical documentaries, an animated photo gallery, audio commentary with director Guy Hamilton and his crew, and a couple of trailers. DVD Extras Rating: 6/10


Sit back, think of Britain, and try to ignore the fact that it’s not half as good as it should be.