Battle of Britain - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Battle of Britain Reviews

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Daniel Mumby
Super Reviewer
½ August 16, 2011
The war film is a most contentious genre. For decades theorists have locked horns to dispute its role or purpose in popular culture. Some have argued that war films are an essential part of a nation's identity, and when done properly can be as much of a mark of respect as many more traditional memorials. Others have likened the whole genre to propaganda: by bringing people up in a culture where war is primarily portrayed through entertainment, they come to believe that war is an essential part of human life, and are therefore more willing to give their lives in what might seem a futile cause.

Battle of Britain is an interesting talking point in this debate, coming between the initial jingoistic wave of British post-war filmmaking and the resulting revisionism and anti-war efforts of the later-20th century. While patriotic in both intention and execution, it is not as troubling as The Bridge on the River Kwai in its glamorised depiction of the British stiff upper lip. But unlike David Lean's film it is found dramatically wanting, being well-meaning but disappointingly dull.

It's difficult to judge war films in terms of historical accuracy because they are in the end dramatic constructions. While especially true of Lean's film, this even applies to documentaries like The World at War: the individual choices of what footage to include, and in what order, have a big influence on the nature and stance of the finished product. Certain older films could be written off because we now know a lot more about given conflicts through declassified secrets - an argument Peter Jackson has made towards remaking The Dambusters. But more information does not necessarily equal better drama: Saving Private Ryan may have the most accurate depiction of D-Day, but that is not enough to stop it slipping into melodrama.

Battle of Britain earns initial brownie points because of its unprecedented access to war-era equipment and personnel. The production employed a large number of decorated airmen to serve as historical consultants, and worked closely with the RAF to track down surviving Spitfires and Hurricanes to assemble a squadron for filming. It took 3 years for producer Harry Saltzman to round up 100 aircraft, of which only 31 were airworthy, to make up what was nicknamed "the world's 35th largest air force".

The flying sequences are thereby enhanced by the knowledge that we are watching real planes jockeying for position, rather than models on a rolling backdrop. But even without that knowledge, these scenes are spectacular. Guy Hamilton, who previously directed Goldfinger, structures the key moments like the showdowns in the Bond series, cutting between elaborate wide shots and intense close-ups of the pilots. Even if the blood on screen is a little day-glo, the deaths are sudden and surprising, just as they should be.

In a further plus point, the German characters in the film are not only played by German actors but speak in German all through the film, something which was unprecedented in this genre. Not only do the filmmakers want things to be accurate, but they have the confidence and conviction to get the audience to read subtitles for sizeable parts of the action. There is a level of respect for both the audience and the historical figures which you wouldn't get from English actors delivering their lines in a pantomime German accent - or doing what Alec Guinness did in The Bunker and simply dressing like a Nazi without changing anything else.

This level of respect for the antagonists belies another quality of Battle of Britain. Although it sticks very closely to the orthodox view of history, it is not as jingoistic as it could have been: it doesn't spend its running time constantly shouting about how Blighty beat Gerry single-handedly with men to spare. One of the film's big selling points is its acknowledgement of the role that foreign pilots played in ending the battle. The film concludes with Sir Winston Churchill's famous quote - "never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few" - followed by a comprehensive breakdown of the casualties by nationality.

In its production values and treatment of the subject matter, Battle of Britain is a very noble piece of filmmaking. But all of this is in vain because it lacks the one ingredient which is desperately needed: drama. For all the meticulous preparation and research, and all the respect shown to both sides in the conflict, the film quickly gets bogged down because we can't connect with the characters emotionally, and simply admiring their courage isn't enough.

One of the film's biggest problems is its all-star cast. There is an extraordinary breadth of talent on offer, from relative newcomers like Michael Caine and Edward Fox to more established talents like Trevor Howard, Ralph Richardson and Laurence Olivier. But once the novelty of seeing these talents together has worn off, we realise that there is very little in the way of character focus or development: unlike Saving Private Ryan, there is no strong central performance on which to hang the story.

The film paints such a broad and episodic picture of the battle that we are given no real indication of whom we should be following. To some extent this is fair play: no-one can choose when their friends get killed. But because there are so many plot points going on at any one time, when people do meet a sticky end it comes more as an annoying diversion than a nasty shock. Even during the bombing of RAF Duxford (when a working hangar was accidentally destroyed by the film crew), you spend more time admiring the pyrotechnics than worrying about the people underneath them.

Because there is no central character among "the few" on whom we can focus, Battle of Britain ends up squandering most of its talented cast. Robert Shaw, one of the most intense and charismatic actors of his day, has surprisingly little to do besides barking orders to his men and telling the mechanics to hurry up. Caine turns up about 20 minutes in, acts a little stroppy, and the next thing we know he's been shot down. Even Olivier is on autopilot, as if he had been told in advance that The World at War was being made, and was using this film as an elaborate form of practice.

In order for this kind of film to be compelling, we have to believe that the characters are genuinely in danger, not only on a national scale but in terms of their relationships with each other. But beyond the occasional scene of men arguing with their wives, there is nothing in Battle of Britain which creates this level of tension. It often feels like hanging out with a bunch of actors in the bar after a day's shooting, with them having a jolly good time reminiscing while we sit there looking confused.

Because of its shortcomings in character and storytelling, Battle of Britain becomes less of a film than a re-enactment of newsreel footage with the (perceived) benefit of colour. Some sections of the film are so silly that they feel like propaganda - the worst being Edward Fox bailing out, crash-landing on someone's greenhouse, and being promptly offered a cigarette by the young boy standing nearby. Ron Goodwin's soundtrack is very stirring, but the film often relies on it so greatly that it becomes ridiculous. Without his stirring strings or bombastic brass, whole sections would consist of nothing more than cars driving very slowly, or people walking nowhere in particular.

Battle of Britain is an admirable but ultimately insipid effort to put the Battle of Britain on the big screen. It was made with all the best intentions and immense technical skill, but it lacks directorial and narrative vision. It pales in comparison with Lean's work in The Bridge on the River Kwai, and for all its similar faults A Bridge Too Far is a much better film. It's completely inoffensive and thoroughly watchable, but also total tosh and very bland.
Super Reviewer
October 15, 2010
Battle Of Britain is an excellent recreation of the Battle Of Britain of 1940. A superb film with terrific talent and directed by Guy Hamilton who made a name for himself by a directing four James Bond films. Battle Of Britain is a strong war film about one of Germany's greatest defeats. With the Battle Of Britain, the good fortune of Nazi Germany slowly took a turn for the worst, and the seemingly invincible German forces started facing defeat. Guy Hamilton's film is superb, the acting is so-so. But the aerial sequences are intense and well coordinated. In fact, some real planes of the war where used in the making of this film. The dog fights are well done, splendidly filmed. I don't understand why this film has gotten bad reviews. Because after all, it's fairly authentic and accurate at depicting this glorious victory of Britain over Nazi Germany. Battle Of Britain is one of the films to feature aerial combat . This is one of the strongest points of the film, and despite the decent acting, this film is still very much phenomenal due to the fact that it's great to see this impressive battle come to life on screen. Also, the film may spark interest for people wanting to read more on the war, and on this battle that changed the course of the war. All of the cast involved are good enough, but this is a film that focuses more on the battle itself, and less on the acting, and it's one of the reasons why this film is so terrific. Like many critics have said about this film, this film features the best aerial fighting sequences ever filmed. Sequences so exciting and so thrilling that not even modern day Hollywood films can top this film. Battle Of Britain is a unique film and an important look into one of Britains greatest victories during the war. A film thats also a must see for every history buff. Only people who want action packed non stop films like Iron Eagle and Top Gun, will hate this film. Because this is history, The Battle Of Britain really happened, and theres nothing boring or uninspired about this film. Great story, decent acting and phenomenal aerial combat scenes make this, THE air combat film to see. A classic. Plus it has something that Top Gun doesn't have, accuracy.
Super Reviewer
November 21, 2007
fantastic movie and captures the historical event that happened in 1940 britain!
really fantastic movie worth a watch!
Super Reviewer
½ August 17, 2007
This picture directed by Guy Hamilton of some of the James Bond movies left me disappointed. A couple of the same men to appear about a decade later in A Bridge Too Far are present again (Caine, Olivier, and Fox). A couple other faces stand out a little (Howard, Plummer, Shaw, and York). It really doesn't matter though because the characters are so under defined. I don't have any military experience let alone flying experience. I expect that anyone who does might enjoy this movie more. But I thought it was seriously lacking in the narrative or drama department. There was almost no development of the characters to give the audience reason to care for anyone. At least it was a WWII movie that had a major female character in the service with York. And it tried to give equal time to the German air force preparing to attack England. At least there was that. Hamilton and the producers ended up intricately recreating the battles in the air. It is one big reenactment! However, it becomes about showing off the fire and explosions and some maneuvers. They expected that the pure drama of the historical event would be enough to hold the audience's attention, but it wasn't for me. I was jumping to extremes when I thought that A Bridge Too Far made it too difficult to identify the actors and what was happening some times. When you hardly have time to get to know the characters and their personalities, try recognizing who is who with fighter pilot goggles and hoods and radio/air masks! And I had a bloody hard time telling which were the German planes and which were the British planes in the heat of battle! I guess I'd be no good serving in the air force. The making-of docs were more interesting in explaining the uses and challenges of the planes. One that I can't find on IMDb (hosted by Michael Caine) does a clearer job explaining the history with occasional clips from the movie and archival footage to show who was involved.
Super Reviewer
July 21, 2011
An overlong and very boring depiction of the events, the film doesn't fully utilize it's ensemble cast of great actors accordingly with the script and the film stutters more than it shines. This isn't to say that there are moments of brilliance and some exciting scenes, but The Battle of Britain is overhyped and having heard countless stories from my Grandma and uncles who lived during WWII in England, I wasn't too impressed overall.
Super Reviewer
½ February 25, 2013
With an extraordinary cast Hamilton recreates the brilliant dogfights and airborne drama with great panache and even had time to include a little melodrama along the way. At least this gives us a chance to get to know the characters a bit as once they're in the air and have their oxygen masks on it's difficult to tell them apart! Plummer and York have the best storyline but it's cut short a bit too quickly and Caine is barely in it at all. A good document of a vital moment in history and entertaining but with so many individual stories it's difficult to get emotionally involved.
October 10, 2008
It's a good film, but the problem for once is too much accuracy rather than too little. When in the air the characters all wear real fighter pilot masks which completely cover the recognizable parts of their faces. So unless you can identify Michael Caine's forehead from a brief shot as he's jerking violently in his seat you won't know what happens to him. Or Robert Shaw. Or any of the others. I honestly have no idea where they went. I presume that the ones I don't see again died, but it's impossible to tell how just from the snippets we get. Much as it pains me to say it they needed to do the ahistorical thing and have the pilots flying around unmasked, or else find some other way of identifying pilots through custom headgear or something.
½ January 1, 2015
"Battle of Britain" is a solid war film packed with stunning cinematography and jaw-dropping aerial combat sequences. Unfortunately, it is held back from true greatness by a script that shirks on small picture character development. Though the film is laudable for attempting to cover as much of the battle as possible, a finer focus would have done the dramatic side of the film well, as various subplots aren't developed to their true potential, and the massive cast of characters begins to blend into generic British and German war cliches. Michael Caine's turn as a pilot is fun, a Polish subplot is amusing, and one pilot's brief London experience shows flashes of emotional poignancy, but overall the film trips on the character side of things (particularly a poorly-written and plotted romance). Thankfully, however, the aerial combat sequences are a visual marvel, shot majestically and choreographed beautifully. The actual planes and practical effects stand the test of time easily, and the cinematography during a night raid on London proves chilling and haunting. World War II dogfights have perhaps never been so exhilaratingly exciting on film, because these planes and maneuvers are for real and thus utterly believable. The final sequence, dominated by music, is a haunting and elaborate symphony of the destruction of war that borders on the hypnotic. Though flawed on the personal narrative side, "Battle of Britain" plays out so interestingly on the big picture and rousingly cinematography-wise that it is well worth a watch.
½ January 9, 2013
This movie is the perfect example of something being a mile wide and an inch deep. There are too many characters, too many perspectives, and not enough feeling. If it weren't for the famous faces I wouldn't have been able to keep track of who anyone was or which side they were fighting for.
There are some truly brilliant shots of air combat scattered throughout but it all gets a bit tired by the end and without any real emotional core or character to latch onto I could help but lose the battle of indifference.
June 16, 2012
The year 1940 was a grim one for Britain. With their backs up against the wall they were the lone country in Western Europe still resisting the onslaught of Nazi Germany. Many felt that German victory was a foregone conclusion and after appealing for peace with the island nation Hitler unleashed the luftwaffe on the country in an effort to pave the way for an eventual land invasion.
Outnumbering the British in the number of aircraft the Germans began bombing airfields in Britain in an attempt to immobilize the beleaguered Royal Air Force. In this battle for the skies the British pilots, the Free French and Polish exiles stood together and faced off the threat in heroic style.
Produced by Harry Saltzman, one of the men behind the James Bond movies and directed by Guy Hamiltom (who had performed a similar chore for Saltzman on "Goldfinger") the movie features a veritable who's who cast of British stars. Joining Michael Caine, Robert Shaw, Harry Andrews, Edward Fox, Ralph Richardson, Trevor Howard and Laurence Olivier was Canadian star Christopher Plummer and German actor Curt Jurgens (who would go on later to play a Bond villain).
Based loosely on the book "Dual of Eagles" Hamilton directs "Battle of Britain" with his usual flair and the colors are vivid.
"Battle of Britain" has been applauded for its accuracy. In short it is a triumph of sixties World War II filmmaking.
½ May 22, 2012
Quite good and more than a little bit Bond-like. The European theater's answer to "Tora! Tora! Tora!"
January 27, 2012
Great aerial combat flick, slick cast, great sound design and surprisingly good special effects meshed together with actual airborne stuntwork. I'd love to see this on blu-ray!
½ December 26, 2010
It was a pretty good war story and seeing Michael Caine young was fun, but not really my type of movie. It felt a bit long at over 2 hours and repetitive. The special effects were also unsurprisingly poor since it was 1969.
May 23, 2010
An incredible roster of actors don their smocks to paint up this larger-than-life portrait of the courageous 1940 RAF defense of Britain's skies.

There's a Panavision canvas and a Technicolor palette, yet the finished painting doesn't quite capture the viewer's interest or awe as much as many other mid-Century epics.

The editors apparently left about half of the subplots on the cutting-room floor in order to give even wider berth to the film's lush centerpiece: the authentic - and/or authentically staged - dogfight footage that employs well the width that Panavision offered.

Unfortunately, all that cutting results in far more puzzlement than drama for the viewer.

RECOMMENDATION: Despite the shortcomings, the quality of the aerial cinematography - and the simultaneous staging of this many classic talents - clearly earns the film a screening.
½ September 11, 2010
I really like this flick, and watch it at least a couple of times a year. it shows the desperate state of Britain while it was standing alone against Nazi Germany, and only the RAF was holding them back. Sure the effects will look a bit dated now, but the essence of hope and desperation keep me in the loop all the way to the end. I also like how the RAFpilots are prortrayed...they were young men put into a deadly situation, and the horror of air war is at the core of this film. The one part I don't care for is the side storyline of the personal life of the characters played by Christopher Plummer and Suzanna York. Oh well, there's always the fast forward feature.
½ June 5, 2010
Looses half a star for the stupid obligatory love story. The action is among the finest on film, and I am always a sucker for the star-studded WWII drama.
½ February 27, 2010
A fine film recreating some of the finest moments in Britain's history. For a film made in 1969 this was a great example of CG from that time period. The R.A.F.'s Spitfires fighting the Germans Stukas was incredible! The movie was a little bit to long for my taste but it is hard to recreate a battle and squeeze it into two hours. The acting and was okay, but over all it was a super cool movie. All the WWII games that have been created for our enjoyment today are pretty much exactly what was in this movie. The computer games that I have grown up playing like Tiger Hunt and Dogfight were like watching the game in film version. The only thing I have to complain about is that this movie was rated G but it had some mild profanity (SOB and so on) and a painting of a topless woman in the barracks.
½ January 23, 2009
This movie was pretty good depiction of the Battle of Britain. It's pretty good since this film was not made too long after World War 2. I thought it was intresting that the Germans got the better music than he British.
January 20, 2009
One of the best World War II movies of all time. It includes one of the best war movie scores ever and it?s nearly as good as Patton.
September 25, 2007
July 1940. France has fallen and Britain braces itself for the
inevitable German onslaught. In order to invade Britain, Germany must
first gain air superiority. All that stands in its way are the brave
few - the fighter pilots of the RAF.

Stirring telling of the RAF's finest hour. Great aerial battle scenes
and some good insights into the strategic aspect of the conflict.

Not perfect though - pacing and continuity are a bit choppy. Plus, some
scenes are unnecessary, thrown in for extra human drama but which
detract from the story. Still, a great war movie.

All-star cast delivers in spades: Laurence Olivier (as Air Chief
Marshall Hugh Dowding), Michael Caine, Christopher Plummer, Trevor
Howard, Susanna York, Kenneth More and Michael Redgrave plus future
stars in Ian McShane and Edward Fox.
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