Director: Guy Hamilton
Writer: James Kennaway and Wilfred Greatorex
Cast: Harry Andrews, Michael Caine, Trevor Howard, Curt Jurgens, Ian McShane, Kenneth More, Laurence Olivier, Michael Redgrave, Robert Shaw, Susannah York
According to Winston Churchill’s famous victory quote after the Battle of Britain, “never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”. And it’s a reflection on the scale of Guy Hamilton’s epic Second World War picture that, although the real battle was fought for just over six weeks in the skies over southern England in 1940, the film version was shot over 14 months and utilised many locations in England, France and Spain. The film, which cost £12million, was extremely expensive in its day and attracted a the best of British acting talent.
LAURENCE OLIVIER stars as Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, the man who has to marshal a depleted British fighter force against incessant Luftwaffe attacks in the summer of 1940. While he’s fighting for more planes to combat the German aerial invasion, pilots such as Squadron Leaders Skipper and Harvey (ROBERT SHAW and CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER, respectively) have to take the strain of daily combat, constantly staring death in the face. The film is an earnest look at the realities of war, from both sides of the divide.
Guy Hamilton was no stranger to directing action movies, having previously directed Goldfinger and subsequently three more James Bond films, and he was greatly assisted in capturing the many breathtaking aerial ‘dogfights’ between Spitfires and Stukas by Oscar-winning cinematographer Freddie Young. These action sequences were praised by the critics at the time, with Variety commenting on the battle sequences as “splendidly conceived and sweepingly dramatic,” while also citing Olivier’s “great performance” as Dowding. It summed up Battle of Britain as being “an important film on an important subject. It also provides a pretty handsome tribute to a bunch of ordinary guys who, in many cases, were heroes in spite of themselves.”