The Battle of Britain on Screen

The Battle of Britain on Screen: 'The Few' in British Film and Television Drama

S. P. MacKenzie
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 192
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3366/j.ctt1r290g
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  • Book Info
    The Battle of Britain on Screen
    Book Description:

    This book examines in depth for the first time the origins, development, and reception of the major dramatic screen representations of ‘The Few’ in the Battle of Britain produced over the past seventy years.

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-3024-0
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-5)

    More than half a century after the firing stopped, the Second World War continues to resonate in the public imagination. For many decades now, whole shelves have been devoted to it in bookshops great and small, as specialist and general publishers have fed an apparently insatiable appetite for works devoted to the battles, figures, and events of the war. In the 1950s dramatic accounts of various operations that had occurred between 1939 and 1945 were a money-spinning staple of the British cinema industry. And ever since watching the small screen supplanted visiting the big screen as a common social habit,...

  6. 1 The Battle Foretold: The Lion Has Wings (1939)
    (pp. 7-21)

    As well as being a central feature of the popular mythology that grew up around the war, the Battle of Britain must rank among the most widely anticipated events of the twentieth century. For at least a decade prior to the war, people from all walks of life had been thinking, talking, and writing about a future conflict in which aerial armadas would play a decisive role. Rather paradoxically, in light of the pride subsequently taken in the actual battle, this anticipation was heavily tinged with dread.

    In the interval between the world wars there had developed a widespread belief...

  7. 2 Spitfire of Dreams: The First of the Few (1942)
    (pp. 23-45)

    As soon as it was clear that the Luftwaffe had been comprehensively defeated in the daylight battles over England in August and September 1940, and the threat of invasion thereby averted, film companies began thinking about celebrating this singular victory on celluloid. For a number of reasons, though, it would take almost a year for a British feature film in which the Battle of Britain played a significant role to reach the screen; and almost two until audiences were able to judge the major effort by Leslie Howard to interpret the outcome of the battle with reference to the career...

  8. 3 One for All: Angels One Five (1952)
    (pp. 47-59)

    Though there were relatively few British films about the war experience in the immediate aftermath of victory, the 1950s would prove to be the heyday of the British war picture. In the years after the war, those participants who had interesting experiences to relate and the means to do so were often either putting pen to paper or hiring writers to tell their stories. Many of the resulting works were sought after by a reading public eager to find out more about what had actually happened than had been possible under wartime news censorship restrictions. British film-makers in turn hoped...

  9. 4 All for One: Reach for the Sky (1956)
    (pp. 61-73)

    As previously noted, stories about the Second World War were among the most bankable subjects for film-makers in the 1950s, particular subjects becoming especially attractive if they had already achieved success in print. This was certainly the case with Reach for the Sky, the authorised biography of the legless air ace, Douglas Bader, that had achieved best-seller status immediately after its initial publication in March 1954. Once developed into a feature film released in the summer of 1956, Reach for the Sky would show the Battle of Britain in a fashion superficially similar to, yet profoundly different from, the version...

  10. 5 The Big Picture: The Battle of Britain (1969)
    (pp. 75-97)

    In the years following Reach for the Sky, it was by no means clear that there would be at any time soon another big-screen film dealing with the Battle of Britain. This was not because its success deterred other film-makers from tackling some of the same subject matter; war films, after all, continued to make money into the first years of the next decade. Rather, a combination of cultural and demographic factors made a film less likely in the 1960s.

    By the end of the 1950s it was increasingly obvious that watching television at home was supplanting going out to...

  11. 6 Catalogue of Error: Piece of Cake (1988)
    (pp. 99-119)

    In marked contrast to the weakening British film industry, the television business in Britain seemed to be going from strength to strength from the mid-1950s onwards. By 1960, five years after the advent of commercial television in Britain, the number of annual television licences issued had climbed to over ten million; by 1970, to over fifteen million; and by 1980 to over eighteen million. And, while only 2 per cent of households had a colour set the year after colour broadcasting began in 1969, a decade later the figure had jumped to 76 per cent; and a decade after that...

  12. 7 The Fighter Boys: A Perfect Hero (1991)
    (pp. 121-142)

    As the 1980s gave way to the 1990s, the myth-busting approach to 1940 And All That continued in the pages of the left-wing New Statesman and in work of anti-establishment writers such as Clive Ponting. They were soon joined by conservative revisionists, such as John Charmley and Alan Clark, who argued that the Battle of Britain had been a mistake and that the country would have been better off in terms of global power and influence if Churchill had not rejected peace overtures from Hitler. Yet, as some of the reactions to Piece of Cake indicated, there were also those...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 143-152)

    Over the past sixty-odd years the representation on screen of the Battle of Britain as drama has undergone an evolutionary process in which established images and attitudes have developed roughly in tandem with the changing social and cultural landscape of twentieth-century Britain. The Lion Has Wings and First of the Few helped develop, under wartime censorship conditions, a basic narrative of events in which The Few vanquish the many with the Spitfire. In the following decade, with more factors able to be discussed openly, elements were added to this basic David-and-Goliath story in Angels One Five and Reach for the...

  14. Select Filmography
    (pp. 153-156)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 157-174)
  16. Index
    (pp. 175-182)