Remembering a great plane and the men who flew her.



It is clearly not by chance that this documentary feature reaches us in the year that marks the centenary of the RAF. In the course of this film by Anthony Palmer and David Fairhead there are references to the Hurricane but it is fair to say that it was the Spitfire that played the most significant role in Britain’s war in the air between 1939 and 1945. The story of its design and initial development by R. J. Mitchell was famously told in the wartime hit film The First of the Few extracts from which are briefly incorporated here, but Mitchell would die at the early age of 42 in 1937 and this film, despite telling the tale from 1931 onwards, is naturally concerned in the main with the war years.


Spitfire has a narration delivered by Charles Dance but, first and foremost, it is an opportunity to hear direct from the now aged pilots who flew Spitfires in the years crucial to the survival of this country. Their recollections are accompanied by appropriate images, a combination of actual footage from the period and fresh shots of Spitfires seen in colour and ’Scope. These aircraft would become essential killing machines yet their design was such as to invite comparison with the beauty of birds in flight. The sight of them here certainly makes this a work best seen on the cinema screen and it does not feel out of place when, in the film’s final moments, the movement of these aircraft high above the ground suggests something akin to an aerial ballet.


This is essentially a film that tells its tale in chronological order and, while that feels right, it does mean that the event that is really its climax, the Battle of Britain, comes in the middle of the film. I suspect that viewers with a particular interest in the subject matter will find my rating here rather too harsh. It is certainly a personal one reflecting the fact that I did feel that, given its length, the film needed more shaping in its last third. The pilots from whom we hear, not all men, are great value but some of their later comments start to feel repetitive and at least one episode (it involves a plane on an assignment to Malta making a desperate bid to reach Gibraltar while its fuel lasts) comes across as an overly self-conscious re-enactment.


Despite my feeling that the film fell away somewhat in its later stages, I greatly admired its first hour and applauded the chance it gave us to see and hear so many who in their youth were part and parcel of the Spitfire’s golden age. Among them is the centenarian Mary Ellis who as a pilot ferried many a plane to its first operative airport. Regardless of the reservations I have expressed here, I feel that I can say with confidence that those who feel strongly drawn to seeing Spitfire are unlikely to be disappointed by what is on the screen.


Note:  The general release date of this film is 20 July as shown below but there is a special one-day screening at many cinemas on Tuesday, 17 July.




Featuring  Mary Ellis, Geoffrey Wellum, Tom Neil, Paul Farnes, Allan Scott, Ken ‘Paddy’ French, Andy Jones, Alan Jones, Maxi Gianza and with the voice of Charles Dance.


Dir Anthony Palmer and David Fairhead, Pro Anthony Palmer, David Fairhead, John Dibbs, Gareth Dodds and Steve Milne, Ph John Collins and John Dibbs, Ed David Fairhead, Music Chris Roe.


British Film Company/Elliptical Wing/Haviland Digital/Mark Stewart Productions-Altitude Film Distribution.
95 mins. UK. 2018. Rel: 20 July 2018. Cert. PG.