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The Battle of Britain Essay

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The world at war was a twenty six part documentary series produced between 1971 and 1974 by Jeremy Isaacs of Thames Television. It features many key interview subjects from the common soldier in the armies to major figures in the war. The series was proved popular and controversial when it was first broadcasted in 1974, with the emotive music by Carl Davis and the voice of Laurence Olivier as narrator. This review is on a clip from the series focusing on the Battle of Britain. The drop in morale of Churchill’s forces following the fall of France to the Nazis is evident from this clip.

The documentary presents the battle of Britain as restoring British confidence and describes it as Britain’s “finest hour”. The battle is portrayed as victorious on Britain’s behalf; there is a sense of optimism in this clip. Following humiliation at Dunkirk the battle of Britain is Britain’s redemption and this is seen clearly in the visual images of the battle and the spoken word. For example BBC reporter Charles Gardener’s commentary on the battle is interesting, he states “that was beautiful… the RAF really got these boys” when commenting over images of the battle.

This particular clip is somewhat biased, there is no mention of the German point of view of the battle only an English viewpoint. The images within this film are the closest thing to a definitive visual history of the Second World War. It is also of mention that the film gives the accounts of ordinary men such as RAF pilot Ray Holmes. It goes on to present two different British view points on German pilots; however it does not provide us with any German accounts. The interpretation of the programme is that ultimately Britain won the Battle.

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There are many references throughout that lead us to believe that Germany were not trained and prepared enough for an air war over England. The commentary of the Battle itself or the interviews with Adolf Galland the Luftwaffe Squadron leader illustrate Germany as the weaker side. It is blatant that the film is directed at a British audience as there is a lot of pro British bias throughout it. One would be persuaded to agree with the interpretation offered that Germany was pessimistic and much weaker than their British opponents, this was in fact the case and it cost Germany the Battle of Britain.

The Way to the Stars is set on a RAF airfield in the 1940’s; it follows the intertwined lives of several characters throughout the war. The film begins with pure atmosphere and emotive music. In the opening shot the camera prowls through a derelict post war airfield picking up tokens from the war such as telephone numbers scribbled on the wall and a sign on the floor, it is quite a moving scene. The film appears to focus more on the relationships between the different characters rather than on combat itself.

There are no battles or bombs going off all we see are the planes taking off and landing. The film depicts human relations on the air base more so than Britain’s response to a possible German attack. There is virtually no “action” apart from a brief scene at the beginning when the airbase is bombed. However, this absence of battle or combat does not in any way reduce the films ability to convey the tensions and numbing ferocity of the routine death-toll amongst the British by the Germans in daylight bombings.

The German air threat is extremely high, yet the fact that this is mentioned very little in the film makes it even more authentic and adds to the reality of what life was like on a British airbase. The “stiff upper lip” attitude is heavily on display throughout the film and Anglo-American relations seem to be another focal point on display, after all it was a subtle propaganda film made during the war by the Ministry of Information. The manor in which one of the women in the hotel speaks to Peter Penrose makes the viewer aware of the class relations at the time.

The women, an aunt of Iris appears to look down on Penrose and speaks to him in an inferior manor. The class divide is evident here, even between the upper class and the typically respected RAF pilots. The way the film represents the historical issue of the Second World War is somewhat different to the approach likely to be adopted by an academic historian. This film never leaves the ground and is centered more on relationships and dealing with war. Whereas historians would take a different approach and look at it as it was, a world war and not just how it affected British and America lives.

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