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Battle of BritainBattle of Britain – Collector’s Edition – on DVD

“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

So said Winston Churchill after the Battle of Britain, referring to the RAF and other allied air and ground personnel who faced overwhelming odds yet managed to beat back the Nazi war machine and keep Britain free.

Battle of Britain is from producer Harry Saltzman, of early (and best) James Bond movie fame, and it’s a wonderful motion picture that is not only an interesting historical epic but which also features spectacular aerial footage that aviation fans will want to have in their collection.

It’s 1940 and France is falling to the Nazi onslaught and British fighter jocks head back home just before the German forces reach their bases. They take up their positions at bases in Jolly Olde, awaiting what they expect will be the inevitable German invasion. They’re ready and willing, but being outnumbered about four to one by the Nazi air force, are they able to defend Blighty?

An all star cast takes us through these and subsequent events, a cast that includes such giants as Laurence Olivier and Ralph Richardson, Trevor Howard, Michael Caine, Curt Jurgens, Christopher Plummer, Robert Shaw and Susannah York (who looks great in uniform!). There’s a lot of depth to this talent, and for the most part they get to exercise their acting chops with a substantial storyline that for the most part eschews soap opera stuff and concentrates on the strategies, tactics, and pluck of the characters.

The summer of 1940 has been called Britain’s finest hour, and this movie shows some of the reasons why, though by no means all. There’s a good documentary called Finest Hour that makes a good companion piece to Battle of Britain, but for sheer entertainment you can’t beat this version. Spectacular shots show the type of damage being inflicted upon England by the Nazis, whether it be airfields or London being bombed.



The London bombing shows the stiff upper lip of the British people, whether huddled in the tube or in supposedly safe havens, one of which brings the true cost of war home to one of the movie’s pilot heroes.

Battle of Britain, the DVD, has received a good and loving treatment, and though the picture is generally very good we’d have love to see the kind of painstaking restoration done to it that other movies (Gone with the Wind being a prime example) are getting in this digital age.

The picture is presented in anamorphic widescreen, 16x9 TV compatible, and as mentioned looks good for the most part. Audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 (the original mono track is also included) and our big complaint is that its volume is very low. That said, once you crank it the Rolls Royce Merlin engines (among others) come through very well, and MGM has done a very good job of the 5.1 remix: planes zoom around the room in a most rewarding manner.

The mono track is also very low, and we preferred the 5.1 mix because of how it made the planes fly around the room.

There’s another audio track, too, a 5.1 mix of William Walton’s score.

Disc one also features a running commentary with director Guy Hamilton, aerial sequence director Bernard Williams and historian Paul Annett. It’s quite interesting.

Disc two has a lot of meat to it as well. Our favorite of the documentaries (as plane nuts) was “Authenticity in the Air,” which is a wonderful look at the logistics and painstaking effort that went into making the flying scenes real. There’s also a “full length” “Battle for the Battle of Britain” documentary hosted by Michael Caine, a “making of” featurette that talks about how they endeavored to be faithful to “the few”, “Recollections of an RAF Squadron Leader,” and an animated photo gallery.

Movie buffs can enjoy Battle of Britain for its action and spectacular epic filmmaking. History buffs can enjoy it for its treatment of the “source material.” And flying buffs will revel in the wonderful scenes involving real Hurricane, Spitfire and Messerschmit fighters, and the Stuka and Heinkel bombers.

Battle of Britain, from MGM Home Entertainment
132 min. Anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1, 16x9 TV compatible), Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
Starring Harry Andrews, Michael Caine, Trevor Howard, Curt Jurgens, Ian McShane, Kenneth More, Laurence Olivier, Nigel Patrick, Christopher Plummer, Michael Redgrave, Ralph Richardson, Robert Shaw, Patrick Wymark, Susannah York
Produced by Harry Saltzman and S. Benjamin Fisz
Written by James Kennaway and Wilfred Greatorex, directed by Guy Hamilton

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Updated May 13, 2006