David Fairhead and Anthony Palmer (director)
17 July 2018 (released)
10 July 2018
It’s not a surprise that the Spitfire has passed down the generations to become one of the most loved and respected of British icons. Their role in the defence of the UK and campaigns beyond has cemented their reputation as a precision engineered plane, flown by men and women of extraordinary courage.
It has lost none of its allure as it becomes more popular with more and more are being repaired for exhibition and air shows. What is maybe less well known is that the base design of those famous wings was based on those of a German fighter. It’s just one of the nuggets that this marvellous documentary throws up.
With a solid mix of contemporary reports and film, and last surviving veteran fighters and ground staff telling the story of all 24 fourteen versions is presented. A story of fast thinking pilots in the air, while on the ground equally fast thinking engineers refining the design of the plane. The UK was behind in the development of aircraft and as the enemy upped their game so did the engineers, almost plane for plane, eventually matching and surpassing.
The Battle of Britain and the Blitz naturally feature heavily, as the pilots recount their experiences with surprising candour. They knew some wouldn’t return and there was a reluctance to establish solid friendships. It’s a hard and unromantic but entirely understandable.
The documentary also focuses of the role of women at this time who as members of the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) flew Spitfire’s from the factories to the airbases. A dangerous job as for security the planes had no radio or any other aids. The multi-national make-up of the pilots is explored with flyers joining the RAF from all over the world.
The Spitfire, and Hurricanes, weren’t confined to the effort in the UK, being involved in the campaigns in North Africa, Malta and the invasion of France in 1944. A versatile aircraft the Spitfire was deployed to shoot down the V1 bomber. Such was the versatility of the design that the plane that it had been adapted 24 times by the end of the war. It was eventually decommissioned in 1957.
There’s a tendency to romanticise the role of the Spitfire, the combat and the pilots who fought and lost their lives. The bravery of the pilots, ATA and everyone involved is unquestionable. It is just that what is sometimes overlooked is that the plane was fundamentally a tool.
Co-directors David Fairhead and Anthony Palmer don’t gloss over that fact, and the pilots and contributors in the film are brutally clear that it was war machine; a weapon that was designed to kill as efficiently as possible.
However, there is room for some romance in a wonderful sequence when 100-year-old Mary Wilkins, a former member of the ATA, is reunited with Spitfire that she had signed and delivered, with her original signature still visible.