303 Squadron **
Dir: Denis Delic. With: Piotr Adamczyk, Kirk Barker, Maciej Zakoscielny, Cara Theobold. 104 mins. Cert: 15
Another week, another plucky recruit to our ever-swelling reserves of war movies, attempting to recreate aspects of a major global conflict on a tuppence-ha’penny budget. September gave us Hurricane, a UK-produced, English-language drama centred on those Polish airmen who played a vital part in seeing off the Luftwaffe at the Battle of Britain. With Armistice Day approaching, we’re now offered this Polish-funded take on the same history. In theory, it should be the stronger venture: its creatives are closer to these events, and it spares us the distraction of seeing Welsh-born Game of Thrones actors playing Eastern European hotshots. The plodding, undistinguished soap set before us, however, is hamstrung by evidently modest resources and a stiffness born of a desire to serve two audiences simultaneously.
The three-pronged writing staff appointed to adapt journalist Arkady Fiedler’s non-fiction account of the same name have at least grasped this is a story in direct conversation with our present moment, mapping how the airmen overcame any xenophobia among their hosts by doing a sterling job. Yet they dramatise this détente with no great skill or flair, chopping artlessly between timeframes while handing clumsy expository dialogue to those mummers who presumably flunked the Hurricane medicals. The Polish leads get to speak in their own subtitled tongue, which is a progression, but the faceless British personnel yield regular cringes from their opening cries of “Tally ho!”; one officer eventually describes the Poles as “the bloody best pilots we’ve got”, which is not a natural formulation.
At a push, the film might serve as dozy matinee filler for those with an all-consuming interest in the subject. Cinematographer Waldemar Szmidt’s exteriors – planes parked in fields at magic hour, much rolling countryside – display a sunkissed handsomeness, though nothing really convinces us we’re looking at Northolt circa 1940. On those rare occasions the film gets off the ground, the computer-assisted dogfights are functional enough, if never as involving or thrilling as they needed to be. Such shortfalls finally condemn it to the 24-hour garage bargain bin of history: those who flew and fought – and in several cases fell to earth – surely merit greater cinematic application than this makeshift memorial, hewn from balsawood and sticky-backed plastic, can possibly summon.
303 Squadron opens in cinemas nationwide today.