Released in cinemas and on iTunes to coincide with the one hundredth anniversary of the Royal Air Force, this new documentary celebrates what is undoubtedly Britain’s most famous aircraft. The film’s objective is to detail the creation of the iconic plane before going on to explain, through talking head interviews with some of the few surviving pilots, what it was like to fly one in battle. It also effectively describes the importance the one seater fighter repeatedly played in turning the tide of WW2, possibility even in a way that hasn’t been done before. Much of this has been discussed before of course, apart from what feels like a slightly revelatory suggestion that the plane included some German design, but there is nothing wrong with that. The Spitfire’s tale of excellent engineering, human fortitude and lasting symbolism certainly merits retelling. One thing new that the film does is highlight the importance of the women who flew Spitfires, not in battle but to deliver them from the factories to the airfields. Anyone interested in feminist stories hidden in history will appreciate this but actually for me the most intriguing idea explored is the notion that the iconic aeroplane’s special place in our public consciousness is, and always has been, down largely to cinema.
Clearly information did not spread in the thirties like it does now and this doc posits that it was the 1942 movie The First of the Few (in the US just called Spitfire) that first told people about R. J. Mitchell and the capabilities of the plane he invented in a way they could easily digest and discuss. Presumably there wouldn’t have been many living in the UK during the war who saw or even heard a Spitfire, many of their flights taking place over The Channel and the South and later Malta and France, but The First of the Few ensured that lots of people up and down the UK knew the distinctive sound of those Rolls Royce Merlin engines. Numerous other films made since similarly mean that people still know it now. (Of course there was plenty of news footage in the thirties and forties too but people watched that in the cinema as well.)
So whether your knowledge of these legendary machines comes from old movies like Malta Story or Reach for the Sky or newer films like Pearl Harbour, Saving Private Ryan or Dunkirk. If you’ve seen them in all sorts of TV shows from Foyle’s War to Doctor Who or if, like me you admire them because your Dad admired them and installed in you your own respect for them then this new documentary can only add to this.