War films that focus on the second world war are fascinating to the British public. Some would describe it as the war that cemented Britain as truly great and decry any anti-war sentiment as anti-British rhetoric. We commemorate those who died in both the first and second world war every 11th November, adorning a poppy to show our respect and remembrance. Personally films about the Second World War that centre around the RAF hold a particular interest. My late grandfather enlisted in the RAF as an Aircraftsman. He saw action in Egypt, Palestine, Italy and Tripolitania. He seldom spoke of his war experiences except to mention how difficult it was to play football in the sand dunes of the desert. Since his death earlier this year I’ve been keen to find out more about the experiences of those in the RAF during the second world war. This drew me to watch Hurricane, a film based on the true story of RAF Squadron 303 during the Battle of Britain.
The first thing that should come up in the mind of film critics and history buffs should be the accuracy and authenticity of the film. The key parts of the film appears to be accurate. Jan Zumbach (played by Iwan Rheon) was a real life pilot who was an integral part of Squadron 303. Flight Lieutenant John Kent (played by Milo Gibson) was a real flight commander who was given the nickname of ‘Kentowski’ by his Polish comrades. Hurricane is unafraid to depict the events surrounding the 303 as truthfully as possible. This includes showing the antipathy from certain British characters who treat the Polish pilots with some amount of disdain and disrespect for merely being from an invaded land. This is done in a nuanced way: the British characters are not archetypal villains or two-dimensional obstacles. Hurricane manages to find the middle ground to ensure fair representation which is not an easy thing to achieve.
In spite of its low budget of $10,000,000, Hurricane goes to incredible lengths to represent the Squadron with as much respect and appreciation as possible. It would have been easy to have simply hired English actors and either get them to put on vague accents or speak in their normal voices. Whilst Hurricane main star Iwan Rheon is British, it’s clear he put in a huge amount of effort to portray Zumbach as accurately as possible by not only speaking Polish fluently but also capturing a great Polish accent whilst his character speaks English. The rest of the Polish characters are all played by Polish actors. The casting is near perfect and every set looks like it was ripped from the 1940s. It demonstrates to audiences exactly what can be done when filmmakers treat their historical subject with the kind of respect it deserves. At the end one discovers the general fate of the Polish who fought for the British during the war. It doesn’t produce some inspiring ending a la Saving Private Ryan. It ends in the way that’s far more authentic to the experiences of the Squadron and flies in the face of pro-British war propaganda that conveniently omits the achievements of Squadron 303. It’s all to the credit of director David Blair and the whole cast and crew for their dedicated work.
A compelling, heartbreaking story that excels in spite of its budget restraints Hurricane is a must-see for all movie goers. The real life pilots it shows deserve the recognition and respect the British failed to do so in their lifetimes. We can start by supporting this film.
Dir: David Blair
Scr: Robert Ryan, Alastair Galbraith
Cast: Iwan Rheon, Milo Gibson, Stefanie Martini
Prd: Krystian Kozlowski, Mathew Whyte
DoP: Piotr Slisowski
Music: Laura Rossi
Running time: 107 mins
Hurricane is out on Blu-Ray and DVD on 22nd Oct