“A lady in the air and a b**ch on the ground.” So one pilot described the iconic aircraft the Supermarine Spitfire.
Perhaps the most romanticized of aircraft, the Spitfire is renowned as the plane which won the Battle of Britain, subject of Churchill’s famous “never has so much been owed by so many…” speech. There is no lack of documentaries about the Spitty and the men and women who flew them. But it would be churlish to complain about one more. Especially one as superbly put together as this.
Directors David Fairhead and Ant Palmer have made a film which explores, not so much the plane itself, but its relationship with people. Much of the story is told by surviving pilots, veterans of the Battle of Britain, the Malta campaign and the D-Day Landings. Most wonderfully, the directors secured what must be some of the last footage of the incredible Mary Ellis, who flew over one thousand planes for the Air Transport Auxiliary. Mary died, at the age of 101, only a week after the film was released in Britain.
This documentary contains little, or never seen footage, including “combat footage” taken from the wings of the Spitty. Interviewees are given ample time to speak, some haltingly, through age and emotion, about their experience of combat. And there is the constant reminder that when these now elderly men were taking planes into dog-fights, most of them were around 19 years old. As one veteran said “the romanticism of the Spitfire began later: we just saw them as instruments of war.”
Other than a slight issue with sound editing (some parts of the soundtrack are too loud over the interviewees), this is an exquisite piece of documentary work, beautifully narrated by Charles Dance. It will of course appeal to lovers of history and aviation, but is a more broadly appealing film in and of itself.
(In Memorium Mary Ellis: 2/2/1917-24/7/2018)
She moved to the slightest touch.
Submitted to absolute control.
She came with no instruction manual; no training
Instinct drove her through storm clouds
And around mountains.
Flying free of instruments.
Free of stoves and wash tubs and aprons.
Plunging into the thickest fog
On a wing and a whistle
Hair marcelled and lipstick in place.
A loop over the airfield, and a wave to the girls
Praying that the war never end.
The possibility of death less terrifying than the certainty of tedium.
Standing in the queue, not waiting for sausages
But hoping for a Halifax; a Lancaster
Or the Queen of them all-The Spitty
Such a darling little airplane.
A lovely woman’s plane.
Terribly easy to handle.
So much more responsive, than a perambulator.
Spitfire is currently screening at various cinemas around Adelaide.
Although about a magnificent plane, this film is really about people at their finest.