A look at the current might of the Royal Air Force. Place - Great Britain, time - two months after the start of World War ll.A look at the current might of the Royal Air Force. Place - Great Britain, time - two months after the start of World War ll.A look at the current might of the Royal Air Force. Place - Great Britain, time - two months after the start of World War ll.
Propaganda documentaries like this one may be of historic interest in the light they shed on social attitudes at the time. From a modern perspective we can see that some of the preoccupations of democracies in the thirties were not as different from those of the dictatorships as people liked to believe at the time. Some of the scenes in the film's opening section- idyllic countryside, healthy young men exercising or taking part in sport, happy children playing outside new social housing complexes provided by a benevolent government- would not have seemed out of place in a German propaganda film. Although presumably the Germans would have had to find local equivalents for such things as oasthouses and rugby matches, and it is difficult to imagine Hitler playing "Neath the Spreading Chestnut Tree" as King George VI does here.
Perhaps what most strikes a modern audience about the film is its tone of smug patriotic confidence, a confidence that was to be sorely tested in the next few months after it was made. The assumption that the British Army was at least the equal of the Wehrmacht was one that did not hold up well during the disasters of 1940. Rather surprisingly, the film makes absolutely no reference to our French allies. Perhaps that is just as well. If it had done so, it would no doubt have reassured viewers that the French Army was an invincible war machine and the Maginot Line an impregnable fortification. The assurance that the RAF, unlike the Nazis, would only bomb military, not civilian, targets must have looked very hollow several years on, especially after the destruction of cities like Dresden.
One thing the film did get right was the importance of air power in the coming war, and in this context at least its assurances were to be proved correct when the RAF did indeed defeat the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain, although preventing night-time bombing raids was to prove more difficult than is shown here. The documentary scenes of the war in the air, however, are full of errors, largely because these were put together using newsreel footage and at this stage of the war no such footage existed of German military equipment. Thus a German "bomber" is actually a civilian airliner, and the image has been reversed, which means that its tailfin bears an anti-clockwise swastika, a symbol never used by the Nazis, who always used the clockwise version. Many of the British aircraft shown are biplane fighters, which were already obsolete by 1939. If you look carefully you will notice that one of the "German" ships bombed by the RAF is actually flying the White Ensign!
My DVD of the film was one given away in a newspaper promotion as part of a series of "Great British War Films". The series did indeed include some great films, such as "Went the Day Well?", "The Dam Busters", "Forty-Ninth Parallel" and "Ice Cold in Alex", but I cannot really see that "The Lion Has Wings" merits inclusion in such distinguished company. Propaganda documentaries, especially when seen seventy years after the events they describe, are rarely as entertaining as fictional narratives. This film may have played its part in keeping up morale during the "Phoney War", but today it is of interest to historians only. 5/10
- Mar 23, 2009