As a history buff, I was ecstatic when Darkest Hour came out. Gary Oldman’s performance brought life into Winston Churchill again and the cinematography and editing provided the adrenaline and fear needed when dealing with a foe like the Nazis. However, the ending left me wanting it to continue and include the Battle of Britain. This is partially because it is the natural continuation of the story started in Darkest Hour, but also because it would provide an in-depth look at the international dimension of the battle.
As is well known, the Battle of Britain was an aerial campaign designed by the Nazis to break Britain’s spirit and force a peace settlement. It lasted from 10 July 1940 to 11 May 1941 and included the famous Blitz which lasted from 7 September 1940 to 11 May 1941. It started as a naval and aerial blockade with the Luftwaffe targeting coastal-shipping convoys and ports. In August, the Luftwaffe tried to establish air superiority over Britain and switched to attacks on RAF airfields and infrastructure and later to factories, political buildings, and areas heavily populated with civilians. This was in preparation for a land invasion known as Operation Sea Lion, but Britain’s response to the aerial bombardments forced Hitler to cancel the invasion. The Luftwaffe could not sustain daylight raids, so it switched to nighttime attacks which became known as the Blitz. Although the bombings caused more than 40,000 civilian casualties, it did not seriously hamper British war efforts and is considered to be the first major defeat for Nazi Germany.
While the battle was fought by the RAF (a British force) in Britain, it was an international fighting force. The RAF employed pilots from Poland, Czechoslovakia, New Zealand, Canada, Australia, South Africa, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) Belgium, and France. There were also two pilots from the U.S. and an Irish pilot. As the battle waged, the RAF ended up creating two Polish fighter squadrons and two Czech fighter squadrons and the highest scoring pilot was a Czech pilot named Josef Frantisek. Additionally, the ‘Few’ were supported by ground crew, engineers, factory workers, observers, anti-aircraft guns and searchlight operations, and the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force who operated radar and tracked the raids on maps in the operations rooms.
Given today’s climate all over the world, but particularly in the U.S. and Europe, this international dimension makes the need for the movie dire. Like Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain and the Blitz are legendary moments that have left a cultural and historical legacy that defines modern Britain. It is important to remind the world that this legacy includes pilots that originated outside the Commonwealth and that the battle wasn’t only for the salvation of Britain, but of Europe as a whole.
I can only speak in a U.S. context since I am an American, but a popular narrative is that Britain stood alone until the U.S. decided to join the war, and, while technically, that is somewhat true (since the Soviet Union didn’t declare war on Germany until June 1941), it’s a very myopic perspective. Britain was the last non-neutral, Western European nation standing after 1940, but refugees from all over Europe fled to England after France fell. Several governments-in-exile were formed in England and contributed to the war effort (DeGaulle with Free France, the Polish government-in-exile and the Polish Home Army, the Czech government-in-exile and the assassination of SS Heydrich-may he burn in hell, etc.)
Personally, I would love to see even a brief discussion about how that happens. Where there any legal implications that had to be discussed about allowing governments-in-exile to form on Britain’s soil? As an American, I’m not sure how the U.S. would handle something like that, but I’m fairly certain it would cause a legal crisis for the U.S. government. I’m also not sure if England had to deal with governments-in-exile during WWI, so maybe all those legal problems were discussed in the early 1900s, either way, it’d be interesting to see it discussed on film. I also want to know how does a minister from a conquered nation navigate England when he most likely speaks little to no English and maybe some French, and how did non-Commonwealth citizens volunteer to fight in the RAF?
Additionally, the British colonies contributed more than their fair share towards the war effort. I feel that Canada and Australia always get overlooked when discussing any war and it’d be interesting if the film included men like Vice Marshall Keith park form New Zealand or Vice Marshall Sir Quintin Brand from South Africa. (I will write another article arguing for the need for movies about the soldiers who were from Britain’s colonies and fought during WWI and WWII at a later date, because they’re desperately needed as well.)
Finally, a movie about the Battle of Britain would be a logical follow up to Darkest Hour which ends with Churchill declaring war. The Battle of Britain could be framed as Hitler’s response, almost underscoring the uncomfortable logic behind Chamberlain’s and Halifax’s desire to negotiate and challenging our kneejerk reaction to disagree with them. It would undercut the joy that comes from declaring war against the Nazis (because who doesn’t love killing Nazis) and would bring back the subdued horror of having to fight another world war that drenched the beginning of Darkest Hour.
A movie of the Battle of Britain would also provide us an opportunity to hear Gary Oldman read maybe Churchill’s most famous speech “Never was so much owed by so many to so few” with the appropriate stirring music. The film could take the aerial battles that occasionally occurred in Dunkirk and magnify them, giving us some desperately need well-choreographed and well shot aerial combat and allow us to see the Dowding System in action (which I have always wanted to see).
Most importantly, though, it would serve as a reminder that while Britain was one of the last nations standing against the tyranny of Nazi Germany, they did not stand alone.