On Blu Ray, DVD & Digital Download from Mon 29 Apr 2019

During the Battle of Britain, with the Luftwaffe raining ruin across England, a lack of pilots threatened to bring about defeat. Famously, the RAF called in around eight thousand Polish Army pilots and ground crew, and their efforts won them great renown. 303 Squadron purports to tell the story of those heroes. At the same time, trying to show the machinations of callous MI5 operatives, happy to risk and lose these men to buy the UK some breathing room.

Films about, and surrounding the Battle of Britain, tend to suffer a little from the slightly mythologised nature of that combat arena. 303 Squadron doesn’t break any new ground there, as much of the film shows the dapper pilots, supping drinks in their pressed uniforms, or sitting in their flight-leathers talking about planes. While the lowest rung of that ladder still lies with the legendarily bad Red Tails, this new effort does give it a run for its money. Curiously, both films, with their faux 1950s style, and stories of under-appreciated ace pilot crews, share a lot of thematic ground. But while Red Tails managed to be so bad it’s almost fun to watch ironically; this empty skeleton of a story fails to even manage that. A fact only highlighted by the 2018 release of Hurricane, a much better film telling roughly the same story.

While the film really ought to be showing that the Polish pilots are exemplary, we’re given very little to grasp onto. Some intermittent and frequently discombobulating flashbacks do tie into the Russian invasion of Poland, the sporting rivalry between Urbanowicz (Piotr Adamczyk), and his German piloting friend, Von R├╝ttenberg (Steffen Mennekes). It also shines light on the origins of the romance between “Donald” Zumbach (Maciej Zakoscielny) and engineer’s daughter Jagoda (Anna Prus). The main problem being that these flashbacks are, like so many of the scenes, short, confusing, largely pointless, and distracting from the awkward main thrusts of the story.

But it’s not to say no effort has gone into the production. The film’s general look and sound are fantastic. Particularly in how the colour and grade flits between rich blue ocean and sky, washed out military bases, and hazy, sepia-drenched pubs and dance halls. Similarly, the aerial dogfights are easily the highlight of the film. Clearly inspired heavily by Dunkirk, in both visual style and in the fast, thrumming tick of the score, which mimics the frenetic sound of Hans Zimmer‘s work on that film. The problem is that what story there is isn’t enough to engage an audience, and the end result is a dull, flat and lifeless experience.