Dark Blue World (12)
As much a lesson in recent history as it is a drama and wartime romance, Dark Blue World is a stunning piece of cinema from acclaimed Czech filmmaker Jan (Kolya) Sverak.
Set both during and after World War II it chronicles the events that shape the lives of a group of Czech pilots who flew with the RAF during the Battle of Britain.
Chief amongst the fliers is Franta Slama (Ondrej Vetchy), a middle-aged pilot who, by 1950, is incarcerated in a freezing prison in his homeland, jailed by the new Communist regime for having fought with the British.
Flash back to 11 years earlier and both Franta and his protégé, Karel (Krystof Hadek), escape the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia and make it to England. Joining the wealth of other foreign nationals in the Royal Air Force they find themselves unaccountably grounded by the cautious RAF brass who don’t understand them and certainly don’t trust them with their precious Spitfires.
While Franta, Karel and their countrymen learn the fine art of flying Spitfires, wrestle with the consciences and control their impatience to get into the air, both men fall in love with the same woman – an English wife whose husband is missing in action.
The resulting love triangle tests both men’s sanity, though their relationship with Susan (Tara Fitzgerald) is delicately and sensitively handled – pointing out that in the desperate days of war, love affairs began and ended in an instant, just as lives could be snuffed out in their prime.
The real stars, of course, are the planes that dominate the skies of Dark Blue World. Spitfires, Messerschmitts, a B-25 Mitchell and various other classic planes fly again in the movie – a testament to Sverak’s tenacity and will to populate the film with realistic stars in the sky and on the ground.
In terms of performances, the film belongs to Vetchy. Passionate, controlled, debonair and intelligent as Franta, he undergoes a hellish journey without ever allowing the tale he is telling to become tired or limp. Hadek is equally memorable as his young love rival, while Fitzgerald, as the focus of their attention, glides through the proceedings like a throwback to the ‘40s elegance of Margaret Lockwood.
Charles Dance pops up in a guest spot as the Czechs’ stiff-upper-lip commander while, way down the cast list, Sixties star Anna Massey enjoys a cameo as a no-nonsense language tutor.
Dark Blue World is a superb evocation of a desperate time in European history. Mixing historical fact with airborne derring-do it pays an overdue tribute to the brave men who fought and died in the skies in the name of freedom.