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205 of 208 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First class account of Battle of Britain
Ignore the cover of the DVD. The love interest is really a minor part of this wonderful British miniseries which follows an RAF squadron through the "Phoney War" (September 1939 - May 1940), the battle for France (May-June 1940), and the Battle of Britain through its climax in the fall of 1940.
This is not your usual squadron of movie heroes. For...
Published on October 10, 2003 by M. Veiluva

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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Was "Moggy" real
I remember the introduction given by Alistair Cooke about the many strange characters in the squadron. He said something like "Veterans of the time tell me that they recognised all the characters as people they encountered but not all at the same time and in the same squadron". This is confirmed by my own experience in Vietnam. I saw all the types over 2...
Published on April 14, 2004


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205 of 208 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First class account of Battle of Britain, October 10, 2003
By 
M. Veiluva "sputnik99" (Walnut Creek, CA United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Piece of Cake (DVD)
Ignore the cover of the DVD. The love interest is really a minor part of this wonderful British miniseries which follows an RAF squadron through the "Phoney War" (September 1939 - May 1940), the battle for France (May-June 1940), and the Battle of Britain through its climax in the fall of 1940.
This is not your usual squadron of movie heroes. For starters, the squadron commander seems to spend more time working on the wine list than thinking about strategy. As for flying, he wants them to fly into battle in straight, wingtip-to-wingtip formations like a marching band. The pilots are for the most part upper class elites happy with the leader's 'fox and hounds' demeanor. Some of the pilots are not especially likeable, particularly "Moggy" , a boarding-school bully who, it turns out, is an ace killer. The one "Yank", a Canadian socialist and veteran of the Spanish Civil War, gets to smirk at the upper crust poseurs.
It's a good mix, and for the first six months of the war, there's not a lot of go at the Boche, and what is great about the series is the shock and surprise when the war begins in earnest. The battle scenes are as well done as the big screen "Battle of Britain", except we really know these characters by the time the real war hits. Some excel, some crack, and some pack it in. One character starts to speaking exclusively in quotes from Churchill speeches, unnerving the squadron adjutant. The final two episodes are very, very intense, and unlike Hollywood, the movie does not play favorites with who lives and who doesn't.
The Spitfire was the most beautiful plane ever flown, and we get good long looks at the real thing. The flying scenes are a treat. Great for grognards, but the story is well rounded and a good time should be had by all.
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88 of 89 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Piece of Cake and a Piece of History, July 9, 2002
By 
"bobyeoman" (Farnborough, Hants England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Piece of Cake (DVD)
A Piece of Cake, follows the exploits of Hornet Squadron as they go off to fight in the battle for France and later the Battle of Britain, as any aviation buff will know we English never sent any Spitfires to France but as there are only 15 air worthy Hurricanes in the world the makers used Spits.
This in no way detracts from the film and surprisingly they actually get most of W.W.2 aviation history right, including the battle of barking Creek where in reality the victim of friendly fire was a Hurricane and not a Blenheim, still at least they put it in.
My Uncle who flew Spits and Hurries in the battle of France and the Battle of Britain has seen the film and says that its one of the most realistic films that he has seen of squadron life and certainly surpasses the 1969 film the Battle of Britain for historical realism.
They did use real Spitfires, Heinkels. M.E. 109's and even a Rapide in the film but clever use is also made of some outstanding models( Only pointed out to me by my uncle)
The Flying sequences are superb! there is nothing quite like a Spitfire in flight.
A really good film and a must for every aviation Fan, Buy It you wont regret it
Warm Regards
Bob Yeoman (England)
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98 of 102 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Organizational View of War, July 30, 2001
This review is from: Piece of Cake (DVD)
Piece of Cake is an excellent organizational view of the first year of the Second World War (1 September 1939 - 7 September 1940) from the perspective of a notional RAF fighter unit, dubbed "Hornet Squadron." Most war movies follow one of two standard conceits: the individual perspective (e.g. Patton, Lawrence of Arabia, the Patriot) or the small-group perspective (e.g. Platoon, All Quiet on the Western Front, Stalingrad). Of course, wars are fought by organizations, not individuals or small groups, and Piece of Cake is a rare example of an organizational look at war. Hornet Squadron, is the hero of the film, not the pilots who come and go. By the end of the film virtually all the main characters are gone, but unlike All Quiet On The Western Front where the war ends soon after the death of the narrator, the war goes on and the squadron continues to fight. There is a message herein about the nature of modern industrialized war that might be lost on some viewers, particularly those accustomed to war romance.
The film includes a very interesting set of characters. The most interesting are: (1) Squadron Leader Rex, an arrogant, aristocratic leader who tries to run the squadron like a feudal village. Rex exemplifies the British warrior of the 19th Century whose confidence exudes from his sense of class and cultural superiority, rather than his actual military talents. As a combat leader, Rex is a disaster.
(2) "Moggy" is one of the original pre-war members who, aside from being a good pilot, is a virulent socio-path. When Churchill praises the bravery of the RAF pilots on the radio, "Moggy" mocks him and swills his beer. He enjoys telling replacements how quickly they are likely to die. Actually, it's hard to believe that any unit commander would tolerate his guff for very long because his attitude eventually begins to wear down morale in the unit.
(3) Chris Hart is an American volunteer who arrives as a replacement. Hart is an experienced pilot who fought in Spain with the Republicans, but his presence in the squadron is only grudgingly accepted. Although he ends up being one of the most reliable pilots in the squadron, Hart's efforts to improve the unit's combat performance are constantly met with resistance. Contrast the official cold-shoulder toward Hart with the blind-eye to Moggy's antics and it is a wonder that the British won the Battle of Britain.
(4) "Flash" is a pilot who goes bonkers and likes to fly upside-down. His medical review describes him as "batty, but still capable of flying." As in Catch-22, Flash thinks the war is "smashing" and doesn't want to quit.
(5) "Uncle" is the squadron adjutant, an older, world-wise former pilot who now flies a desk. With his experience, Uncle can size up any pilot in a few seconds and he acts as a steadying force in the unit. Uncle is also a terrific subordinate who knows how to manage head-strong commanders like Rex or deal with insubordinate junior pilots.
(6) "Skull" is the squadron intelligence officer. Although he initially appears to be a "fish-out-of-water" bookworm, it is soon apparent that Skull has a vital role to play and he does it well. Early on, his effort to improve aircraft recognition skills in the pilots is ignored and results in a friendly-fire incident. Later, he recommends installing gun cameras to record "kills"; the pilots resent him questioning their combat claims, but his efforts improve the unit's performance.
The first two-thirds of the series covers the Phony War period in France, which is a quiet spell in the war which will not be familiar to most Americans. Rex takes the squadron to France and they all settle into a nice, cozy chateau for the winter of 1939/40. Unfortunately, this period could have been used to better develop the characters but instead is wasted in the gratuitous romance of two pilots. When the war does kick off with the German attack in May 1940, the squadron is hit hard and virtually knocked out of action. Sent back to England to regroup, the pilots are rapidly whittled away by attrition in the early phases of the Battle of Britain. One year after the outbreak of war, only two pilots from the original group have survived. However, essential characters like Uncle and Skull, normally missing from war movies, are there to organize the replacements and to keep the unit going.
The film might be accused of certain technical conceits (e.g. using late-model Spitfires), an unusual concentration of nationalities and eccentric personalities in one unit and an overly-cynical depiction of fighter pilots in general. All these points are true to a degree. However, the main truth is that Piece of Cake is one very fine war film that depicts the gritty, unromantic reality of modern organized warfare: the team matters more than the individual. Sorry, Erich Remarque.
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39 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Piece of Cake, January 20, 2004
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This review is from: Piece of Cake (DVD)
You don't have to be a military aviation or World War II buff to enjoy "A Piece of Cake". Originally aired on British television in 1988 and then the following season on Public Television here in the U.S.,"Piece of Cake" is a six-part mini-series, that follows the fortunes of Hornet Squadron - a fictional RAF fighter squadron - during the first year of World War II. Based on the book by Derek Robinson, the story begins on September 3, 1939 and ends on September 7, 1940.
"Piece of Cake" takes the viewer from Chamberlain's broadcast, through the so-called phony war, the fall of France and finally, the Battle of Britain. "Cake" tells the story of these historic events, not on the grand scale of a "The Longest Day", but on a small, intimate scale. Life and death, love and war, sorrow and joys are told through the stories of the men (boys in many cases) of this squadron - individually and collectively.
"Piece of Cake" is an example of what British television does so well - the ensemble production. There are no stars in this series, except perhaps the half-dozen or so antique Spitfires rounded up to perform the aerial sequences. The cast assembled were relative unknowns, although some have subsequently became familiar faces to viewers of PBS series such as "Masterpiece Theater" and "Mystery". Certainly the absence of big-name stars contributes to the realistic feel of the series. You are meeting each actor and the character he portrays for the first time.
Another factor contributing to authenticity of the series was the way "Piece of Cake" was filmed. According to an article that appeared in the October 1988 issue of "TV Times", the cast lived and worked together on location during the filming - even going as far as calling each other by their fictional nicknames and attending "funerals" for those cast members when they written out of the series.
While there are no stars in "Piece of Cake" and all the roles are well acted; several stand out and are worthy of being singled out for special mention. As Squadron Leader Rex, a career RAF officer who leads Hornet Squadron during the first half of the year, Tim Woodward plays Rex as a generous country squire - paying half of his squadron's mess bill. But this benevolence comes at a price - Rex insists upon his pilots flying tight, tidy formations and he tolerates no questioning of these tactics.
The pilot who most often dares to question Rex's tactics is the American Christopher Hart III, ably portrayed by Boyd Gaines. A rich-kid and a veteran of the Spanish Civil War, Hart is the officer best positioned to take on Rex. He's the only pilot who has had combat experience against the Luftwaffe.
Neil Dudgeon appears in all six episodes as Flying Officer 'Moggy' Cattermole, a cynical pilot who is out - at all times -- for number one. A quick-witted, sarcastic bully, 'Moggy' is - by his own admission - not "an officer and a gentleman". Although his constant sniping gets on everyone's nerves at times, his skill as a pilot and his killer instinct is appreciated - as long as it's aimed at the enemy.
The two actors whose characters evolve the most during the course of the year are 'Fanny' Barton and 'Flash' Gordon. Through Tom Burlinson's portrayal, 'Fanny' grows from a conscientious pilot to the leader of Hornet Squadron during the tumultuous days of the Battle of Britain. Nathaniel Parker takes 'Flash' from a well-scrubbed young pilot to a romantic young husband and eventually into madness. His appearance during the first episode is little more than "wallpaper", lounging against a fireplace during the declaration of war radio broadcast. By the final two episodes we find an unshaven 'Flash' shooting seagulls from a shabby beach chair atop the cliffs of Dover, flying his Spitfire upside down, and quoting large "chunks of Churchill" to an RAF medical officer.
Supporting the pilots of Hornet Squadron were the Adjutant and Intelligence officers - Flight Lieutenant 'Uncle' Kelleway and Flying Officer 'Skull' Skelton - convincingly played by David Horovitch and Richard Hope. As a veteran pilot of Word War I, Horovitch's Kelleway is the calm, pipe smoking, voice of experience. Hope's "Skull", on the other hand, is a Cambridge don, a Flying Officer who calls flying "unnatural".
"Piece of Cake" is visually beautiful. The sequences with the Spitfires are aerial ballets - so graceful that one almost forgets the real horrors these scenes represent. Derek Robinson's excellent novel was well adapted by Leon Griffiths and the excellent cast was well directed by Ian Toynton. Lynnette Cummin's costume designs capture both the spirit of time and the individual eccentricities of pilots of Hornet Squadron.
In his speech before the House of Commons at the height of the battle, Prime Minister Winston Churchill said - "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few." The creators, cast and crew of "Piece of Cake" have created a fitting tribute to those "few".
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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Was "Moggy" real, April 14, 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: Piece of Cake (DVD)
I remember the introduction given by Alistair Cooke about the many strange characters in the squadron. He said something like "Veterans of the time tell me that they recognised all the characters as people they encountered but not all at the same time and in the same squadron". This is confirmed by my own experience in Vietnam. I saw all the types over 2 tours, including a CO who insisted in tight formation flying. The typical helicopter pilot's idea of formation flying is "same day, same way". Eventually enough of the discontent of the pilots filtered upstairs and he was 'promoted' to a desk job. With that caveat, the series is well done and worth seeing.
A point worth making is that at the begining of every war, the troops have to find out what works and what doesn't, often at the cost of lives. Tight formation flying was a case in point. Essential in WW1, deadly in WW2.
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great, June 19, 2002
By 
Gaaron G Gilham (Ashburn, VA United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Piece of Cake (DVD)
A key thing to remember when watching this series is that it is based on a novel with a bit of a Catch-22 feel, not on a non-fiction work as was "Band of Brothers," for example. With that being said, this is an excellent film with fine, understated acting, great writing, and good action sequences. I believe it captured the spirit of the novel quite well. Of course, many plot points are missing, but that's inevitable when transforming a lengthly book to the screen, even when you have five hours to work with! I watch Piece of Cake at least once a year and I never tire of it. In fact, I find new things to enjoy each time. There's actually some extremely funny moments in there; I especially like the interaction between the intellectual intelligence officer "Skull" Skelton and the snobbish Squadron Leader Rex. If you happen to love WWII aircraft, then I can recommend this film to you on that basis alone. The shots of the Spitfires in the air are fabulous and the accompanying musical score is right on.
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gritty and realistic view of the early days of WWII, June 7, 2001
By 
Doug Caffarel (San Diego, CA USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Piece of Cake (DVD)
A very well done series that was faithful to the book. True, the part about the Battle of Britain takes place in the latter part of the series. But this work devotes time to the early days of WWII, the "phony" war, a time period that gets little or no attention. You see a rather believeable transformation of this squadron of young men from peace-time pilots to warriors and how they have to disabuse themselves of some notions and become hardened and scarred. What made it more realistic for me was the portrayal of the pilots as human beings, not barracks saints. Some were decent men while others, like "Moggy" Cattermole, were vile. Some got along with each other while there was open hostility between others. Finally, even with the technical flubs such as the squadron flying Mark XI Spitfires with four-bladed variable pitch props in 1939-40(there is a dearth of serviceable Hawker Hurricanes in the world today) and other budget limitations of this being a made-for-TV series, the attention to detail really transports you back. This series has what it takes to be one that can be watched time and again; a good story with good writing and good acting.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars VERY TOUGH realities of the first year of WWII for the RAF, March 26, 2005
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This review is from: Piece of Cake (DVD)
I can see by the many previous reviews that the excellence of the story and variety of characters is appreciated and I share their views. "Piece of Cake" does show how it "really was" better than many movies. In particular, the last episode gives the viewer a good picture of just how intense and exhausting the Battle of Britain was. However, I thought I would mention some techinical details since not all was covered in other reviews in that regard. I think that this series is worth watching just for the beautiful film sequences of the Spitfire in flight! They are superb! However, in reality the "Hornet" Squadron would have been flying "Hurricane I" aircraft (at least during the Battle of France phase) and not Spitfires because, wisely, Churchill took Dowding's advice and refused to allow the Spitfire Squadrons to operate out of France and held them for the defence of England. Having said that, I realize how scarce "flyable" Hurricanes were at the time this was made and can uderstand why Spitfires were used in their place. Today the film folks can make a "whole squadron" out of one aircraft but that wasn't as easy back in the 1980s when "Piece of Cake" was made. There are some very good technical aspects of the movie like the problem with the wooden propellers. Many of the Hurricanes during the Battle of France had wooden two-bladed Watts fixed pitch propellers and some of them did indeed disintegrate! See Palul Richey's classic book, "FIGHTER PILOT", it even has a photo of his Hurricane I with shattered wooden prop! Another good technical detail illustrated in the film is the mistaken attack of RAF Blenheim Bombers by their own fighters! Unfortunately, this happened more often in the early days of the war then even this film portrays. Enough about all that, "Piece of Cake" is GREAT! Just keep in mind what Alistair Cooke said about it. "Piece of Cake" portrays many different things that happened in many different squadrons and at many different times, NOT just in any one particular squadron.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great stuff!, March 19, 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: Piece of Cake (DVD)
Loved this series and watched all 300 minutes in two sittings (was very sorry when it was over). Gritty view of the "phony war" in Northern France and the Battle of Britain as seen from the cynical pilots' points-of-view. Great photography, fine understated acting and TG, no grotesque Hollywood special effects. Underscores the swansong of the British class system as well. Characters with whom one can easily identify; not the vacuous ciphers that we see on the big screen today.
Most importantly, the series led me to the written works of Derek Robinson who wrote the book on which this series is based. "War Story" and "Goshawk Squadron" are fabulous; the latter would make a great television series in its own right( also British made, hopefully - dare I say an HDTV bonanza -concentrating as it does, on WWI and the air war in fragile SE5a's, Pfalz and Fokker's over the trench-gouged terrain of France ().
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Squadron sent north to "rest" and re-equip., October 15, 2006
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This review is from: Piece of Cake (DVD)
Remember this is a work of fiction set against a historical timeline and so for the purists - you are going to hate the Sptifires in France (in the real war it was Hurricanes) and the wrong marks of Spitfires and Messerschmits used on the set - so set that aside before you even view this. For this 1988 production the special effects are pretty good and rather show up the sometimes overused clips taken from the 1969 Battle of Britain movie. But set that aside too because.....

What elevates this mini series are two key components:

The first - for Spitfire enthusiasts - are some of the flying sequences shot for this series. The pilots really had a good time and showed off their skills with some flair. Camera angles and careful lens selection can make a Spitfire look like it is flying among tree tops when the trees are in reality some distance from wings but you can's deny just how close to the ground some of these planes really are. When they fly in formation at a camera at almost zero feet you can see the planes bouncing around in each other's turbulence and ground effect and the pilots correcting and jinking to stay in formation. It is as close to being IN an airborne Spitfire as I am ever likely to get. There are also some wonderful shots of planes making the curved landing approaches required by Spitfires' long noses that you could not see over. Tail shots of three point tail dragger landings are quite spectacular too. Watch those unlocked tail wheels spin in the initial shock!

The second key part of this production - for those looking for the story - are the characters developing against the timeline and changing as the pressures of battle alter them all in different ways. Recent post war research has shown that the real make up of the RAF during the Battle of Britain had little to do with Univesity educated upper class so often portrayed. But this view is maybe closer to the pre-war squadron portrayed here - at least at the start of the series.

Important crunch issues of:

- the difficulties of aircraft recognition,
- outdated tactics on the British side,
- friendly fire in battle,
- how horribly people really died in their planes when hit,
- how you could be just plain unlucky if your plane faltered in the heat of the moment
- and just how hard it was for the RAF pilots to learn and pass on experience as they often failed to make it home to tell

all make a showing as "Hornet Squadron" falls back from France to literally sit on the edge of the White Cliffs of Dover in the front line of those trying to fend off the maurauding Luftwaffe.

For the less well developed characters there is a horrific reality - they never survived long enough to get into the story because they get shot down as soon as they appeared.

What sets this series aside - especially from big perspective movies like the Battle of Britain - is the close up portrayal of the reality of rapid aircraft and personnel turnover. By the end - the few old timers are "twitching" with stress and falling as they make mistakes or their luck runs out. If you have ever read the official history of the battle and read the too often used line - "Squadron sent north to rest and re-equip" this series brings home the horrific reality that lay behind that seemingly bland statement. There is absolutely no doubt that in the final moments of the series as the stragglers return - that is where this squadron is headed - what is left of it.

A good adaption of the original book and a worthy tribute to "the few".

I've just re-watched the whole series (April 08) and re-read some of the reviews. For those who have commented on picture quality in their reviews: This was made for UK televisions 612 line PAL standard in 1988 - long before DVD's were thought of. So you can't "improve" the resolution for a 1024 line HD TV - and the switch to NTSC in the US doesn't help either. So sure - it is a little fuzzy on a big screen. Sit back and enjoy for the qualities I've reviewed above.
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Piece of Cake
Piece of Cake by Ian Toynton (DVD - 2011)
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