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The true story of the youngest Spitfire pilot to fight in the Battle of Britain
Geoffrey Wellum was just 18 when he was thrown into combat as a fighter pilot in the terrifying air war of the Battle of Britain. Now seventy years on and aged 89, he is still haunted by the conflict that almost destroyed him.
Based on his personal, deeply moving memoirs, First Light is an intimate drama-documentary that delivers a compelling testimony of Geoffrey 'Boy' Wellum's (Sam Heughan - Any Human Heart) wartime experiences, revisiting the stark emotions and fiery action that dazzled and terrified him as a young man and changed his life forever. Combining Wellum's powerful first person account with intensely evocative action on the ground and in the air, it is the story of a boy who went to war and came back a broken man.
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Read a current day RAF Airman's Blog here [...] for a comprehensive review.
This is a sober account of what it was like to have fought in the Battle of Britain in a Spitfire. No heroics. No Hollywood glamor. It might be noted that Wellum was transferred to Malta after the Battle of Britain where the stress ultimately got to him. He reportedly had a compete nervous breakdown. Combat fatigue. In his early 20s.
It is little understood in the USA that Hitler really did intend to invade Britain in the late summer of 1940 but he needed air superiority to accomplish it. The Battle of Britain convinced Hitler to "postpone" the invasion and he then turned his attention to Russia. We know how that turned out. Without the RAF winning the Battle, the outcome of WW II might have been very different.
Wellum is still alive at age 90 and does the voice over narration at the beginning and end. My only regret is that there are no subtitles for the hard of hearing. The aerial photography is outstanding.
Geoffery Wellum appears in the beginning, at the end, and in a few places during the film and it was fascinating to see him and hear his well defined thoughts about himself, the young pilots, and what it all meant. His appearances are the highlights in this film.
The portrayals of the people in the story are a bit flat, two-dimensional, and nearly bloodless and it's hard to believe that volatile young men in those volatile circumstances would have such a stiff-upper-lip quality about everything. Nobody ever raises their voices. Granted that Wellum didn't directly write much about the emotional roller coaster these young pilots endured but he very much intimates it and the film misses it.
The film concentrates on Wellum and just a few other characters and would almost make you believe that an R.A.F. squadron was composed of only five or six people. The main characters are fine and are portrayed by excellent British actors but they are limited by the direction. Gary Lewis, who plays the squadron C.O., stands out and is the best of them all in this production.
The air scenes with Spitfires and Me-109s are pretty realistic and all too brief.
I liked the film very much as an adjunct to the superb memoir. It helped me to visualize Wellum's story just a little bit better. Unfortunately, the film really doesn't stand by itself.
I would encourage all WW-2 buffs to see this movie - after all, it's the true story of a very courageous pilot. Thank God we had men of this caliber who put their lives on the line every day in flying against the Nazi air armadas.
It is the recollections of one of the pilots who flew in the war and it has the ring of truth throughout. It isn't long; it isn't gory; but, it does tell the story of why 'so much was owed by so many to so few'.