Piece of Cake
DVD | Box Set
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A Masterpiece Theatre Presentation
Piece of Cake follows the adventures, heartaches and rites of passage of the fighter pilots of RAF Hornet Squadron during World War II.
Piece of Cake marks the coming of age of young men prepared to die for their country. Whatever their own personal qualities, there are heroes in abundance and a rich cross-section of characters from the pilots-to the back-up team at base. The other heroes are the planes themselves. Under ex-Red Arrows aerobatics team leader Ray Hanna (Flyboys), this series features some of the most exciting aerial photography and special effects ever seen.
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Top customer reviews
Piece of Cake was shown on Australian television in an edited version during the 1980's. This is a restored version that fills out the story in 6 episodes very nicely. Although there are one or two scenes I remember differently. One particular scene where Fanny Barton uses his CO's cheque book to pay for a flyer's send off stands out. When it is discovered the payment is not kosher, Fanny threatens the restaurant owner, which seemed out of character for me. I remember it as the owner forgiving the debt without the threat. 'However much you owe, monsieur; I will always be in your debt.' A much more heartfelt, and revealing scene, in my opinion. Apart from that, it's a wonderful show with some great flying sequences. Yes, Hornet Squadron is equipped with Spitfires, not fitting with history, but where are you going to find any airworthy Hurricanes these days?
All in all a great purchase with some wonderful characters. The earnest, if little bland Fanny in the video is an Aussie, not NZ as in the book, but still well drawn by Tom Burlinson. Neil Dudgeon's take on Moggy is a great, if cruel character. The whole cast do justice to the nove. Until they bring out a Blu ray with commentaries and the deleted scenes, this will fill the void. I recommend this to all Derek Robinson fans. They did a good job.
"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".
It concentrates on the inter-personal relationships of a group of pilots and their commanders, Hornet Squadron, as they transit from peacetime flying to life and death struggles in the sky over France and then England. Great aerial photography of Spitfires Messerschmidts and Heinkels etc etc.
Air War enthusiasts will of course overlook the fact that it was the Hawker Hurricane fighter armed with eight .303 machine guns and not cannon armed Spitfires that the RAF used to fight the Battle For France and that the Messerschmidts are actually ex-Spanish Air Force Buchons, as are the Heinkels, which ironically are powered by Rolls Royce Merlin engines.
Overlook this and you are in for some great flying sequences, including some footage lifted from the famed Battle of Britain movie made decades ago.
For those who cringe at it, the cover is deceptive in that the mandatory Love Interest plays a VERY MINOR role in this story.