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Like its subject, Spitfire is refined, elegant and classy – if such a thing can be said of a killing machine. Certainly, the film and its interview subjects think so of the plane that “saved Europe” in World War 2. This is a hagiography of an object, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Surely, to make a cinema-release documentary about any subject, one must be, in some way, in love with it?
There are (very British) people in this film that really love the Spitfire, and in their passion there is gentle humour and charm. If they were this gushy over, say, a breed of small dog, they might come off as eccentric or even ridiculous, but the film maintains a jovial respectful tone, showing each in their best, rather than most extreme, light. At 36 minutes in, we start to hear from female group plotters of the artillery brigade, and the film becomes more revelatory. Seeing contemporaneous footage of women at war, last century, is rare and rather thrilling. Later, we see them as pilots, and it’s like a hidden door has been opened, a secret revealed.
Obviously, it’s one for the fans (of warplanes!), but they’re not a finite bunch. One of my best friends has a five year old son who is passionate about the World Wars and who will love this film. While being careful to acknowledge that the Spitfire was indeed a “killing machine”, this lovingly crafted work, deserving a big screen thanks to its splendid aerial photography, is not really about war, but about Britain and its people, and the pride they may take in an object that did indeed exemplify “the best of British.” If such things move you, you may even shed a tear.