In Review

Lancaster film review: ‘powerful’ documentary about the legendary bomber war plane

Directors David Fairhead and Ant Palmer have got the tone ‘just right’

Made by the team behind the “excellent” Spitfire (2018), this “powerful” documentary looks at another legendary war plane: the Lancaster bomber, which first saw service in 1942. And it is surely no coincidence that it has come out in the same week as the new Top Gun film, said Matthew Bond in The Mail on Sunday: “after all, the daring dam busters raid of 1943 – carried out by 19 Lancaster bombers – was unarguably the Top Gun mission of its day”. Directors David Fairhead and Ant Palmer have got the tone “just right”; they mark “the bravery and skill of the aircrew” while acknowledging that Bomber Command’s raids on German cities remain controversial to this day. 

The surviving aircrew speak openly about their struggle to reconcile “their often crucial contributions to the war effort with the human toll it took”, said Alistair Harkness in The Scotsman. After the War, “people looked at you like you were a murderer”, remembers one. I am not sure you need to see this film on a big screen, but these first-hand accounts do make it worth seeing. 

With its “encyclopedic detail” and Charles Dance’s “commanding narration”, Lancaster can feel like a film for war buffs and aviation enthusiasts, said Cath Clarke in The Guardian. But there’s a universal appeal in the stories of the airmen and the risks they took: 55,573 out of 125,000 of them were killed during the War. And for Dam Busters fans, there is “extraordinary footage” of the test runs in Kent of Barnes Wallis’s bouncing bombs. Yet this is not a “jingoistic” documentary, and it also records the testimony of a German woman who witnessed the aftermath of Lancaster bombing raids on Dresden: “The dead lying around in heaps. Mountains of dead people who burned to death.” 

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