Lancaster Review – war stories from the men who flew the bombers | Movies

After their feature documentary Spitfire, David Fairhead and Ant Palmer return with a wartime history of the Lancaster bomber. With its encyclopedic detail and compelling Charles Dance narration, it feels like a movie for WWII buffs and aviation enthusiasts. Everyone else will stick around for interviews with the now elderly men who flew bombers as lads (teenagers for some) at terrifying odds: 55,573 out of 125,000 airmen were killed in the war. Returning from missions, they measured the companions lost by the empty seats in the dining room.

The film is expertly assembled from newsreels, clips from classic war films and interviews with surviving airmen from Britain and one from Jamaica: Neil Flanigan. The Lancaster first saw service in 1942 as the RAF changed tactics from targeting German factories to entire towns. There are extraordinary images here of tests in Kent of the bouncing bombs dropped on German barrages in the Ruhr Valley, immortalized in The Dam Busters.

Yet it is not a chauvinistic or triumphant film. A German woman who witnessed the destruction of Dresden as a child is interviewed. “The dead lying around in a heap,” she recalls. “Mountains of the dead who died burned.” Some of the veterans speak of their horror at what they inflicted on the civilians below. “War is a dirty business, isn’t it,” said one. Another said he couldn’t talk about his experiences after the war. “People looked at you like you were a murderer.” On the other hand, the evidence of the crimes of the Nazis in the concentration camps made it easier for him to justify what he was ordered to do. It is deeply unfair that after asking so much of these young men, guilt haunted them for the rest of their lives.

Lancaster is released in theaters on May 27.

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