Hurricane is a worthy World War offering. Competently produced and undemanding on the eye, it tells the lesser told true story of the Polish pilots who helped the RAF win the Battle of Britain. With bigger budget affairs like Dunkirk and Darkest Hour standing accused of monogomising the war effort to a distinctly Anglo-centric perspective, this makes for a welcome, if not quite so remarkable, counterbalance.
Iwan Rheon – the Welsh actor best known for playing Game of Thrones’ hateful sadist Ramsay Bolton – is an odd choice as leading Pole Jan Zumbach; not for want of his lively and engaging performance but due to his blatantly not being Polish. Few in the film are. Required to flirt between English, French, German and, indeed, Polish dialogues, Rheon is convincingly native to non-local ears but his centrality to the film does rather null its justificatory raison d’etre. Jan is the best established of the Polish soldiers, wearing a beaten backstory in his eyes, and it is through his eyes that the story unfolds.
Sixteen Polish squadrons operated within the British Royal Air Force during the Second World War, Hurricane‘s focus being the No. 303 Fighter Squadron. In spite of initial casual racism from snobbish British officers, the No. 303s proved their mettle at the Battle of Britain, becoming not only the highest scoring of the Hurricane squadrons to fly that day but also the one with the highest ratio of enemy aircraft destroyed to their own lost.
The film toys with an awareness that this is a world in which murder is celebrated but only so far and largely through the disquiet of one character. The Squadron’s successes, meanwhile, are presented as a welcome surprise to a desperate RAF, whose planes go up but frequently fail to come down. As Jan dryly observes: ‘Three weeks ago we were all madmen. Now? Champagne…’
Hurricane hasn’t the financing to get the heart racing in dogfights – realised through gimbal-mounts and unconvincing CGI – nor does director David Blair muster characters worth emotionally rooting for. Two dimensional tropes establish a lions led by donkeys mentality, with English officers portrayed largely as arrogant toffs and the Poles scrappy heroes. These are representations well matched by the stolid visual framing of the film and so-so musical backdrop. A handful of comic touches do, at least, lighten the mood.
Stephanie Martini is Hurricane‘s only significant female character and, though her Phyllis is strong willed and independent, she is largely defined by her relationships with men. A neat parallel between the role of women and Poles in wartime society, compared to that before and after, is astute, however, more could have been made of the continuation of xenophobia to the present day. A finale caption, revealing that fifty-six per cent of Brits wanted Poles repatriated after the war, reminds starkly of contemporary anti-immigrant sensibilities.
Blair tells the 303’s story with the variant of respectful solemnity that gives films a solid rather than stirring tone. There is a televisual quality to its structure that should ensure its future success via late Saturday night viewings. On behalf of those real figures the film represents, this is no bad thing.