Dark Blue World (12)

Review by Jack Foley

UNFAIRLY dismissed by critics in America as a 'Czechoslovakian Pearl Harbor', Dark Blue World (while similar in that it depicts a love triangle during the Second World War) is a million miles away from that lumbering, shameful blockbuster.

Produced by the award-winning father-and-son team behind Kolya, Dark Blue World is a heartfelt insight into the hitherto little-known role that Czechoslovakian pilots played in the Battle of Britain, and the sacrifices they were forced to make as a result. Ironically, it is the love story aspect of the film which is least convincing, but this is a small price to pay for a film which is exquisitely shot throughout and which boasts some truly jaw-dropping aerial combat sequences.

Gone are the adrenalin-charged and shallow histrionics of Messrs. Bruckheimer and Affleck (which helped turn the devastating events of Pearl Harbor into something Tony Scott would have been proud of in Top Gun), replaced instead by a claustrophobic look at what life must have been like inside the cockpits of planes such as the Spitfire - very grim, very vulnerable and, frequently, very short.

Director Jan Sverak's movie also manages to combine humour and tragedy far more effectively than Pearl Harbor, seldom trivializing the role played by any of the nations depicted - yes, this is largely about the Czechoslovakian role, but the British are well represented, even if Charles Dance's stiff-upper lipped commanding officer comes across as a little too demeaning at times - 'the history of war is littered with the graves of the inpatient'.

The story itself also requires some patience, given that it flits from pre-war, to post-war as well as cramming in the events of the battles itself. Dark Blue World begins with Czech airman Franta Slama (played by Ondrej Vetchy) wooing and winning the girl of his dreams (the beautiful Linda Rybova), before being forced to take up the fight against Nazi Germany in England, together with the impetuous and naive young pilot and friend, Karel Vojtisek (Krystof Hadek).

Stuck in a foreign country and struggling to come to terms with a new language, the Czech pilots must labour their way through training before the fight can really begin, but the camaraderie which exists in the build-up to war is soon undermined by the devastating events of the battles themselves, as well as a developing love triangle between Franta, Karel and Tara Fitzgerald's married child-carer.

And while this is played out, Sverak also jumps forward in time to the 1950s when, having returned from Britain to his homeland, Franta has been confined to a labour camp and labelled an 'enemy of the people' for siding with the Free World by an oppressive new Communist regime. It is from here, while forced to reflect on the events of the war, that Franta finds his greatest ally, a former SS officer-turned-doctor to the incarcerated pilots.

Dark Blue World, while by no means a classic, is an intelligent, thoughtful, funny and occasionally moving piece of cinema, lovingly put together by a team for whom the events depicted obviously mean something. And while the romance may be a little shallow and unconvincing and the tone a little too light for some at times, it should be applauded for bringing audiences a different perspective on the Second World War - ie, the role that other nations played.

Old-fashioned in its approach, yet all the more effective for it, Dark Blue World is a quietly affecting WWII drama which deserves to find a Big Screen audience.