LANCASTER: 4 STARS. “the human toll war took on them is eye-opening.”
“Lancaster,” a new World War II documentary, now playing in theatres, is not simply a tribute to the titular British heavy bomber plane. The veterans who flew them over enemy territory express admiration for the giant aircraft, and speak about the damage they delivered, but this is more an homage to the brave aircrews who flew the planes, and won the war.
Directors David Fairhead and Ant Palmer, whose documentary “Spitfire” established their bona fides as aeronautical historians, are encyclopedic in their detail, but serve up the data with a heaping helping of humanity. Interviews with the navigators, gunners, radio-men and bombardiers, called “bomb aimers” by the Brits, reveal a sense of regret and the need to reconcile for the destruction the Lancaster bombing raids over Germany conducted by RAF Bomber Command caused, while at the same time acknowledging that without the aerial combat the war may have been lost.
“There’s no second prize in war,” one pilot says. “You either win or you lose.”
Through gravitas dipped narration courtesy of Charles Dance, we learn how the Rolls Royce-powered Lancaster could take the largest bombs used by the RAF and why it was crucial in the “taking the war to Germany” strategy. Through archival footage and scenes from the epic 1955 was film “The Dam Busters,” we get a sense of the massive scale of destruction that followed in the path of the Lancaster, but it really comes to life in the testimony of a German woman who survived the firebombing of Dresden.
A picture may be worth a thousand words, but the words of the people that were there, in the sky and on the ground, paint a vivid portrait of the destruction brought from above. With so few World War II vets left to tell the tale, “Lancaster” offers a valuable document. These firsthand recollections of the camaraderie, the fear—even when uttered through stiff upper “I was apprehensive” lips—and the human toll war took on them is eye-opening and important for future WWII scholars.
“Lancaster” isn’t a flashy documentary. It doesn’t need to be. Well-chosen archival material supports the story, but it is the human touch that brings more emotion than you may expect from a war documentary.