The story of the Battle of Britain has attracted many novels, histories and films. The latest comes from Poland, based on a best-selling Polish novel, also called Squadron 303. In 1940, after the battle had been won by Britain and its allies, Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, famously commented, ‘Never was so much owed by so many to so few.’ ‘Squadron 303’ is told from the point of the view of the Polish pilots, eventually one hundred and forty five who managed to escape their country as it was overrun by Germans, and join the Royal Air Force.
By the end of the war, these brave men had formed fifteen squadrons of their own but the most famous of them all was one of the earliest, 303 which shot down one hundred and twenty six enemy planes, a record unequalled by any other squadron.
However, perhaps unsurprisingly, they were not immediately welcomed by the home-grown pilots. Most of the Polish pilots didn’t speak English and their way of flying, and killing, was different, more individual and often riskier than the British more methodical and formation based approach. Where survival depended on trusting your neighbour in the air to give you a heads-up if you overlooked a ‘hun from the sun’, the Poles were seen as a dangerously unknown quantity.

It is this tricky start which forms the basis or the ‘Squadron 303’ film, suspicion and anger, giving way to admiration and affection as the different nationalities get to understand each other. I saw the film at its premiere in the fabulous Science Museum cinema, surrounded by many hundreds of Poles invited by the Polish Embassy to celebrate the ‘spirit of cooperation’ between Poland and the U.K. It was a moving, even memorable evening, as we wind our way painfully towards Brexit.

The acting in the film is universally good, within the limitations of a script which goes unashamedly for stereotypes: the stuffy British officer, the wild (and heroic) Polish pilot. The structure of the narrative does try to give the Poles a back story, with flashbacks to show their escape from Poland. It also has scenes set in occupied France where the Nazis revel in the certainty that the RAF and helpers will easily be defeated.

No war story is complete without love interest and this has two, or at least two girls, one in Poland as the country collapses, and the other, an English officer’s secretary who is commanded (for obscure reasons) to get close to Zombach, the most dare-devil of the fighters. ‘Squadron 303’ was clearly made on a shoe-string, with only one volunteer Hurricane on the cast list, but there were still some impressive computer generated dog-fights which will be enjoyed by aficionados of battles in the sky.

This year Poland celebrates the 100th anniversary of its independence as well as the century of the forming of the Polish Air Force. With Squadron 303’s easy transition from the Polish language to English, one sub-titled in the UK and the other In Poland, it makes the point about co-operation as strongly as the film itself.

Directed by Denis Delic, Produced by Jacek Samojfowicz, Starring Piotr Adamczyk, Kirk Barker, Andrew Woodall, John Steel, Anna Prus, Jan Wieczorkowski, Antoni Krolikowski, Marcin Kwasny.