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Film / The Lion Has Wings

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The Lion Has Wings is a 1939 feature film from Great Britain, directed by Michael Powell, Brian Desmond Hurst, and Adrian Brunel.

It is a propaganda film made rather hurriedly after the British entry into World War II in September 1939, but in time to be released in theaters in December of that year. Much of the film is basically an extended newsreel, recounting the events that led up to the war, like the Nazis reneging on the Munich Agreement and then attacking Poland. The "newsreel" portion then recounts the British war effort, showing munitions factories and the production of planes and guns and artillery. Interwoven with this are scripted segments featuring Ralph Richardson as RAF Wing Commander Richardson and Merle Oberon as his wife, two patriotic Britons supporting the war effort. This part of the film dramatizes a British bombing raid on the Kiel Canal as well as an aborted German bombing raid on England.



  • Artistic License – History: The portrait of RAF defenses against the Luftwaffe does not include radar, then a classified British state secret. The British raids on the Kiel Canal depicted in the film were actually a fiasco, taking losses but accomplishing little damage. And most egregiously, the aborted Luftwaffe raid on England was fictional, as the Germans made no air attacks on Britain until 1940 when hostilities started for real in the west.
  • As You Know: Bobby, friends to the Richardsons, crams a lot of exposition in a single line of dialogue, to Mrs. Richardson at the airshow.
    Bobby: (to Mrs. Richardson) It's worthwhile coming from little old Montreal to join these boys. (he sees Mr. Richardson) Here's your husband!
  • The Big Board: RAF Fighter Command has a big table showing southern and western England, the Channel, and the German coast, with blocks representing fighter squadrons that people push around to track combat.
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  • Contrast Montage: The newsreel includes a sequence contrasting wholesome, friendly, peaceful Britain with aggressive militaristic Germany. This montage includes scenes of British men playing soccer, contrasted with German soldiers goosestepping, as well as a shot of British people riding horses around the countryside contrasted with German cavalry on horseback.
  • Genre Mashup: Documentary/newsreel sequences of the run-up to war and the British war effort are interspersed with scripted sequences of an RAF commander sending a squadron out to bomb German warships as they exit the Kiel Canal.
  • High-Class Glass: Schulenberg, the German spy observing a British air show in the pre-war days, sports the High-Class Glass required of all German aristocrats.
  • Narrator: The newsreel-ish portions of the film are accompanied by a blithely confident narrator who extols British good cheer and fellowship as opposed to German militarism, and who states that England is totally ready to take on Germany.
  • Old School Dogfight: Dogfights between the RAF and Luftwaffe over the Kiel Canal, and then over the North Sea after barrage balloons force the Luftwaffe to turn back from a raid against Britain.
  • Rousing Speech:
    • Queen Elizabeth I's speech to English troops at Tilbury, stationed there awaiting a Spanish invasion in 1588, is included, demonstrating the nearly 900-year resistance of the English to invasion.
    • As Mr. and Mrs. Richardson enjoy a quiet moment under a tree, she gives a passionate speech about how British women will loyally support the war effort. She then looks down and sees that her husband has dozed off.
  • Spreading Disaster Map Graphic: Just such a graphic is used to show Germany's pre-war expansion, starting with the occupation of the Rhineland, then the annexation of Austria, the absorption of the Sudetenland after Munich, the occupation of the Czech half of Czechoslovakia (with the Slovak half shaded in as a German client state), and finally the takeover of Memel in the Baltic.
  • Stock Footage: Chunks of the movie are stock footage, as was required by the rushed production schedule. The clips of Germans marching around and looking scary were taken from Triumph of the Will. The clip of Flora Robson delivering Queen Elizabeth I's Tilbury speech is taken from 1937 film Fire Over England.

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