The UK Film Council and BBC 2’s celebration of British film continues with a big-screen showing of Michael Anderson’s 1955 WWII matinée mainstay about the RAF’s efforts to destroy three key Ruhr Valley dams using eccentric aircraft designer Barnes Wallis’s bizarre bouncing bombs. The first half of this stiff upper-lipper centres on Wallis’ initial frustration in the face of bureaucratic apathy and the eventual official go-ahead and final preparation stages, before the action is ramped up for the mission itself.
Seeing it again after so many decades, one can’t help but notice the by-numbers structural simplicity of the film, the use of Queen’s English throughout, and how the word ‘nigger’ (in this case the codeword for one of the dams) could be bandied about with such jaw-dropping nonchalance. It’s a film built on the eureka moment: you can just imagine audiences back then cheering the screen at the sight of the first dam blowing, and being wholly impressed by the hilariously elementary special effects. But it’s Eric Coates’ rousing militaristic signature tune that, in hindsight, has left the most lasting impression.