Producers: Andrew Burn and Callum Burn Director: Callum Burn Screenplay: Andrew Burn, Callum Burn and Sam Parsons Cast: Jeffrey Mundell, David Dobson, Kris Saddler, Joanne Gale, Vin Hawke, Steven Hooper, Josh Collins, Callum Burn, Henry Collie, Tom Gordon, Leila Sykes, Tony Gordon, Eric Flynn, Daniel Flynn, Roger Wentworth, Rosa Coduri, Orla Sanders, Fiona Kimberley, Matt Davies, Bridgette Burn, Elliott Strother, Bryony James, Robert Francis and Tina Hodgson Distributor: Shout! Studios
It takes a considerable amount of courage—some might say foolhardiness—to try to make a period film on a next-to-nothing budget. But that’s what the father-and-son team of Andrew and Callum Burn have attempted with “Lancaster Skies,” a drama that hearkens back to movies about the intrepid RAF pilots of World War II but does so with miniscule resources that—among other things—has led to the use of plastic models of the Avro Lancaster aircraft that gave the Burns their title.
That naturally means that compared to recent films like Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” or Sam Mendes’ “1917,” this one looks and feels like the poverty-row effort it is.
To compensate for the tackiness of the action sequences—which are, frankly, almost comically threadbare (the cockpit scenes never fall to the level of those in “Plan 9 from Outer Space,” but come frighteningly close), the Burns concentrate on ground-level melodrama which, though no less constrained by budgetary limitations, is merely clunky rather than ludicrous.
The plot centers on Douglas Miller (Jeffrey Mundell), a former Spitfire pilot who, in the opening sequence during his leave at home, informs his parents (Tina Hodgson and Eric Flynn) that he’s signed up for another tour, but this time as a bomber pilot. He wants to do damage to the Germans to avenge the death of his brother, whom we see in some flashbacks gazing lovingly at planes taking off.
Miller must bond with his new crew, but he’s an uptight, still-upper lift type who has trouble fitting in. Not that the crew is particularly receptive. They’re still grieving the loss of their previous skipper (Tom Gordon), who was shot when their plane was strafed on its last run, but nonetheless brought her in safely, only to expire shortly afterward. The effect was great on them all, especially Charlie Moore (Kris Saddler), the tailgunner who froze during the mission; he blames himself for the skipper’s death.
There is one crew member who welcomes Miller warmly: his co-pilot George Williams (David Dobson), a gregarious sort who tries, rather insistently, to teach his new colleague the ropes. It turns out, however, that despite his ostensibly easygoing exterior, Williams too is haunted by a secret from his past.
Unsurprisingly, the script adds a touch of romance to the proceedings in the form of the women on the base, most notably Kate Hedges (Joanne Gale). She takes an instant liming to Miller, who gradually mellows at her attention.
There’s a drawing-room quality to much of “Lancaster Skies,” which is played at the level of strained conversation set in claustrophobic rooms—even the mess hall looks cramped. It’s not surprising that in these circumstances the acting has a stiff, affected quality, accentuated by Callum Burn’s staid direction and his ponderous editing. The result is rather like watching a filmed stage play, of a kinescope of one of those live-action TV dramas from the 1950s. The latter is an especially apt comparison, since Sam Parsons’ cinematography favors washed-out colors that almost approximate black-and-white. A heavy-handed score by James Griffiths completes the prosaic package.
One has to be amazed that the Burns team was able to pull off “Lancaster Skies” at all, given that their entire budget probably wouldn’t cover a single day’s catering costs for “Dunkirk” or “1917.” But ambition and achievement are two entirely different things, and in this case the makers’ reach has definitely exceeded their grasp.