“CONFLICT OF WINGS”
The People vs. The Royal Air Force
“In rural Norfolk, villagers are spurred to action when it is announced that the nearby RAF station is taking over the Island of Children, a much-loved and untouched bird sanctuary, for rocket practice.”
“Conflict of Wings” is about a battle between a local population against the powers that be. The RAF intends to commandeer a small island in the Norfolk Broads to use as a firing range. The locals are up in arms and begin protesting but someone discovers an ancient act whereby Henry VIII had given the land to the church in gratitude for the town helping to end a long forgotten rebellion.
We learn that Vampire jets that are based at the local RAF base have been equipped with new rocket firing apparatus and the firing range is required to train the pilots using the new systems. Whilst the residents’ about Henry VIII claims are being investigated, the RAF decides to carry on with the exercise. The residents get into boats and ‘occupy’ the island so they can stop the exercise. When they occupy the island, someone accidentally damages the telephone link from an RAF spotter on the island to the control center.
As the residents invade, he attempts to warn the commander to abort the exercise, but cannot make contact. Low cloud cover means that the approaching aircraft don’t see the ground until the last seconds. The occupiers wave and shout frantically and just as the order to fire is about to be made, the lead pilot sees the danger and aborts the exercise just as the rockets are about to be released.
The humor is droll at best and typically British. The local inhabitants, led by native daughter Muriel Pavlow and an assortment of colorful character actors lead the fight to save the marsh and this leads to conflict with her boyfriend, airman John Gregson, as well as the base commander Kieron Moore.
Combining comedy and drama is difficult and here it doesn’t really work. What had been funny back then is no longer funny. There is almost a sub-genre of British comedies about colorful locals rising up in which in all instances, the enemy are incompetent bureaucrats or buffoons. Here the air force is shown as capable, concerned but committed to their responsibilities. Periodically Kieron Moore is required to look out into mid-space and give a speech about the need for military preparedness, with appropriate references to just past crises in Korea and Malaysia. Decent people having to make difficult choices may be more representative of real life but it is less satisfying on the movie screen. Here the shifting between comic efforts and near tragic efforts by the local population has the result of an uneven and ultimately unsatisfying cinema experience.
Here is rural England and its inhabitants preserved on screen. It is evocative of another time and place with no stand out performances (John Gregson is standard Jon Gregson – not to my taste, Muriel Pavlow doesn’t get a chance to act much and so on), no stand out dialogue, no great plot but it does have a sense of time and place and a unique plot.