May 01, 2004
Walton finally wins the Battle of Britain

In the latest Gramophone (paper only) comes news that:

A new DVD release of The Battle of Britain will reunite the film with the original soundtrack by Sir William Walton.

Walton was initially commissioned to compose the score for Guy Hamilton's 1969 film depicting the decisive serial conflict that took place in the skies over southern England in 1940. Although recorded, it was replaced by a score commissioned from Ron Goodwin, with only Walton's Battle in the Air sequence remaining. One explanation for the decision is that Walton's score was not long enough to fill an accompanying soundtrack LP.

In 1900 Timothy Gee, who as the film's assistant music editor worked closely with Walton, tracked down the original recording to the garage of Eric Tomlinson, the recording engineer. He then persuaded MGM, who are releasing the DVD, to restore Walton's music to the film.

He recalls that many people working on the film opposed the decision to scrap Walton's score. 'I think it is now more in tune with Guy Hamilton's concept of the picture,' he said.

I thought I did some blogging about this, but haven't been able to disinter any. But I do vividly recall instantly noticing the Walton music when it cut into the original version of this movie, and being very impressed. Although, I think Goodwin's music is also very good, especially the triumphant German march at the beginning. (I did find a posting about Goodwin's music for Where Eagles Dare.) Would that this were a straightforward replacement of rubbish by gold. Alas, not. Still, I'm looking forward to this DVD. (here and here are links to more on this topic.)

As for the film itself, it's another of these real events with made-up people jobs, which I really really wish they wouldn't do. (Think Charlton Heston in Midway. Urrgh!) I mean, if you can have the likes of Dowding, Park and Leigh Mallory for real, why not the real pilots, and maybe a real wife or girlfriend or two? I suppose there are all kinds of legal and confidentiality reasons, but all the same, when I see a historical movie, I want it to be as accurate as possible. I don't want to be learning things that ain't so. A lot to ask from the movies, I know. At least with these TV drama-stroke-documentaries which lots complain about but not me, they try to get things accurate, and when they can't because it isn't known, they say so.

Despite all that, I do love The Battle of Britain, made-up pilots, no William Walton, and all. It even has Laurence Olivier in it, and I still like it. That's rare for me.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:30 PM
Category: Classical musicMovies