I’v e noticed that a number of people have been upset by the continuity issues on the BBC’s production of First Light. I can promise you that having heard it from the director himself, this was down to budgetary issues only. Although they did put the actor up in the air – mostly in a Yak – much of the aerial footage was taken from unused reels from the Battle of Britain film – apparently they shot a staggering 180 hours’ worth of aerial film, the vast majority of which never made it into the final cut, but which has been filling in on films and documentaries about the Battle of Britain ever since. And I think most people agree that the 1969 is terrific – albeit not without glaring inaccuracies: the wrong Spitfires, Buchons not Messerschmitts etc etc, but we all know this and can enjoy it for what it is – a cracking film.
And that’s the point with First Light. OK, 92 Squadron seems to have shrunk to six pilots, there’s no sign of Squadron Leader Sanders, who took over from Roger Bushell, or Tony Bartley, or Allan Wright, or Bob Standford Tuck, and Mac MacGowen, the adjutant left the squadron long before 1941. And yes, there’s some inconsistency with the Spitfires, and flying at 300+mph, water doesn’t run down a windscreen. But does that matter? This is an adaptation, and a drama. The mood was right, and moreover, as Geoff pointed out, the flying scenes gave off an air of authenticity that has not been bettered. Also, the key scenes – first flight, first combat, storm scene, final flight – were all excellent, the actor conveying, by turns, the ecstasy, the terror, the anger and the exhaustion with impressive clarity and feeling. It was incredibly moving to think that what Geoff went through was anything like that – and he assured me it was – added significantly, not detracted from the book. That’s why I thought it was so good.