British Second World War movie ‘Appointment in London’ was released in 1953, less than a decade after the end of the war it so vividly depicts. It marked a turning point in the career of star Dirk Bogarde. He was happy to be rented out to small production company Mayflower Pictures, taking a break from the Rank contract that would increasingly come to frustrate his ambitions. Later hailed as one of Britain’s finest movie actors thanks to his roles in films such as ‘Accident’, ‘Victim’ and ‘The Servant’, Bogarde was still solidly in his matinee idol phase when ‘Appointment in London’ first hit cinema screens.
Dirk Bogarde plays Wing-Commander Tim Mason, one of the Lancaster Bombers who flies missions over Germany. Despite the short life expectancy of the pilots, Mason has successfully completed eighty-seven missions, and tells his superiors that he will stop once he reaches ninety. However, they are concerned for his mental state given the toll the flights take on pilots, and for the impact that his death would have on company morale. Inevitably, the order comes from above to ground him. But then fate places an opportunity in Mason’s hands to take to the skies again, even though doing so would be to disobey orders…
‘Appointment in London’ was both written and scored by John Wooldridge, a former RAF pilot who had in real life flown an incredible 108 missions. The film is based on his experiences. The extra feature ‘Appointment with my Father’ is a fifteen-minute interview with Wooldridge’s son Hugh, who gives an account of how extraordinarily brave and talented his father was. Tragically, he died far too young in a car accident not many years after ‘Appointment in London’ was released. The film is a testament to Wooldridge’s achievements, and to his intention to show cinema-goers what it was like to be a Bomber Command pilot. The film certainly achieves on that count, with climactic sequences following a British raid on Germany. The film also dramatises the role of the Pathfinders – planes that would seek out the targets and direct the bombers accurately. In the other featurette ‘Flight of the Pathfinders’, Will Iredale goes into some detail about how the innovative creation of the Pathfinders turned British failure in the skies into success during the course of the war.
The movie succeeds in vividly presenting the real-life heroics of Bomber Command during the Second World War, and it does so with good attention to detail. Although he had been in the army and not a pilot, Bogarde had served during the war, and undoubtedly the film would have brought back challenging experiences (see several volumes of his memoirs) that he drew upon to ensure that his character of Tim Mason is fully-rounded. Director Philip Leacock probably deserves some of the credit for that, since ‘Appointment in London’ comes after ‘The Gentle Gunman’, which was not Bogarde’s finest hour. Star and director would be reunited a few years later for ‘The Spanish Gardener’.
‘Appointment in London’, which takes its name from an invitation bestowed on two of the pilots to receive honours from the King at Buckingham Palace – if only they live long enough to keep it – follows plot lines that are fairly similar for movies about conflict. The male-dominated cast is laddish and energetic, save for star Dirk Bogarde who is in his comfort zone of playing aloof and repressed. Some of them are missing wives and girlfriends, and this gets Greeno (Bryan Forbes) into trouble. But then a chance meeting with Naval Officer Eve Canyon (Dinah Sheridan) gives Mason a renewed focus on life after he retires from active duties, which is increasingly pertinent after every loss of a man under his command. Actors of the calibre of Bryan Forbes and Ian Hunter play secondary characters. Adaptable Australian talent Bill Kerr makes a welcome appearance as one of the pilots in a nod to the debt the Allies owed to Commonwealth nations for their support.
Though the film concentrates its attention on the activities of the Allies, the Germans are depicted, shouting shrill orders from a control room as the Lancaster Bombers gradually take out their targets. But they are never drawn into the action. In this way, the film is more about the psychological consequences of being involved in conflict, and the camaraderie between the pilots. Naturally, some of the filmmaking techniques feel dated now. Scenes of superior officers explaining the mission to the assembled pilots is information-heavy and overlong (though it does briefly feature Bogarde’s long-term partner, Anthony Forwood). The model work is good, but especially in high-definition, the artifice is clear. There wasn’t a lot of money around in those dour post-war years, so a limited budget had to go a long way. Ultimately what matters is the story that is being told and the talent involved in its telling. There, the film succeeds and retains our interest.
The black and white film stock of ‘Appointment in London’ looks crisp and clean in Blu-ray, and the high-definition accentuates the emotional reactions of the players, bringing out subtle details in their performances. It’s beautifully lit too, with effective use of shadows, half-light and night shoots. The sequences on board the Lancaster Bombers are successfully immersive, placing the audience in the thick of the action. As film-making techniques improved, movies such as ‘Top Gun’, with extensive and impressive aerial sequences, could be made. Philip Leacock’s contribution to cinema with the impressive ‘Appointment in London’ was a step along that road. It is released now as part of Studiocanal’s Vintage Classics collection, and will especially appeal to aficionados of authentic WWII films. Bogarde’s magnetic lead performance – itself a stepping stone to the greatness he would later achieve – is sure to appeal to fans of his work.
Cast: Dirk Bogarde, Ian Hunter, Dinah Sheridan, Bryan Forbes, Bill Kerr Director: Philip Leacock Writers: John Wooldridge, Robert Westerby Certificate: 12 Duration: 96 mins Released by: Studiocanal Release date: 27th June 2022 Buy ‘Appointment in London’