Review: Aces High
DVD: Aces High (1976)
Being a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps during WWI was a job for life…a life that would likely end within a day or two due to the high fatality rate of the brave men who stepped into the cockpit of those early flying machines.
Based on the book Journeys End (which was set in the trenches of WWI), Aces High shows the physical and mental strain that the pilots went through in the cause of serving their country.
Gresham (Malcom McDowell) is a Squadron leader who relies on alcohol to get him through his mission flights and to numb the pain of the deaths he sees all around him. He keeps fellow pilots at an arms length so as not to become too emotionally attached to them, as he knows that the probability is that they will be dead long before any friendship can be founded.
When Croft (Peter Firth) arrives at the base, Gresham’s coping mechanisms are pushed to breaking point, as Croft is in a relationship with his sister, and family commitments can cloud judgements even more than alcohol.
While featuring some flashes of humour here and there, albeit mostly tongue in cheek, Aces High is an emotionally hard hitting experience that doesn’t shy at showing the futility of war and specifically the cost it has on young lives. It is only when Croft has seen for himself the ravages that war can make on a persons soul, that he begins to understand why Gresham has turned to the bottle.
Aces High features a superb cast, with Christopher Plummer, Simon Ward, John Gielgud, Trevor Howard and Ray Milland all joining the aforementioned McDowell and Firth in portraying characters that you have empathy for and are drawn into their turbulent lives.
While Aces High has some great aerial dogfighting action, this is all about the men strapped into those flimsy machines, who take off from their base in the knowledge that they will probably not return.
My only complaint being that the picture quality could be better, though that seems like a petty ‘1st world problem’ compared to what these pilots had to go through in WWI.
Hard hitting and emotionally draining, this is another feather in the (flying) cap of Umbrella Entertainment.