Look around you. Notice the distinct lack of swastikas lining every street? The world would have been a very different place had it not been for heroes like Robert Watson Watt, the subject of Gillies MacKinnon's absorbing film. Boasting a majestic leading performance from Eddie Izzard, Castles in the Sky conveys the triumph of innovation and tenacity against opponents fighting for the same side during World War II.
It's remarkable that the Battle of Britain wasn't a victory for Adolf Hitler, with his Luftwaffe outnumbering RAF planes by a shocking 3:1. This result was determined by Robert Watson Watt (Izzard), a likeable ball of eccentricity who conjured up an idea on how to detect approaching enemy aircraft from afar. Not that the government bureaucrats were impressed, wanting to channel their limited financial resources into doomed attack rather than solid defence. Not unlike Roy Hodgson.
Castles in the Sky explores the crucial battles that take place, with budgets, class and prejudice instead of bayonets, fists and guns. It's a compelling tale, spearheaded by Izzard's disarming portrayal of a kind-hearted man who struggles to balance the burden of saving a nation with the help of a blackboard and chalk with the emotional needs of his neglected wife (Breaking Bad's Laura Fraser).
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For those who ever wondered whether Eddie Izzard could cut the proverbial mustard with a Sonic Screwdriver as the next Doctor Who - watch this film. At times, such as when he first pitches his radar invention, it's like an enthusiastic incarnation of the Doctor pitching a product to disdainful judges on Dragons' Den. Watt's far from a mere figure of fun though, for Izzard deftly brings out layers to the character, ensuring that no airbrushed idealisation takes place. There's an underlying sadness in his soul that emerges.
"We need free thinkers. Rule breakers. Men without ties," urges Watt to his superiors at one point, ahead of enlisting a resourceful bunch of meteorologists including Skip Wilkins (Karl Davies) and Taffy (Celyn Jones) to help him on his mission. Refreshingly, the film doesn't ignore their efforts just to focus solely on the deeds of the central figure.
As Albert Percival Rowe and Frederick Lindemann, Julian Rhind-Tutt and David Hayman are eminently dislikeable as the stubborn authority figures for Watt to overcome, yet you never lose sight of the fact that they're also determined to protect the nation. They both pitch their performances just right in roles that could have appeared one-dimensional in lesser hands.
Watt's far from a mere figure of fun though, for Izzard deftly brings out layers to the character, ensuring that no airbrushed idealisation takes place. There's an underlying sadness in his soul that emerges.
Gillies MacKinnon keeps the story flowing well with his unobtrusive camerawork, letting the actors shine and play off interesting culture clashes. Archive footage from the 1930s and 1940s is used sparingly but effectively to demonstrate just what Britain was up against.
The contemporary relevance of the story and its outcome is also nicely touched upon. Did you know Watt's invention spawned air traffic control, the microwave oven and a risible Britney Spears song called 'Radar'? We'll forgive him for the latter. He's earned himself a bit of slack to be fair.
Castles in the Sky is a fittingly emotional and rousing tribute to a group of men who deserve to be revered and remembered for their daring and dogged actions. They arguably determined the fate of each and every one of us.