Winter Flight

December 22, 2011

The five-week series of David Puttnam’s fine “First Love” films wraps up this week with Winter Flight, which has the distinction of being the longest and most serious of the bunch. It’s also the most problematical.

While the earlier films, especially my favorites, Sharma and Beyond and Forever Young, managed a careful blend of good cheer and seriousness, Winter Flight tips more toward the serious, as suggested by its Bergmanesque title. And yet the somber tone is almost too much for its slim plot, which, though it presents a grave enough situation, seems stretched a bit too far.

It’s about a virginal 19-year-old British serviceman, Mal (Reece Dinsdale), whose primary social activity is reading the encyclopedia. The first time he ventures into a military bar, he is humiliated by the toughs who regularly hang out there.

But his humiliation draws out the compassion of Angie, the bartender (Nicola Cowper), who soothes his wounds and begins dating him. It’s his first romance.

It’s not quite hers, as evidenced by the discovery that she’s pregnant, but can’t remember who the father is. Mal knows it isn’t him, but he assumes the stiff upper lip and resolves to do the right thing by her.

This situation is nearly identical to Preston Sturges’ classic 1944 comedy The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek. In that film, Betty Hutton saved the day by delivering sextuplets, thus vaulting into celebrityhood. Winter Flight has a surprise ending, too, although of a different kind.

This ending, in fact, provides the most original moment in the film, which spends a little too much of its length arguing whether the couple should give the child up for adoption. the movie is sensitively told, Roy Battersby’s direction is unfailingly decent, but the script by Alan Janes does tend to meander.

The birth of the child is intercut with an attack on the RAF base where Mal is stationed. It’s a peculiar sequence, since the film has prepared us for the possibility that the attack may be a real one by the Soviet Union, although logic tells us it is more likely a war game. It even sets up some slapstick, as Mal runs around the hospital with his gas mask flopping on his face. It’s an interesting comic try that doesn’t quite jell.

Winter Flight is still a good, often moving film (especially the ending). But it doesn’t achieve the plateau of some of the others in the series. That’s the problem with doing exemplary work; you’re always expected to keep up with yourself. These “First Love” movies have been so uniformly excellent, I think we can forgive one of them for being merely good.

First published in the Herald, February 1986

On the off chance that anybody else remembers these “First Love” movies, I will say that it surprises me to read that my faves were Sharma and Forever Young; Sharma yes, but I thought Kipperbang and Arthur’s Hallowed Ground were my other choices. Sean Bean was also in this one.