For the sake of the movie I hope that Iwan Rheon who played the arch-bastard (literally and metaphorically) Ramsey Bolton in “Game of Thrones” is good enough actor to go from a villain to a hero:
The Hurricane may be the unquestioned star of the picture but at its heart, the story is a human one. This is the true tale of the RAF’s hastily assembled No.303 (Polish) Fighter Squadron. Put together in the summer of 1940, as Britain faced the most concerted military threat in its history, this was a unit made up almost exclusively of Polish airmen. After failing to stop the Nazis overwhelm their homeland, about 150 Polish pilots (in 303 and 302 Squadron) and ground crew made their way across the Channel in order to continue their war. Initially they were treated with scepticism, but as the shortage of experienced British airmen became critical, they were soon corralled into frontline duty and supplied with Hurricanes.
‘I had no idea about their story,’ says Iwan Rheon, who plays Jan Zumbach, a devil-may-care Polish adventurer who ended up, after the war was over, flying as an aerial mercenary in Africa. ‘At school what we learned of the Second World War was all about D-Day and Dunkirk. So it was really fascinating to discover what these guys did. Their contribution was nothing short of miraculous. The fact is they helped to save Britain.’
Rheon is not exaggerating. 303 Squadron turned out to be among the most productive flying units in the RAF, responsible for downing some 126 Luftwaffe aircraft in just six weeks during the Battle of Britain. Zumbach alone was responsible for eight confirmed German kills and one probable.
The movie is titled “Hurricane” and comes out on September 7.
To assimilate the role of Zumbach, Rheon, who grew up speaking Welsh, was obliged to learn another language: Polish. Well, almost.
‘I’m bilingual, which is supposed to make new languages easier,’ he smiles. ‘But there’s very little connection with English or Welsh, so little to grasp on to. In the end I didn’t learn it, I just learned the lines.’
I’ll let you know how Rheon manages, but, as it’s always the way with the movies, he is certainly slightly better looking than the original Zumbach (in the middle):
Such is also the fate of the Squadron’s Canadian commander John Kent (far right), played in the movie by Mel Gibson’s son, Milo.
There are many places to read about the 303th Squadron, including some good books, but for a brief overview check out the Imperial War Museum. Polish pilots were initially distrusted, partly on account of their poor knowledge of English and partly because of their cavalier, suicidally brave and aggressive way of flying. They soon however proved their effectiveness in the skies over Britain, while proving exceedingly popular with the flower of English womanhood on the ground, so much so that they attracted local imitators pretending to be Polish aces in order to score some direct hits. Shamefully, the Polish “Few” were prohibited from participating in the victory parade in 1945 so as not to antagonise the Soviets. Let’s hope the movie will be a decent living monument to them.