A note from Lindsey: Since I often cover period films that are set in or before the era of old Hollywood, I may also cover documentaries about the era from time to time. The time period in which our favorite films were produced is every bit as fascinating to me as the films themselves! Today I’ll be reviewing a World War II documentary.
Memories of a WWII Hero: Captain Brown’s Story is a historical documentary in which Captain Eric “Winkle” Brown, a famed Royal Navy pilot, tells the story of his flying career in his own words. From the first flight that his father took him on at age ten to his time spent fighting in the second World War and the years that followed, this documentary gives a fairly comprehensive look at the career of a man who has led a fascinating life.
The film moves in chronological order, beginning with the moment that Brown fell in love with flying and describing his pre-war travels to Germany around the time of the Berlin Olympics. Chillingly, Brown remembers people describing Hitler’s Nuremberg Rally appearances as spectacular “shows,” not realizing the horrors that were to come in the following years.
After his visit in 1936, Brown returned to Germany in 1939, hoping to work as a diplomat. He was arrested by SS officers soon after arriving: War had been declared between his home country and Germany. Fortunately, he was only held in jail for a relatively brief time, and once released joined the Royal Navy as a fighter pilot. Thanks to his contributions to the war effort and his post-war career as a test pilot, Brown is known as one of the world’s greatest aviators.
This documentary is very simple in its storytelling style. Most of the focus is on Brown himself, telling his story to the camera. Some newsreel footage is incorporated, as are old photographs, but Brown often continues his narration over these clips.
The fact that Brown is given the opportunity to tell his story in his own words is nice. With Brown now in his 90s, listening to him speak about his life is like having a one-on-one conversation with an older relative.
He speaks not only of the big action of the war as he experienced it, but the daily dangers of being a pilot, such as the difficulty of landing a plane on a carrier’s deck. The horrors of war aren’t ignored, either. (Brown was a first-hand witness to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp as the war ended, for example.)
Sometimes this tactic of allowing the subject to speak freely can create problems for a documentary, if the narrator is unreliable. Even if the narrator has the best intentions, the film may still seem one-sided, slanted toward that person’s version of the truth. But I found no reason to question that Brown’s authenticity or honesty here, and many of his stories are proven factual by period footage used in the film.
Memories of a WWII Hero is a quick and interesting watch. Captain Brown holds the world records for most aircraft carrier landings made by any person (2,047), and for the most types of aircraft flown by any person (487). With all of that experience under his belt, he certainly has a story to tell. While not as in-depth as other documentaries focused on the war, Memories of a WWII Hero is worthwhile as the account of one person who witnessed a lot of history in the making.