Making the Grades
The MPAA has not rated Above and Beyond.
Sir Winston Churchill (Joss Ackland) knows it is just a matter of time before German troops try to invade British shores. Watching the war in Europe carefully, he attempts to prepare his country by purchasing military supplies from North America. But few of the supply boats are able to make a smooth sailing across the Nazi-infested Atlantic Ocean. Frantic to get US-built airplanes into England, Churchill turns to his Air Recruitment Minister, Lord Beaverbrook (Kenneth Welsh) to put together a plan to secure the necessary supply.
Beaverbrook's solution, although obvious, also borders on the insane. He proposes the aircraft be flown over, instead of shipped by boat. But the craziness of this logic is the impossibility of the task. Because weight constraints restrict the amount of fuel a plane can carry, the flight path has to follow the closest landmasses, which means heading up the eastern coast of Canada towards Newfoundland, then heading northeast past Greenland and Iceland, eventually touching down in Ireland. Due to the erratic climate conditions along the way, only a handful of airplanes have ever successfully made the transatlantic crossing and none have done so during winter months. Still, desperate times call for desperate measures, and the risky venture is given the go-ahead.
Captain Don Bennett (Richard E. Grant), one of England's most accomplished flyers, gets the job of going to Canada, recruiting volunteers and training them for this next-to-impossible mission. Motivated by patriotism, Bennett sets up shop in Montreal and begins by hiring Shelagh Emberly (Liane Balaban) as his secretary. The young woman proves a fortuitous choice because she is already acquainted with a group of work-seeking pilots -- especially a handsome and cocky American named Bill Jacobson (Jonathan Scarfe). With her help, the fledgling program gets off the ground.
Eventually, the top-secret operation moves to Gander, Newfoundland, where a visionary government has already built an extensive civilian aerodrome. With the reluctant assistance of the local supervisor of the facility (Allen Hawco), Bennett prepares to send out his first convoy of seven Hudson aircraft on November 10, 1940.
This Canadian miniseries is based on the real activities of the Ferry Command, a group responsible for transporting about 10,000 planes from the most easterly land-based airport in North America (at the time) to Europe during World War II. And it does a good job of explaining the challenges evolved in attempting such a dangerous feat. Although the script includes perilous situations and some deaths, the only blood shown is the result of injury from a malfunctioning piece of equipment.
Unfortunately, the second half of the story gets a little lost in characters' personal lives, love interests and ego posturing. Smoking, drinking and swearing are portrayed as daily practices. Romantic intentions range from embraces and kisses to undressing and fondling (a woman's bra strap is shown after her blouse is unbuttoned, and later her exposed thigh is caressed). As well, sexual relationships are implied and sexual innuendo creeps into political haggling and servicemen's bantering.
Yet despite these shortcomings, the made-for-TV production does expose this little-known piece of history. Shedding light on their sizable contribution to the war effort, it helps us appreciate the heroic men and women who went Above and Beyond the call of duty in the fight for peace.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Above and Beyond.
How does ego affect many of the decisions made in regards to the creation of the Ferry Command? In particular, look at Lord Beaverbrook, Captain Bennett, Bill Jacobson, the commander of American Army and the Royal Air Force. Did the personal agendas of these individuals or parties have a positive or negative impact? Could the Ferry Command have operated without them?
For more information about the Ferry Command and the significance of the airport located in Gander, Newfoundland, check this site: http://www.heritage.nf.ca/law/gander_base.html
Dr.. Frederick Banting is also depicted in this movie (played by Jason Priestley). You can learn more about this Canadian Nobel Prize winner and his work with diabetes and insulin here: