Gillies MacKinnon’s Castles in the Sky celebrates the life and work of Robert Watson-Watt; one of history’s most under-appreciated Scotsmen. With his huge contributions to the development of radar, prior to the second world war, Watson-Watt initially seemed like a suitable subject for a BBC 2 sixty-minute single feature. In a Q and A that followed the Edinburgh Film Festival premier of Castles in the Sky the film’s producer and writer discussed how they felt they needed a full ninety minutes in order to do the story justice. So, what was originally going to be designed for television has made its way to the festival scene with an extra thirty minutes of content. Castles in the Sky is charming and uplifting but would have been more at home on the BBC with a third of its length sliced away. For me there is not enough to fill the ninety minutes, despite the film’s excellent script and cast. The majority of the film follows Robert Watson-Watt and his dedicated team as they attempt to develop radar technology advanced enough to defend the country from Nazi Germany and Hitler’s vicious plan of attack. This main plot line is interrupted by a feeble insight into the protagonist’s strained marriage as well as a pantomime-like villain in the form of a government advisor who is forever breathing down Watson-Watt’s neck.
The main story is interesting enough, culminating in a joyful and triumphant depiction of our country’s victory in the Battle of Britain; something Watson-Watt and his team played a huge part in the success of. Outside of this, the plot lacks focus and conviction; introducing us to stories that are frustratingly left unfinished and unexplained. Izzard is perfectly charming as the father of radar. His performance is gentle and he maintains a soft Scottish accent throughout, causing us to forget that we first and foremost know him as a wacky and glamorous comedian. The whole cast is wonderful; at their best when their characters interact in a rainy game of cricket. Castles in the Sky, filmed all around Edinburgh, is a celebration of both a Scottish hero and Scottish film making. The Q and A session was enjoyable, with Izzard entertaining through the medium of video chat. Still, I couldn’t help but feel that the film would have been more suited to a 9-pm time slot on BBC 2 in a years time, on the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. We as an audience smiled our way through Castles in the Sky but I expect I would have enjoyed it even more on a Winter’s evening, in my living room with a nice cup of tea and my slippers on.
Thanks for reading and let’s all keep supporting our beloved film industry.
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