July, 1943, almost three years after the Battle of Britain and two years past the worst of the London Blitz and, shortly thereafter, the entry of America into World War Two, and the tide is finally turning in Europe with nightly raids over strategic targets in Germany conducted by fleets of Avro Lancasters and their support planes operating out of RAF Bomber Command, Wing Commander Tim Mason approaching the end of his third tour of thirty runs each.
With eighty-seven missions concluded with his safe return, Mason is determined to make it to ninety but how long can his luck hold, his tail gunner injured on their last mission forcing American observer “Mac” Baker to take over the position. Mason and two of his crew, Flight Lieutenant Brown and Pilot Officer Greeno recommended for commendations, the Distinguished Flying Cross for each of them and a bar on his Distinguished Service Order for Mason, their appointment in London is set for a month hence, if they survive that long.
Co-written by a former bomber pilot based out of RAF Bottesford, John Wooldridge, and directed by Philip Leacock, Appointment in London, also known as Raiders in the Sky, was first released in 1953, starring The Gentle Gunman‘s Dirk Bogarde as Mason, 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s William Sylvester as Baker and The Mirror Crack’d’s Dinah Sheridan as Mrs Eve Canyon, a war widow who liaises with Bomber Command on strategic matters and catches the eye of both Mason and Baker, with support from Bill Kerr and Bryan Forbes as Brown and Greeno.
Mason regarded as “highly strung” by his superiors, his only admission to the pressure is of difficulty sleeping but much of what drives Appointment in London remains unspoken, the characters somewhere between British aloofness and emotional numbness, perhaps too scared to admit they feel anything because that confession would open a floodgate to all their fears, each sortie returning with fewer aeroplanes than departed.
Bogarde approaching the height of his fame, ranked the most popular star at the British box office by 1955, Appointment in London does not challenge him, Mason repressed almost to the point of detachment, contrasted by the humanity and grief of barman Charles Victor and widow Anne Leon, and it is easy to understand why he later began to seek more controversial projects such as Victim and The Servant, though the final third taking place in the skies over Germany feels like it is from another film.
Wooldridge’s understanding of the mechanics of the planes and the raids bringing veracity and much-needed urgency to the cramped cockpit, the aerial footage is impressive throughout, Appointment in London as fixated on the bombers and their performance then as Top Gun is now, and restored by StudioCanal for their Vintage Classics range the new edition features two interviews, with Hugh Wooldridge recalling the diverse achievements of his father and history writer Will Iredale discussing the film itself along with a brief gallery of stills.
Appointment in London will be released on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital by StudioCanal on Monday 27th June