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Thursday, 22 November, 2001, 19:07 GMT
Blue World pays overdue tribute
Dark Blue World
Dark Blue World stars Tara Fitzgerald and Ondrej Vetchy
By the BBC's Paula Kennedy

You could be forgiven for thinking that after a string of recent Hollywood blockbusters such as Saving Private Ryan and Pearl Harbor, we don't need another World War II action movie just yet.

But it's good to be reminded that small countries such as Czechoslovakia also made their own heroic contribution to saving the world from fascism, and Czech director Jan Sverak's latest film, Dark Blue World, does just that.

Sverak made his film as a way of paying tribute to an unjustly neglected group of people - the Czechoslovak pilots who escaped to England after their country was invaded by the Nazis.

By the end of 1940, there were nearly 1,300 Czechoslovak pilots serving with the RAF.

Nearly 500 were killed in action, yet those who survived the war and returned home in 1945 found that their troubles were far from over.

After the Communist takeover of 1948, all former servicemen who had spent the war fighting on the Allied side were regarded as having been irredeemably corrupted by their contact with democracy, and many were sentenced to years in hard labour camps.

Dark Blue World
The movie boasts strong special effects

The story of Dark Blue World is told through the eyes of one such pilot, the handsome Franta Slama - played by Ondrej Vetchy -, who during the 1950s is locked up together with other "enemies of the people" such as a former Nazi doctor.

In a series of flashbacks, he recalls how during the war he arrived in England with a young protégé, the hormonally-driven Karel - played by Krystof Hadek - and a strong bond of friendship developed between the two men.

Their camaraderie helps them to overcome the culture shock that awaits them in England, as the stiff-backed Col Bentley - Charles Dance - insists on all Czechoslovak recruits being retrained from scratch.

But their friendship undergoes its severest test when both men fall in love with the same woman, the lovely Susan - Tara Fitzgerald.

Although the relationship between Franta and Karel is the central theme of the film, this is far from being just a macho pilot-buddy movie.

Music

One of Sverak's earlier films, the Oscar-winning Kolya (1996), showed that he had few qualms about allowing his actors to be upstaged by small children, and in Dark Blue World there is not just one child but a whole brood - the evacuees looked after by Susan.

Another winning aspect of the film is the soundtrack, which draws heavily on music by the Czech jazz composer Jaroslav Jezek.

As well as referring to the colour of the pilots' uniform and the skies in which they spend much of their lives, Dark Blue World is also the title of one of Jezek's most melancholy numbers, and is the song onto which Karel projects all his bitterness when he realises that he has lost Susan.

Dark Blue World may have been made on a fraction of the budget of a movie like Pearl Harbor, but in Czech terms it is definitely a blockbuster.

Over a million people have seen the film in the Czech Republic since it opened - that's one in 10 of the population.

One could speculate on whether these crowds have been pulled in more by the strong story, the impressive special effects in the battle scenes, or by the need to come to terms with one of the more shameful episodes of post-war Czech history.

Whatever the main reason for the film's runaway success in the Czech Republic, there can be little doubt that Dark Blue World also has quite a few of the ingredients needed to appeal to a UK audience.

Dark Blue World is due for UK release in spring 2002.

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