The Lion Has Wings

The Lion Has Wings

Infobox Film
name = The Lion Has Wings

image_size = 175x
caption = DVD cover
director = Michael Powell
Brian Desmond Hurst
Adrian Brunel
Alexander Korda "(uncredited)"
producer = Alexander Korda
Ian Dalrymple
writer = Adrian Brunel
Ian Dalrymple
E.V.H. Emmett
starring = Merle Oberon
Ralph Richardson
June Duprez
music = Richard Addinsell
cinematography = Osmond Borradaile
Bernard Browne
Harry Stradling Sr.
editing = Henry Cornelius
Charles Frend
Hugh Stewart
Derek N. Twist
distributor = United Artists
released = 3 November fy|1939 "(UK)"
runtime = 76 minutes
country = United Kingdom
language = English
budget = £30,000
gross =
imdb_id = 0031575

"The Lion Has Wings" (1939) is a documentary-style British propaganda film. Made at the outbreak of the Second World War, it was made and released to cinemas very quickly and helped convince the government of the value of film in the propaganda battle as well as in spreading information.


"The Lion Has Wings" is recounted in various "chapters" with a linking story revolving around a senior Royal Air Force (RAF) officer, played by Ralph Richardson, his wife and his family.

The film opens with a newsreel style documentary comparing life in Britain to life in Nazi Germany, narrated by E.V.H. Emmett in the contrived and maudlin narrative style common to such newsreels in Britain. This mainly uses existing newsreel footage with some additional footage shot especially for this film. It includes scenes from "Fire Over England" with Queen Elizabeth I giving her speech to the troops at Tilbury about repelling invaders. It also compares the relaxed lifestyles and openness of the British Royal Family and the British people with the militarism of Nazi Germany by including footage from "Triumph of the Will".

The second chapter shows an early bombing raid on German warships in the Kiel Canal. Although it was mainly recreated in the studio and with special effects, it also includes some footage of the real bombers and their crews returning from the raid.

The third chapter shows an attack by Luftwaffe bombers and how it is repelled by the RAF, with assistance from the Observer Corps and the barrage balloons.


As appearing in screen credits (main roles identified): [ The Lion Has Wings Full Credits] ]


At the outbreak of war, there were fears that all film production would be halted and cinemas closed, as they were in the First World War. Alexander Korda was close friends with Winston Churchill and was very aware of current events. As soon as war was declared, Korda pulled staff from other productions to fulfill his promise to Churchill that he would have a feature propaganda film ready within one month of the outbreak of war.

Since "The Lion Has Wings" was made before the attacks on Britain had begun, the film had to rely on existing "stock" footage including sequences lifted from the air raid featurette, "The Gap". Contemporary aircraft, many of which were obsolete by 1939, are a noticeable jarring element. The footage of a German bomber taking off is actually a German airliner; at least it has the correct markings but most of the aircraft featured in the RAF air show were antiquated biplane fighters. The addition of footage that was shot at operational bases, RAF Hornchurch, Hornchurch, Essex and RAF Mildenhall, Suffolk, England combined with studio work at Denham Studio, Denham, Buckinghamshire, UK, lent an air of authenticity to the production. [Powell 1986, p. 330, 338.]

In order to ensure rapid progress, the film had three directors and was shot simultaneously in various locations. Michael Powell was assigned the task of recreating the RAF bomber raids and his taut and well-structured section stands up the best, while Brian Desmond Hurst's suequence with Merle Oberon and Ralph Richardson received the most criticism as being forced and obvious. Adrian Brunel, the last of the three credited directors, was responsible for the spy and "crisis" scenes. Powell later remarked that the project was "all shop-made, edited and directed in less than a month." Powell 1986, p. 335.]


The speed of production and the multiple directors shows in the final result, "it's not the most elegant of films", [ [ Steve Crook commentary] ] but it is an effective "message" film. It was all shot in 12 days and completed in about four weeks at a cost of just £30,000, a notable achievement in the times. Within days of its release, copies had been shipped to 60 countries. Although it's difficult to determine its actual impact on the public, "The Lion Has Wings" was considered a significant factor in persuading the British government to allow the film industry to continue to work, and the film was regarded as a model of how filmmakers could be an asset to the war effort. [ [ The Lion Has Wings] ]

Like many propaganda films, "The Lion Has Wings" doesn't tell the whole truth, but there are many elements of truth in it. The use of radar as a defensive measure was not mentioned since it was still a secret. However, the bombing raids were shown first being reported by spies then confirmed by the Observer Corps, a tactic that was actually occurring as part of the defensive measures. The film also shows Luftwaffe bombers trying to attack London but being completely turned back by barrage balloons which in reality had little effect on the raids. The use of RAF fighters intercepting and attacking enemy bombers at night was not feasible at that point. These errors or misinterpretations added to other lofty claims that Britain had sufficient aircraft in production and was quite ready to fight to counter the overwhelming numbers of Luftwaffe raiders; all purposeful exaggerations intended to bolster morale.

Public reaction was generally reserved, as British audiences saw "The Lion Has Wings" as patently simplistic and patronizing, yet it was a commercial success. [Alexander, Lou. [ "Lion Has Wings, The (1939) Review."] Retrieved: 2 February 2008.] Powell later derided the project as "an outrageous piece of propaganda, full of half-truths and half-lies, with some stagey episodes which were rather embarrassing and with actual facts which were highly distorted..."

Author of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, William Shirer recounts in his Berlin Diary on June 10, 1940 that he thought the film "very bad, supercilious and silly". He was shown the film at the German Propaganda ministry while working as a CBS Radio news reporter.




* Aldgate, Anthony and Jeffrey Richards. "Britain Can Take it: British Cinema in the Second World War". Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2nd Edition. 1994. ISBN 0-7486-0508-8.
* Barr, Charles, ed. "All Our Yesterdays: 90 Years of British Cinema". London: British Film Institute, 1986. ISBN 0-85170-179-5.
* Dolan, Edward F. Jr. "Hollywood Goes to War". London: Bison Books, 1985. ISBN 0-86124-229-7.
* Hardwick, Jack and Ed Schnepf. "A Viewer's Guide to Aviation Movies". "The Making of the Great Aviation Films", General Aviation Series, Volume 2, 1989.
* Murphy, Robert. "British Cinema and the Second World War". London: Continuum, 2000. ISBN 0-82645-139-X.
* Michael Powell. "A Life in Movies". London: Heinemann, 1986. ISBN 0-434-59945-X.

DVD versions

This film is available on DVD from:
* [ DD Home Entertainment] coded for Region 2 (UK & Europe)
* [ Magna Pacific] coded for Region 4 (Australasia)
* [ Criterion] as an extra included on their release of "The Thief of Bagdad" coded for Region 1.

External links

* [ "The Lion Has Wings"] reviews and articles at the [ Powell & Pressburger Pages]
*. Full synopsis and film stills (and clips viewable from UK libraries).

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