The Red Baron (film)

The Red Baron (film)
The Red Baron

Cinema poster
Directed by Nikolai Müllerschön
Produced by Dan Maag
Thomas Reisser
Roland Pellegrino
Written by Nikolai Müllerschön
Starring Matthias Schweighöfer
Joseph Fiennes
Til Schweiger
Lena Headey
Cinematography Klaus Merkel
Editing by Christian Lonk
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures (non-U.S.) [1]
Monterey Media (U.S.)
Release date(s) 10 April 2008
Running time 106 minutes (approx.)
Country Germany
Language English
Budget €18 million

The Red Baron is a German biopic by Nikolai Müllerschön from 2008, about the legendary World War I fighter pilot Manfred von Richthofen. It was filmed in the Czech Republic, France and Germany, entirely in English to improve its international commercial viability.



In 1906, a young Baron Manfred von Richthofen (Tomás Koutník) is out hunting deer, with his younger brother and younger cousin, Lothar and Wolfram, when they hear an aeroplane overhead. Enchanted, he follows it on horseback, waving his arms like a bird.

Ten years later, Lieutenant von Richthofen (Matthias Schweighöfer) is serving as a fighter pilot with the Deutsche Imperial German Air Service along the Western Front. After dropping a wreath over the funeral of an Allied pilot, whom they knew, Richthofen and his fellow pilots Werner Voss (Til Schweiger) and Friedrich Sternberg encounter a squadron of enemy planes led by Captain Lanoe Hawker. Richthofen shoots down Canadian pilot Arthur Roy Brown (Joseph Fiennes). After pulling Brown out of the wreckage of his plane, Richthofen assists Nurse Käte Otersdorf (Lena Headey) with applying a tourniquet to the Canadian's wounded leg.

Later, after successfully shooting down and killing "the notorious Captain Hawker," Richthofen is awarded the Pour le Mérite and promoted to command his own private aerial Squadron. There, he is soon joined by his brother Lothar von Richthofen. He orders his men to avoid killing enemy pilots unless absolutely necessary and is enraged when Lothar deliberately strafes and kills a British pilot who has already been forced into a landing.

Later, during an aerial dogfight, Richthofen again encounters Captain Brown, who has escaped from a German POW camp after being nursed by Käte. Brown lands his damaged aircraft in No-Man's land and von Richthofen lands to make sure Brown is well and in the process von Richthofen damages his aircraft. They share a friendly drink and Brown expresses the hope that they will not meet again until after the war is over. He tells Richthofen that Käte has feelings for him. When Richthofen asks how he can be so sure, Brown retorts, "She kept bitching about you for weeks."

On the way back to base, Richthofen is devastated to learn that his close friend, the Jewish pilot Friedrich Sternberg, has been shot down and killed. Over the days that follow, Richthofen makes no secret of his grief and refuses to leave his room. An enraged Lothar reminds him that "A leader cannot afford to mourn."

Shortly thereafter, Richthofen is wounded in the skull during a dogfight and is sent to be nursed by Käte. As he recovers, the two share a romantic dinner and a dance in Lille. After Richthofen expresses gratitude for his wound, an enraged Käte gives him a tour of a local field hospital and berates him for regarding war as a game.

Later, Richthofen and Käte are beginning to make love when they are interrupted by an Allied bombing raid. Determined to protect the squadron's aeroplanes, he orders Käte to hide in the cellar and takes to the air with his men. During the raid, Richthofen's wound begins to reopen, making him disoriented, and upon witnessing the death of his protege Kurt Wolff (aviator), he goes into a state of rage in the air.

During a later visit from Käte, Richthofen informs her that he has been offered a rear echelon position in command of the entire Air Service. Käte, who has long been frantic at the thought of losing him, is overjoyed. Richthofen, however, conceals his doubts from her. He goes to speak with Werner Voss (who is putting a British Bentley engine into his triplane) about what decision to make. The two joke that Voss is encouraging him to take the promotion so that he can pass up Richthofen's score. He then jokingly tells Voss that he will step down if Voss stops flying first. Voss replies by saying: "I don't think so. I'm married to my plane; this is how I spend my spare time."

Shortly after, Richthofen tours the Fokker manufacturing plant in Germany, when Anthony Fokker complains that Richthofen's pilots are installing enemy engines into the planes that he has made. When Richthofen asks how he knows about this, Fokker tells him about the British recovery of a "new triplane", and says that they were "...less than amused to find one of their own Bentley engines in a Fokker they shot down." indicating that Voss has been killed, and that Richthofen has lost yet another close friend.

Richthofen has realized that he is being manipulated for propaganda by Kaiser Wilhelm II and his Generals Ernst Wilhelm von Hoeppner, Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff. On the eve of the Spring Offensive in February 1918, he approaches Generalfeldmarschall von Hindenburg and tells him that the war has become a no-win situation which should be ended as soon as possible. Hindenburg is outraged and orders him back to his squadron.

As the offensive begins, Richthofen's squadron sets out to clear every Allied aeroplane and balloon out of the target area. As Käte tends the wounded on the ground, she is horrified to learn that her beloved has returned to combat.

Käte confronts him and demands to know why he has turned down the chance to remain safe. Richthofen states that he will not betray the soldiers in the field "by remaining the immortal god that Berlin wants me to be", and tells her that "You are my greatest victory."

On the morning of 21 April 1918, Richthofen leads his squadron into battle after making love to Käte. Soon after, he is killed in action.

In the aftermath, Käte crosses over to Allied lines with Brown's assistance. She directly addresses Richthofen's grave, "I could not come sooner. It is not so easy to cross the lines into British territory. Finally a friend of ours helped me. He asked me why it was important for me to come here. I told him I love you. Did I ever tell you?"

The camera pans to a funeral wreath left by the Royal Flying Corps, "To our friend and enemy, Manfred von Richthofen."

Production background

To improve its chances on the international market, The Red Baron was filmed in the English language, although it is a German production depicting Germans. Largely because of this, it flopped in the German cinemas. With an estimated budget of 18 million euros, it is one of the most expensive and at the same time lowest-grossing films in German history. It premiered on 31 March 2008 in Berlin and was released a week later in the German cinemas. Fewer than 100,000 movie-goers saw the film in the first week, causing the film to miss the Top 3. In the second week it dropped to No. 10. In the third week the film was gone from the top ten.


The reviews after the first public performances of the film were mainly negative, criticized in particular the high level of historical inaccuracy. The fictitious love story between Richthofen and Käte Otersdorf was described as having little factual basis. The film received a cool reception at the Berlin premiere and one member of the audience stated that Richthofen's disillusion with the war was not believable.

Prior to the film's release, Matthias Schweighöfer gave a private screening to Tom Cruise on the set of Valkyrie. Schweighofer later recalled,

"We watched it together, and afterwards he jumped up and said, 'I'm amazed that you made a film like this in Germany.'"[2]

The choreography and technical design of the dogfight sequences and the period equipment used in the film received high praise. The film was quite controversial in Germany, a nation wherein patriotism is almost a taboo.[3] According to director Nikolai Müllerschön

"Historically there has been reluctance and there are strong voices in Germany still saying we're not allowed to do this: a film about a German war hero, but the film makes a very clear statement against war."[4]

Historical accuracy

The film takes a number of liberties with factual accuracy. Richthofen himself is portrayed as a proto-pacificist and a gentleman, a man who instructs his men to aim for the machine, not the man flying it. In reality, the contrary was true. He circulated to his pilots the basic rule which he wanted them to fight by: "Aim for the man and don't miss him. If you are fighting a two-seater, get the observer first; until you have silenced the gun, don't bother about the pilot". [5]

A major plot point involves Werner Voss installing a Bentley engine in his Fokker Dr.1 Triplane. Later Anthony Fokker complains about German pilots using Allied engines. In reality the Fokker Dr.1 was powered by the Oberursel Ur II 9-cylinder rotary engine, an unlicensed bolt-for-bolt copy of the Le Rhône 9J engine used by such Allied fighters as the Nieuport 17 and the Sopwith Camel, therefore Anthony Fokker had no grounds to complain about Allied engines powering his fighter.

In addition, Captain Roy Brown is depicted as having been shot down by Richthofen in 1916 and subsequently escaping from a German POW camp. There is also a later scene in which Brown and Richthofen crash in no man's land and share a friendly drink. Neither of these events has any historical basis.

A Handley Page bomber shot down in one scene has a Royal Mail logo painted on the fuselage. The Royal Mail didn't exist at this time, it would have been the GPO.

When Richtofen fought Lanoe Hawker, Hawker was flying an Airco DH.2 'pusher' style fighter. Not an SE5. Also the "Grim Reaper" painted on the side of his aircraft in the movie was in real life painted on the aircraft of the French Escadrille N.94, not Hawker's.


  • Richthofen: "When I was a little boy, I could hit all the targets with my father's rifle, targets so far away the others couldn't even see them. I dreamt of seeing everything and of being like a bird. Hawk's eyes, eagle's eyes it was called. When I became a pilot, I truly thought I would see everything from up there. I saw nothing. I was blind before I met you. You opened my eyes, you taught me to see what I didn't want to see. We all chose to fly; Voss, Sternberg, Immelmann, Wolff, Hawker, and whatever side we took we all knew the risk we took. I wanted to be the best. I wanted to win and I thought I won. I can see now, Käte, we've turned the world into a damn slaughterhouse and I'm already too big a part of it. They use my photograph to give hope where there is none. They use my name to feign immortality whereas the reality is annihilation. You said it yourself, the men dying out there have no choice. I have and I cannot order men into battle. I can, perhaps, lead them, help them, die with them, but I will not betray them or keep the truth from them by remaining the immortal god that Berlin wants me to be. You are my greatest victory."


Actor Role Title/Rank of Character
Matthias Schweighöfer Manfred von Richthofen Freiherr / Rittmeister
Til Schweiger Werner Voss Leutnant
Lena Headey Käte Otersdorf Nurse
Steffen Schroeder Karl Bodenschatz Adjutant
Joseph Fiennes Roy Brown Captain
Richard Krajco Lanoe Hawker Major
Volker Bruch Lothar von Richthofen Freiherr / Oberleutnant
Maxim Mehmet Friedrich Sternberg Leutnant
Lukás Príkazký Stefan Kirmaier Leutnant
Tino Mewes Kurt Wolff Oberleutnant
Axel Prahl Ernst von Hoeppner General
Gitta Schweighöfer Kunigunde von Richthofen
Josef Vinklar Paul von Hindenburg Field Marshal
Ladislav Frej Kaiser Wilhelm German Emperor and the King of Prussia
Karsten Kaie Anthony Fokker
Branislav Holiček Wolfram von Richthofen Leutnant

Production details


  1. ^ Meza, Ed (6 February 2007). "Warner flies with 'Baron'". Variety. Retrieved February 6, 2007. 
  2. ^,german-audience-cool-to-red-baron-movie.html German Audiences Cool to Red Baron Movie
  3. ^,2144,3205499,00.html Red Baron Film Breaks War Hero Taboos
  4. ^ Ibid
  5. ^ McAllister, Hayden, ed. , p.61, Flying Stories. London: Octopus Books, 1982. ISBN 0-706401734-8
  6. ^ "". The Red Baron. 

External links



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