EIFF: Castles in the Sky

Eddie Izzard must be one of the busiest individuals in show business today. Not only content in touring the world doing his one-man comedy extravaganza (often in a multitude of different languages!), pounding the roads on numerous charity marathons and remaining politically active, he also manages to turn up in the odd film, from time to time.

So here he is, in the guise of a softly spoken Scottish scientist/engineer who – up until now – remains one of the great-unsung heroes of the Second World War.

Castles In The Sky tells the true story of Robert Watson Watt, the man chiefly responsible for the pioneering development of radar in the years preceding the outbreak of war. An inspired and crucial invention that was so instrumental in aiding the British war effort, during those dark summer months of 1940 when a probable Nazi invasion was afoot.

Directed by acclaimed award-winning Scottish filmmaker Gillies McKinnon, he crafts a modest and low-key approach to the story of a man who has almost been by passed by history. So a film tribute of sorts is long overdue.

Eddie Izzard may not be the most obvious choice in portraying an earnest, slightly bumbling, bespeckled boffin, but he acquits himself well in the role. Even down to the soft intonations of his gentle Scottish brogue. As a prelude to the beginning of the project in testing the effectiveness of radar, Izzard assembles his chosen team as they set off on their important and impossible mission, like some form of tweed and braces Magnificent Seven!

However, towards the end of the film, and particularly poignant, is his emotional realisation, that his determined and somewhat obsessive pursuit in accomplishing this scientific miracle has
cost him his marriage to the woman he loves.

Special mention also goes to Scottish actor David Hayman, as the stern Whitehall official who grudgingly acknowledges the need for science to help out in the nation’s crisis, with the clock slowly ticking away. Yet he coldly edges out Izzard’s character from his deserved prominence, once his usefulness has been all used up. This wary scepticism from the men in the government, as they question the ultimate effectiveness of radar, is tellingly played, bringing back recognisable memories of a similar scenario that featured in The Dambusters. Remember Barnes Wallis and his “bouncing bomb”?

Following the film’s screening, there was an entertaining Q&A that involved the director/ producer/writer, as well as actor David Hayman. And as a special bonus, the one and only Eddie Izzard – via a live link all the way from Texas. Predictably, he brought the house down when questioned about the authenticity of his Scottish accent, stating that he was aiming for one that sounded like “educated Dundee”.

A commendable film tribute to one of Scotland’s (and the UK’s) forgotten wartime heroes, whose importance in the defeat of Nazi Germany cannot be overestimated.

Lawrence Lettice