Directed by Philip Leacock and written by John Wooldridge and Robert Westerby, Wing Commander Tim Mason leads a squadron of Lancaster bombers on almost nightly raids from England. Having flown eighty-seven missions, he will shortly be retiring from flying, but the strain is showing. With losses mounting and several raids being seen as failures, members of his crew are thinking that there must be a jinx at work. Starring: Dirk Bogarde, Ian Hunter, Dinah Sheridan, Bryan Forbes, Walter Fitzgerald, Bill Kerr, William Sylvester, Anne Leon and Charles Victor.
What may surprise you for a film about pilots, is there’s actually little flying involved, finding itself mostly grounded. That’s not to say that the role of the bombers and their work doesn’t have a huge part to play in this story, you may not see the action but its consequences are certainly felt. Interestingly for a film made in the 1950s, it actually feels like a reflection of the impact on the mental health of fighter pilots, and soldiers alike. Seeing all that death and destruction, night after night, leaves its mark and you can see it in the eyes of Appointment in London’s characters. They’re almost haunted by it, having it constantly lingering in the background while they try to move forward with the next mission and their own personal lives. It moves at a good pace and manages to build a decent tension, and while its flirtation with romance initially feels forced or stereotypical, it ultimately makes itself a key part of the story.
Philip Leacock’s directorial style is pretty much what you’d be expecting for a film like this but that’s a good thing. It brings across easily the feel of the Air Force, stoic with strong regiment and discipline, but also a kind camaraderie. The locations and sets are simple yet well done, especially with its minimal use of fighting, it can keep things as convincing as possible. Even when it does cross the line into some action, it stays on the simple side and doesn’t try to rely on effects. It does however come very late in the day and the tone is at odds with the rest of the film, it’s not the smoothest transition but the story was inevitably going to end up there.
You can’t go wrong with Dirk Bogarde, he manages to create such a perfect blend of stern and sweet, he’s sympathetic yet harsh at times. A quintessential man in charge, cares for the men but isn’t afraid to give them a talking to when they step out of line. He’s also filled with a stubborn pride, almost incapable of letting go of a goal, even if it risks his own health. The whole ensemble is a great mix, Dinah Sheridan is an asset even if she doesn’t get too much screen time, the same goes for Ian Hunter. The more surprising addition is Anne Leon, it’s a relatively brief role but she perfectly encapsulates the emotions of her character, and makes a very strong impression in those handful of minutes.
Appointment in London is a rarity of its time, choosing not to focus on the action and conflict but on the men it affects. Dipping its toes into the toll that war takes on those fighting, it may not fully embrace the conversation of mental health, but it’s far closer than most for its generation. It has a certain buttoned up charm, it moves well through its story to confidently hold your attention and Dirk Bogarde never lets you down.