George W. Bush once told John Kerry, “You forgot Poland!” when the Democrat listed the few countries that supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
We history buffs can use a similar reminder that Poland is, in fact, not lost. World War II in Europe began when German tanks stormed across Poland’s border after a flagrant false-flag at Gleiwitz (or Gliwice). The Red Army came not long afterward. Auschwitz, the most infamous of the Nazi death factories, is remembered by many, but we sometimes forget it was built in the Polish town of Oświęcim.
When the Poles feature in (alternate) history, they are often reduced to victims of German and Soviet armies. This does them a disservice: the Polish fought, and fought hard. There was the Warsaw Uprising and the Polish forces under Władysław Anders that fought in Italy.
The movie Hurricane, released as Mission of Honor in the United States, is about some of those Polish warriors, specifically those who served as foreign pilots in the Battle of Britain. These were men who had escaped Poland, often served in the French Army of the Air, and then made their way to the UK after the Fall of France. At a time when Poland as a country could not do much, her sons were doing everything they could to defeat her enemies abroad.
This film is peculiar in that the actual combat scenes are for the most part not the most memorable parts of it. The best actual combat is in the beginning, in a harrowing scene where a Polish pilot narrowly evades the Germans as he takes off and flies to Britain. This film is not Dunkirk, or The Battle of Britain, or even Red Tails (review here); the fighter pilot action is not the dazzling aerobatics that are the hallmarks of those movies, but a rather more subdued thing no doubt due to budget limitations. This isn’t a great spectacle war film.
What it lacks in action, it makes up for in character drama and historical context. This is a film about culture clash: between the Polish fighter pilots and the British officers and fellow pilots who doubt their competence. There are a great many moments of misunderstanding and outright hostility between the two. It is compounded by the lack of a common language.
Hurricane poignantly contrasts the fates of Poland and Britain. Perhaps my favorite scene in the movie is one held at a gala in honor of the Polish pilots, where the Britons (the majority) are willing to drink and dance and generally be merry. The Poles in no uncertain terms discuss the difference between a country that only experiences the war through air raids (still terrifying) and one that has experienced the war by being invaded with tank and infantry battles on its own soil.
Hurricane/Mission of Honor is probably not a great war film. It is, however, at least a good war film, with much to say about one of the lesser-known belligerents of the deadliest armed conflict in human history. Watch it not as a spectacle but as a character piece, and you will very much see its merits.