The story of Germany's foremost fighter pilot is more often than not a misfiring affair.
In the barley sprayed fields of Schweidnitz in 1906, a young Manfred von Richthofen is out hunting for deer when an aeroplane thunders overhead. Awe struck, he spreads his arms like wings, aping the birdlike grace of the enchanting flying machine. Picking up some 10 years later von Richthofen’s ardour for aviation is firmly ingrained, and his valour and honour are instantly evoked when he daringly drops a wreath over an Allied pilot’s funeral.
The Red Baron may be little more than a memory today, but from the outset it's clear director Nikolai Müllerschön is keen to strip back the scarf and goggles. So as he races through the ranks of the Imperial German Air Service, notching up an imperious kill count and amassing a nation of fans in the process, we are given a glimpse of the famed flying ace's personality.
Somehow, however, in striving to deglamourise von Richthofen's legend the film does exactly the opposite. Neglecting the wider wartime conflict in favour of the Baron’s playboy celebrity, the film elicits obvious historical inaccuracies and further devalues our protagonist’s cause.
Sexing up the exploits of a once revered national hero is understandable for the means of entertainment, but the film struggles to find its audience. Although this is a distinctly Germanic production boasting a well rounded German cast (bar a bewildering cameo from Joseph Fiennes), the whole thing is in spoken English.
While attempts to appeal to a wider audience are validated by the fact that Germany tends not to indulge in past patriotisms, this Anglo element gives the film an unnatural, forced tone. As such, there is little in the way of authenticity here.
For the most part The Red Baron sticks to its strengths. Scenes of fighter squadrons swerving furiously though the bullet strewn skies are spectacular, but you can’t help feel this was always going to be a hard sell. Demystifying the deaf defying heroism of one of the world’s greatest ever fighter pilots is estimable enough, but when your aerial idol is revealed as little more than an egotistical, if talented, adolescent, ultimately you lose the fight.
A contemporary Red Baron biopic carries some intrigue. Bombed in its homeland earlier in the year, though.
Some stunningly choreographed dogfights, but why are they speaking English?
Off target far too often.