Overlooked Scores: Battle of Britain

When I was a kid, I watched 1969’s Battle of Britain constantly. Not only did it feature great aerial dogfights and enough action scenes to keep a kid entertained, but the score was catchy. I remember humming themes all the time. So with Dunkirk out (my review will be up by the start of next week), I thought I’d take a short look at one of my favorite war movie scores to date.

Unlike many scores, Battle underwent a composing crisis. Sir William Walton was first approached to write the score and he did. When United Artists heard the completed score they didn’t approve. Instead they scrapped Walton’s music and looked to hire John Barry. Barry declined and they brought in Ron Goodwin, who wrote and conducted his new score. The only remaining Walton contribution left in was of a dogfight track without any sound effects. Walton’s score remained hidden for years until someone found the tapes in the 1990’s. Since then, his score has been restored and released with Walton’s.

Goodwin’s score is classic and a great piece of work. However, he isn’t Walton. Sir William’s score is more a symphony than a traditional score. Goodwin’s themes and marches, on the other hand, are simpler and stick in your head. Walton scored with more complex harmonies and melodies, letting multiple voices get their say.

In the end, both scores work very well. I honestly can’t recommend one over the other! And that’s good because I don’t have to. What releases exist include both composers’ contributions. Playlists online also have both composers featured. Battle of Britain contains classic music and is always worth a listen.


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