Biggles (1986) | Yuppies, Punks, Tower Bridge and Peter Cushing collide in a 1980s-fused Boys’ Own Adventure

Biggles (1986)

Based on WE Johns’ much-loved 1930s adventure stories, the 1986 fantasy Biggles: Adventures in Time was a valiant attempt at bringing his legendary RFC flying ace hero to a new generation, but with a sci-fi twist. Now, nearly 30 years on, it’s been dusted off for a remastered, restored HD release from OEG Classic Movies.

Never has a time warp been quite as warped as this
Young Manhattan entrepreneur Jim Ferguson (Alex Hyde-White) keeps warping back in time to the trenches of Western Front in 1917. In London, the mysterious Colonel Raymond (Peter Cushing) informs him that he is a ‘time-twin’ to ace pilot James ‘Biggles’ Bigglesworth (Neil Dickson). Together, the two men set out to destroy the Nazi’s secret sound weapon and defeat the dastardly Eric von Stalhein (Marcus Gilbert).

Biggles (1986)

Despite its flaws, I thoroughly enjoyed this 1980s-fused Boys’ Own Adventure – mainly because of Peter Cushing, whose last film this was. As Biggles’ former commanding officer, Colonel Raymond, the 73-year-old veteran actor lends a graceful, dignified air to the film, while also getting one of the coolest London addresses as his ‘lair’ – it’s located within Tower Bridge, furnished like a gentlemen’s club, and even has its own pet raven. Cushing (who was a big fan of Johns’ 98 stories) is just wonderful here, and he even got to keep the silk tie bearing the RFC colours and the silver cane after the picture was finished.

Neil Dickson is certainly up for the job as the dapper, gung-ho hero, but Alex Hyde-White is woefully wooden (he reminded me of Desi Arnaz Jr in House of the Long Shadows which Cushing also starred in). Dickson would later reprise his role in the 1987 Pet Shop Boys’ film, It Couldn’t Happen Here. Listening to Biggles’ posh-voiced squadron pals, Algy, Ginger and Berie, however, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Blackadder, while Ferguson’s fur-wearing girlfriend seems to have taken the wrong turn out of Dynasty.

Biggles (1986)

The flying sequences using two vintage 1930s World War One bi-planes are used to great effect, while the scenes involving a SWAT team and a helicopter all take place in and around the old wharves near Tower Bridge, where London City Hall now stands. Strangely, there’s little sign of traffic or tourists around the iconic landmark, save for a group of pretend punks armed with ghetto blasters (real punks would have had a laugh at this).

Biggles (1986)

On the downside, the production values are akin to an episode of Doctor Who during the Sylvester McCoy era – even the time-travelling scenario smacks of some of the show’s old adventures. Then there’s the dated, anachronistic soundtrack, featuring Deep Purple, Motley Cru and the high-pitched squeal of Jon Anderson from Yes. It’s relentless and very, very grating. So much so, I just can’t get the tinny, overly synthesized Do You Want to Be a Hero theme song out of my head.

Interestingly, Disney originally planned to bring Biggles to the big screen with Dudley Moore as the star. While we can only imagine how that would have turned out, at least here we have Cushing’s final film performance to cherish.

The HD restoration is a real pleasure to watch and so pristine that you can see the breath of the actors in every scene (the film was shot between January and March, 1985 – hence the lack of tourists), which is a far cry from previous DVD releases. A restored trailer is the only included extra.

Biggles: Adventures in Time is available on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK from OEG Classic Movies

About Peter Fuller

Peter Fuller is an award-winning print, radio and television journalist and producer, with over 30 years experience covering film and television, with a special interest in world cinema and popular culture. He is a leading expert on the life and career of Vincent Price and actively promotes the actor's legacy through publications, websites and special events.

Posted on June 27, 2015, in British Film, Comedy, Might-See and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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