Jackson deal with Holland significant step forward in Dam Busters project

Peter Jackson’s recent announcement that he is pressing on with his project to remake The Dam Busters film has been widely welcomed. “It’s just a great story. It’s always been a great story,” he told the Daily Telegraph on Thursday. “But it’s an even greater story now than it was in 1955 because back then there was still so much of the story that was under The Official Secrets Act.

“They couldn’t show the bomb spinning because the fact that they applied backspin to the bomb to make it jump on the water was still a state secret. The film had a slightly romanticised view of what happened. It’s reasonably accurate but the real story is so much more interesting. It’s a story of politics, of ingenuity and peril, and it’s also a story about trying to make a weapon to destroy these dams and that cost an awful lot of money.”

However, the most solid evidence that the production will go ahead comes in the next paragraph of the Telegraph’s story with the announcement that Jackson has bought the film rights to James Holland’s 2012 book, Dam Busters: The Race to Smash the Dams 1943. Holland will also be credited as an historical adviser.

This is a big step forward. Until now Jackson has owned the rights just for the remake of the 1955 film, The Dam Busters, directed by Michael Anderson. The script for this was written by RC Sherriff, based on Paul Brickhill’s 1951 book of the same name (and also acknowledging Guy Gibson’s Enemy Coast Ahead). Brickhill’s book was revised for a second edition in 1971, and it is this version which is still in print. This is presumably the volume for which Jackson also owns the rights.

However, a lot of material has been declassified since this book was published, with the first tranche of UK government records being released in 1973, thirty years after the raid. Much more has followed, and historians have been working through these in the years that have followed. The definitive account based on these sources remains the various revised editions of John Sweetman’s book The Dambusters Raid, first published in 1982 as The Dams Raid: Epic or Myth.

James Holland’s 2012 account built on the official sources and also quarried material from various letters, a collection of recordings in the Imperial War Museum and his own interviews. This enabled him to write a much more reliable account of the raid than that of Brickhill. In turn, use of this text should allow Jackson and his scriptwriters to draft a screenplay which may be more historically accurate than Sherriff’s version, which he finished in 1952.

The difficulty will be in condensing the whole story into a single movie lasting, presumably, something under three hours. It is not really fair on the Anderson/Sherriff film to describe it as presenting a “slightly romanticised” account – it is all the more powerful for not bringing in unnecessary heroics or extraneous love stories. Whether Peter Jackson can manage to deliver something as good by today’s standards will be a big test. But a film-maker of his talents is presumably relishing the challenge.

Jackson backtracks: Dambusters may still take flight

Empire, December 2018, p.95

A few months ago, Peter Jackson let it be known that his projected remake of the 1955 film The Dam Busters had been effectively cancelled. It now seems that he may have changed his mind. Jackson has been in the UK for the last few weeks doing publicity both for his First World War colourisation project, They Shall Not Grow Old, and the forthcoming fantasy film Mortal Engines.

As part of this work he has done a podcast and an interview with Empire magazine and – surprise, surprise – in the latter, he is quoted as saying that he is “determined” to get the Dambusters project underway “in the next two years”. The piece in Empire magazine is by Ian Nathan, the same journalist who wrote the recent book Anything You Can Imagine about Jackson and his work on the two Tolkien-based film series. In this book, Nathan says twice that he was told by Jackson that the funding for Dambusters had fallen through.

It may now be the case that Jackson regrets being so definite, and will make another effort to find the funding necessary for the Dambusters project. The recent success of two other Second World War films, Dunkirk and Darkest Hour, might strengthen his hand. However seasoned observers of this ongoing saga will probably think that he is being wildly optimistic in saying that he hopes to get it under way in just two years. We can but hope.

Dam Busters final tribute to beloved Australian musician

Richard Gill. [Pic: Sydney Morning Herald]

Graeme Jensen, an old friend of the Dambusters Blog, has alerted us to this lovely story from Sydney, Australia.

Richard Gill was a well-known and much-loved musician, conductor and educator who had spent decades bringing music into the lives of generations of Australians. And, over the years, he had frequently told friends and associates that his favourite piece of music was Eric Coates’s Dam Busters March.

He became seriously ill with cancer some time ago, and so some colleagues decided to organise a special concert on Monday 5 November, the day after his 77th birthday, as a tribute to the work he had done over the years. Knowing that Gill would not be able to attend, it was arranged that it would be beamed live to his home. The concert quickly sold out.

However, as it became clear the conductor might not live even until the concert to witness the celebration, Sydney Symphony Orchestra associate principal trumpet Paul Goodchild decided to organise a spontaneous concert for his mentor. He told local news outlets that he expected 15-20 people to turn up outside Gill’s house in the Sydney suburbs on the morning of Saturday 27 October.

Instead, more than 70 people – including a police brass band – arrived to play for Gill, who was inside with his family and his close friend Kim Williams by his side.

“This was the perfect way of saying thank you, goodbye and a great tribute to somebody who has made so much of a difference, to not only the lives of musicians, but to everybody who really listens to music,” Goodchild said.

The musicians played The Dam Busters March as their tribute. Williams says that when applause broke out after they’d played the piece, Gill opened his eyes and smiled.

He died the following morning.

The impromptu concert was filmed by flautist Jane Rutter. The video below should work, but if it doesn’t, you can see it in this report from the Business Insider Australia website.