New film Hurricane tells the fascinating, but overlooked, story of the Polish flying squadron that was part of the RAF and made a crucial difference during World War 2.
The Second World War remains prime subject matter for films, with new big screen tales of heroism emerging in recent years, including the Brad Pitt-starring tank saga Fury and Christopher Nolan’s spectacular Dunkirk. Hurricane is the latest addition.
Starring Iwan Rheon – who played the dastardly Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones – and Milo (son of Mel) Gibson, Hurricane tells the story of the No. 303 Polish Fighter Squadron. The squadron was one of 16 Polish squadrons in the RAF, and played a significant role during The Battle of Britain. We spoke to the film’s producers, Krystian Kozlowski and Mathew Whyte, to find out more.
What can you tell us about the plot of the film?
Mathew: “It’s based on the story of the 303 Squadron and the situation in which the Polish pilots came over here at the beginning of the war, eventually forming their own squadron.”
Krystian: “There was a reticence in the higher echelons of the RAF about what to do with these guys because not all of them could speak English, and the perception was that Poland had fallen very quickly to the Germans. Once these men got into the planes, however, everyone could see that these men were damn good pilots. There are even stories about British pilots dressing in Polish pilot uniforms to meet women, because they were so popular.”
Mathew: “The press eventually started recognising them as heroes, and they became a positive story to tell during The Battle of Britain. They became accepted by the public and politically as well.”
How did you become aware of their story?
Krystian: “My grandfather was a soldier in the Second World War. He was in the Polish II Corps, part of the Eighth Army, so was part of the British Army, and fought at the Battle of Monte Cassino [during the Italian Campaign]. I’ve always been interested in history, but to be honest, despite being of Polish descent, I didn’t know much about the story of the pilots of 303. By chance Mat and I came across it and were struck by how interesting it was. We hadn’t heard of it, and imagined other people hadn’t either, so we thought it was a story worth telling.”
Mathew: “We found out that a lot of people had been interested in making a film about the squadron, particularly in Poland, but it hadn’t happened yet.”
What surprised you most about these men?
Krystian: “People often put heroes on a pedestal, and you think they’re these superhuman, untouchable beings but they were just like you and me. These were men that liked to have a drink and party, and we try to show in the film that these guys were real people.”
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How difficult was it to be historically accurate and portray real life figures?
Mathew: “There have been quite a few books written about the Polish squadron and the airman of that period. It wasn’t too difficult to find out the factual events and background, but we still had to bring these characters to life too. We used mostly real characters from the time, but there are some others that are amalgamations of different people. At the end of the day, we’re making a film rather than a documentary.”
Krystian: “It’s difficult making a story about real people, because there will always be family members and others that are close to the story, so people have an understandable vested interest in how those close to them are portrayed. On top of that you have a historic narrative that you have to follow, otherwise it’s a work of fiction. What we tried to do was to respect these guys, looking at who they were at that time during the war.”
What happened to them after the war?
Mathew: “We don’t show it in the film, but the end of the war they weren’t allowed to march on D-Day because the government didn’t want to upset Stalin. Some of them were given very short notice to be repatriated to Poland, which was under communist rule. Some of the pilots went back voluntarily, but some weren’t given much choice.”
Krystian: “After the war, our lead character Jan Zumbach (played by Iwan Rheon) became a mercenary and had all sorts of adventures.”
We understand that you received a very important endorsement for the film?
Mathew: “We showed the film in Poland and Jan Zumbach’s son was at the screening and seemed very impressed with it and enjoyed the film.”
Krystian: “It’s great when anyone says to you: ‘I really liked that film’, but it’s extra special when the son of the lead character in your film comes to Warsaw and gives it the thumbs up. That’s a real moment to savour.”
Hurricane is showing at select UK cinemas now. Find out where it's on here.