Baron Manfred von Richthofen is the most feared and celebrated pilot of the German air force in World War I. To him and his companions, air combats are events of sporty nature, technical challenge and honourable acting, ignoring the terrible extent of war. But after falling in love with the nurse Käte, Manfred realises he is only used for propaganda means. Caught between his disgust for the war, and the responsibility for his fighter wing, von Richthofen sets out to fly again.

German flying ace shot down by shoddy script, acting.

There’s a cracking story in Baron Manfred von Richthofen, the Germany World War 1 flying ace who was credited with 80 kills before he was shot down in 1918, aged 25. Alas, this Europudding of a movie, written and directed by Nikolai Müllerschön, isn’t it.

The aerial sequences are thrilling in a boys’ own adventure way, but the film often falls flat when the camera lingers on terra firma, bogged down by stilted dialogue, uneven acting and an unconvincing romance between the Red Baron and a nurse.

As the flying ace, German actor Matthias Schweighöfer lacks both gravitas and a commanding presence. When he loses his temper, he comes across as a petulant Boy Scouts leader. It’s tempting to think Til Schweiger, who plays one of the Baron’s colleagues, would have been far more impressive in the lead role.

Curiously, Müllerschön’s script sheds little light on what motivated the war hero, beyond suggesting it was the thrill of the chase that excited him; he ordered his men to stop firing at enemy pilots after their planes had been hit, explaining, 'We are sportsmen, not butchers."

Late in the film, as an Allied victory becomes almost certain, von Richtofen is portrayed as disillusioned, mostly due to the influence of his lover, nurse Kate Otersdorf (Lena Headey), who abhors war. Their romance takes an eternity to develop, is sorely lacking in passion, and there’s little chemistry between them.

Joseph Fiennes has an under-written cameo as the Canadian pilot shot down by the Red Baron, who subsequently pulled him from the wreckage and helped save his life; later the two meet in a no man’s land, exchanging views on the similarities between them.

Everyone speaks English, with variable accents, which is OK because it’s more consistent than having characters alternate between German and English. It does jar, however, to hear a German officer refer to 'chaps.’

Generous extras include featurettes on the making of the movie and the special effects.


1 hour 45 min