Made in the mid-1980s and part of a brief fashion for trying to sex up British literary heroes with silly special effects (cf. Young Sherlock Holmes), crossbred with the post-Back to the Future trend for time travel, it is a strange limping mutant of a film. I saw it on TV when I was a kid, and thought it was resounding rubbish, but now I am a sophisticated grown-up with a freshly minted love of Biggles in his literary form, I thought I'd give it a whirl. And oddly enough, it still IS resounding rubbish... but at the same time, I also found it hilariously entertaining. (Admittedly it helps to have a large glass of wine in your hand and your brain switched to neutral.)
Now, I realize very few of you will have any interest in actually watching this cinematic biplane crash in action. However, I've made it easy for you and sifted through the wreckage in search of the Best Bits of Biggles, so you can have all of the fangirling pleasure and none of the tedious longueurs or excruciating synthesized soundtrack squeals.
The plot, if you are unfamiliar with it, centres on an American bloke called Jim, who runs a company that makes TV dinners and is supposed to be all modern and thrusting and business-orientated, because it was 1985 and these were considered Good Things (TM). He's actually a tedious arse for the most part. However, for plot purposes, he does have one interesting facet, which is that he keeps being hit by cheap special-effect lightning and being transported to 1917. There he meets the dashing James "My friends call me Biggles" Bigglesworth and they do a bit of running around until the bad special effect transports Jim back to the shoulder-pad heaven of the hip and happening 1980s once again.
Then an elderly Peter Cushing turns up and explains The Deep and Scientific Truth (TM), which is that Jim and Biggles are "time twins" and when one is in mortal danger, the other one will be transported through time to help the other one out. How handy, eh? Because the life of a World War One air ace involves more mortal danger than that of a TV dinner salesman, this predominantly means Jim being transported to Biggles's time for bits of derring-do and running around, although Biggles does make one foray to the 1980s himself, which he takes in his stride (and famously learns to fly a helicopter in five seconds, because OMG FLYING GENIUS). Jim meanwhile spends most of his trips to 1917 trying not to crap himself (they don't say this, of course, but it's subtext, innit), except on the one trip where his tedious girlfriend comes along too and he has to stop her from crapping herself instead.
Now, to kick off the visual part of the presentation, here are Biggles and his friends in sepia-tinted nostalgia mode.
It's all excitingly Captain Jack, isn't it? From left to right: Algy, who smokes a pipe and speaks in a fabulously suggestive drawl that makes him sound like he's trawling for rough trade in Soho; Bertie, who wears a monocle and pulls some fantastic "what ho, chaps!" facial expressions (see below); Biggles, who was clearly hired for the impeccable squareness of his jaw and the poshness of his vowels; and Ginger, who has hair of the obvious colour, wears a deeply unflattering boiler suit (see below) and who might look familiar because he's in The Bill these days.
Now, I hear you asking, what happens when Biggles takes his flying helmet off? Well, here he is au naturel. I think this is what you'd call "helmet hair".
Note also that Ginger and Bertie are both nursing sizeable quiffs of their own, either as a form of tonsorial hero worship or because of the lack of masculine hair-care products under wartime conditions. Algy tends to keep his hat on, but I suspect that's because he's cultivating something huge under there and only wants to get it out on a special occasion.
And why does Biggles need big hair? We find out when the boys face the firing squad.
Yes, he's trying to compensate for being short. Bless him. If only he hadn't been made to stand next to the tower of suave manliness that is Algy, he might not feel so insecure. But then again, all the boys probably want to get next to Algy, because Algy has the best coat and has generally got it going on. Weh-hay! Note also Ginger looking very miserable at the prospect of dying in an ugly boiler suit.
However, not only do the boys manage to heroically escape from certain death (yay), but in the process Bertie pulls this fabulous face. You've got to adore him.
As you can see, Biggles and his men are the one glorious success of this film. If only they were in it more, and the charisma-free zone that is Jim the American "hero" was in it less (or not at all). This is rather ironic when he's only in the film in the first place in case the youth of 1985 don't find Biggles and company interesting enough. (I am amused to find that the same actor played Reed Richards in the crapomatic Fantastic Four movie of 1994, though.) Anyway, to compare relative levels of masculinity, here's Jim standing around like a lemon in a towel, while the chaps wonder why Biggles has been stashing half-naked men about the place without telling them. Make up your own phallic symbol jokes. Also, we get a view of the sad sight that is Ginger's arse in that jumpsuit. Poor lad.
Mind you, despite the fact that he and his friends are all as camp as a row of tents, Biggles is very stiff-upper-lipped about public displays of affection. Here he is getting a rather distressed look on his face when Peter Cushing (his former commanding officer) wants to give him a hug, not having seen him for sixty years. Don't worry man, you're in full leathers, it's perfectly safe.
And now, it's time to play Spot the Minor Celebrity. Look, it's Pat Butcher from Eastenders, in a nun's outfit and bad specs!
Look, it's Maria from 'Allo 'Allo, and she's doing a dodgy French accent again! She's playing Biggles's
Look, livii, it's that bloke who played Ancelyn in Battlefield, and he's doing a dodgy German accent because he is a Baddie (TM)! Also, his eyebrows have been joined together to prove that he's evil. AND he's trying to get Biggles drunk
Anyway, to cut an overlong and rather unfulfilling story short, Biggles and co. save the world in 1917 from a badly explained German superweapon, with a bit of help from boring Jim. It's all right, though, because at the climax we get this marvellously messianic moment.
Note also that Algy has taken off his hat in the background in celebration and yes, he's got bouffant hair too. Hoorah!
And in a slashtastically bizarre twist at the very end, Jim is just about to marry his boring girlfriend in the present day when he is suddenly zapped away through time once again only to be confronted with this:
Yes, it's Biggles and friends in a giant cooking pot, about to be eaten by cannibals. Is this the world's least politically correct comedy ending, or a recipe for Men in Leather casserole? You decide, viewers.
So, have I made you want to rush out and buy this film so we can all giggle over it together
By the way, I am far from the only person to spot the amusement potential of this gallivanting gang-show. Courtesy of YouTube, here's the Brokeback Biggles spoof trailer. After all, if you can fly a Sopwith Camel, you can fly anything...