The Sound Barrier

The Sound Barrier


Reviewed by: Daniel Hooper

Scripted by Terence Rattigan and loosely based on the true story of De Havilland’s attempts at breaking the speed of sound, David Lean’s film opens with a Spitfire in flight, before making a dive. He captures the sense of speed through a mixture of POV and long shots, demonstrating his technical prowess and creating a template for the action that follows.

Acknowledging help from the government, The Sound Barrier begins to feel like a celebration of the industrious British spirit, where engine noise was elevated to “the most exciting sound I’ve ever heard.” What lifts it above mere propaganda is Lean’s depiction of a semi-tyrannical master of industry (Ralph Richardson), an aircraft manufacturer who will do whatever it takes to accomplish his goal, and his son-in-law (Nigel Patrick), a test pilot compelled to risk his life without knowing exactly why. In their separate ways both men demonstrate a mania for achievement, highlighting the human cost of innovation.

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At the heart of the film is an upper-class family melodrama, with the daughter/wife (Ann Todd) as the troubled linking character. She fears for her husband’s life, unable to convince him not to fly, while feeling that her father begrudges her for “not being born a son” and blaming him for her brother’s “accident.” Todd’s performance is sensitive, nuanced, and, at times, full of tenderness.

The Sound Barrier is an interesting story with believable characters that has aged well, despite being a little quaint for modern audiences - a married couple with separate beds, a protagonist with a penchant for saying “Oh gosh!”. With a slightly-too-long runtime and an unsatisfactory ending between father and daughter, it is more a curio than a classic, but one that can boast impressive technical feats and good production values from an acclaimed director, as well as wonderful performances from its seasoned cast.

Reviewed on: 16 Aug 2008
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The Sound Barrier packshot
Troubled attempts at breaking the sound barrier and the turmoil caused for the wife of the test pilot.
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Director: David Lean

Writer: Terence Rattigan

Starring: Ralph Richardson, Ann Todd, Nigel Patrick, John Justin, Dinah Sheridan, Joseph Tomelty, Denholm Elliott, Jack Allen, Ralph Michael, Rodney Goodall, Donald Harron

Year: 1952

Runtime: 118 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: UK


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