Piece of Cake (TV Mini-Series 1988) Poster

(1988)

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10/10
Tally ho!
timothyjs3 July 2002
`Piece of Cake' is one of those exceedingly rare examples of filmed perfection (or as near to it as you're likely to get) that have graced the small screen. Based on the 1983 Derek Robinson novel of the same name, `Piece of Cake' follows the fortunes of the fictitious RAF Hornet Squadron from the outbreak of the Second World War, through the infamous Phoney War and the Battle of France, to climax with the life and death struggle of the Battle of Britain.

Now I must admit that I was slightly suspicious of the filmed version as Robinson's book is, and has been for some time, my favourite novel. However after viewing the mini series I can honestly say it was brilliant. Certainly those who have read the book will no doubt have created pictures in their minds' eyes of what the characters should look like, and question certain events or omissions of events in the light of Robinson's book. However `Piece of Cake' is a stunning series and one which stands brilliantly in its own right.

The characterisation is first rate with Neil Dudgeon's `Moggy' a standout, and the interaction between the squadron members superb. The sometimes hilarious banter between characters which was so prevalent in the novel is, thankfully, here in the mini-series. There are some real gems of dialogue, such as Squadron Leader Rex's address to the squadron prior to their departure to France, good British advice on the French natures of alcoholism and fornication.

Visually `Piece of Cake' is stunning. The flying sequences are breathtakingly good and if, like me, you are an aviation enthusiast, you will be able to ignore the inaccuracies in Spitfire marks used or the fact that no Spitfires where sent to be stationed in France (Hornet Squadron in the novel flew Hawker Hurricanes) due to the simple fact of how good they are. The low flying and dogfights are magically filmed and fleshed out with some outtakes from 1969's `Battle of Britain' produce a visual aerial feast!

The direction and production teams have captured the feel of the era as well, the aerodromes, settings and trappings of the 1930s and 1940s really do seem to take the viewer back to those turbulent times and lend an atmosphere that is totally convincing.

This quite simply is a fantastic mini-series and one which I have no doubt most people would find exciting, engaging, interesting, heart rending and in parts highly amusing.

Without doubt `Piece of Cake' is a `10 out of 10' in my book!
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10/10
Not to be missed, "Piece of Cake" is what makes TV worth watching!
jessewillis10 October 1999
I first saw this British miniseries when a friend lent me a scratchy EP VHS copy made from its first broadcast on Masterpiece Theatre in 1988. Since then I've watched it several more times. Each time I was astounded at its depth, charm, wit and humanity. Recently I obtained a more servicable version when "Piece of Cake" was rebroadcast on Canada's HistoryTelevision. I will cherish it.

"Piece of Cake" is the story of Hornet squadron a fictional Spitfire fighter wing flying in France and over Dover during between 1939 & 1940. Beyond its fabulous dogfights "Piece of Cake" is also a wonderful story done the way only the British can do it. Characters like Pilot Officer "Moggy" Cattermoll are both original and compelling (as brilliantly portrayed by Neil Dudgeon). No one charcater here in this story is THE hero, for they are all heroic even the real bastards. No one character here in this story is THE villan, for they all can be villanous. Rather than being simple one note characters these are awesome full blown human people we can hate and love. The music as well, with this production, is truly inspiring, running from tension building, to melodic and beautiful to heartwrenching melancholic. If you wish to see THE definitive piece of televised fiction on the Phony War and The Battle of Britain you want "Piece of Cake" no doubt about it. Top notch entertainment.
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A very well developed production
Scoopsrt17 March 2002
I recently purchased the DVD set and couldn't wait to begin "the show". I stayed up one night and watched the complete series with no breaks in between discs. I thoroughly enjoyed this series! I also appreciate the time spent by the writers and director to introduce you to the personal lives of the individual of the pilots, friends and wives. By the end of the series I felt that I had begun to know them personally and as a result, shared in the losses and the hurt felt by the surviving kin. I almost felt that I would miss them as well and would now face a time of grief and mourning. Shifting over to the technical side of the production, although aerial combat scenes and special effects have progressed tremendously over the years, I was very pleased with the amount of "air time". Also, as a historical research photographer, I am quite concerned about historical accuracy and authenticity for any "period" type production. And since I am not an expert or authority on a large majority of WWII, much less the RAF, I hope that most of the period clothing, equipment...considering many years have passed...is very close to the "real mccoy." And even if most of the clothing and equipment might not be exactly "period correct", I was pleased to see that the producers and director attempted to focus my attention on the contributions and sacrifices of the brave men who willingly gave of themselves for a cause.
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10/10
The Field of Human Conflict
The_Other_Snowman20 March 2005
I've read several conflicting reports about the accuracy of Derek Robinson's novels. Some veterans claim that the pilots of the RAF never behaved in such a loutish manner, while others say that "Piece of Cake" is closer to the truth than most people would like to admit. Robinson researches all his books, and states that everything in them actually did happen at some point, and that he only dramatized reality by putting all the characters and events into one story. Characters like the cad Moggy Cattermole, the unbalanced Flash Gordon, or the abjectly terrified Pip Patterson are the same kind of people you'd find in an English public school -- just like the real pilots of the Royal Air Force. Robinson's artistic license places them all in the same squadron, but I don't doubt that men like them did exist in the war.

The behavior of Hornet Squadron's pilots on the ground does not diminish their heroism in the air; the fact that they held off the Luftwaffe is proof enough that they deserve our respect, regardless of what they were like in person. The flawed humanity of its characters makes the sacrifice of the real pilots much easier to understand than if they were portrayed simply as selfless heroes, even if we would be more comfortable remembering them that way.

The flying scenes in this series are definitely above average and should be enough to recommend it to aviation enthusiasts. A few clips here and there come from 1969's "Battle of Britain", but for the most part the scenes of Spitfires taking off and landing or flying in formation are all brand-new, including some low-level stunts involving bridges. These were real stunts performed by a real pilot -- they found the longest single-span stone bridge in the country, and flew a real Spitfire under it. It's a hell of a scene.

Apart from all that, the series is very well done. The acting is great all round, particularly Neil Dudgeon as Cattermole and Richard Hope as Skelton. The script is funny and extremely quotable. After the squadron adjutant reads Churchill's speech out loud -- "Never was so much owed by so many to so few" -- one pilot asks, "Does that mean we can go home now?"
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Great television
woodguy14 October 2000
Very good mini-series, but it falls a bit short of the excellent book by Derek Robinson. Air combat sequences are taken from the film "Battle of Britain". The acting is very good across the board, however, I'd like to see some more character development and lines for a few of the characters. See the film, but read the book as well. Also recommended are Derek Robinson's "Hornet's Sting", "Goshawk Squadron", and "A Good Clean Fight".
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10/10
Jolly good show!
moggybc18 March 2007
"Piece of Cake" is a top notch production, excellently adapted from one of my favorite books by Derek Robinson. The acting is superb, the score, set designs, locations and period detail create a wonderfully full viewing experience.

I first watched this show during its North American release in 1990 and promptly went out and bought the book. I since acquired the DVD set, and watch it a couple of times a year. Yes, there are some discrepancies with the book (such as the switch from Hurricanes to Spitfires) which are likely explained by budgetary and availability issues, and the aerial scenes may look a little dated by now. But despite these minor shortcomings, the series it not diminished in its quality.

Some detractors (elsewhere on this post) seem hung up on political correctness and 'fact'. Ignore their remarks. "Piece of Cake" is a rousing good story, based on historical circumstances and, as the author states: "Hornet squadron is fiction. The places where it was based do not exist. All the characters in the story are invented. Everything else is a authentic as I could make it." These detractors obviously don't know the difference between documentaries and entertainment. We all know that "Bridge on the River Kwai", "Patton", "Apocalypse Now" and "M*A*S*H" were not representative of typical military 'behavior', but they all stand as excellent films by any standard.

If you want to watch cold hard fact, watch the documentary series "World at War". If you want something to help put a human face behind the horror and the terror of war, watch "Piece of Cake".

Apologies for the digression. Ten out of ten for "Piece of Cake".
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10/10
Seen it some years ago
ninja_rick17 October 2000
I saw this series some years ago. First I didn't like that there were modern Spitfires with four-bladed props (lately I've heard that there were Hurricanes in the book). But, then I felt the realism and saw the powerful scenes where the pilots are lost one at a time in the air. There are many powerful scenes on the ground as well not to be forgotten.

It's a story about a group of men that changes totally. We have the serious people like "Fitz" and "Flip" We have the serious man who becomes a maniac "Flash" We have the chicken man who refuse to fly "Pip" We have the responsible leader "Fanny" And we also have a person who never changes "Moggy" and many more and new faces in part 5,6.

I give this series 10(10) it's worth it.
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10/10
Best 300 minutes ever
hedehad13 April 2005
I must say I really enjoyed every moment when I watched the whole series after buying the DVD-Box. The Music is beautifully, brilliantly fantastic. The production makes the feeling of a school class where the boys in the group are drawn to certain small gangs within the group. Some of them are really close friends while some seem like sworn enemies. It is so exiting to follow them in their journey from unexperienced boys to become real fighters. They do not really understand the seriousness until they are drawn into real action.

The American (Boid Gains) does a really good job here, I can't understand why he wasn't used more in Hollywood after his brilliant performance in this successful masterpiece of TV production.

Neil Dudgeon is fabulous and why didn't Jeremy Northam and Nathaniel Parker get more of their recognition from Piece of Cake I wonder.

I don't really fancy WW2 war birds and that sort of military stuff but I really loved this mini series. So I suppose you don't have to be a "flyboy freak" to enjoy this mini series.
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10/10
Terrific series!
lynzee29 July 2001
Watched on Masterpiece Theatre years ago. Outstanding show. If only I can remember the catchy tune that opened the show each week. A true adventure and tear jerker that everyone can enjoy. This is the kind of show that has made Masterpiece Theatre a staple of PBS.
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For once, a movie (or TV series) better than the book
darencogdon9 March 2000
Forgiving the various historical inaccuracies (Spitfires instead of Hurricanes, aircraft colour schemes, etc) this is a very enjoyable piece of TV.

Though it may be hard to choose one truly great character in the programme, as there are so many, I really have to admire 'Moggy' Cattermole. Moggy gets the best lines, without a doubt, and he is undeniably the one we'd all want to be. Unbelievably charming, absolutely dashing and the definition of wit itself, Moggy steals the show on the ground. But it is the aerial content that I wanted to watch in this - the fight scenes are well done, and the way in which the whole thing is brought together (well explained in a very informative and thought provoking book, 'How They Made.....') is quite remarkable.

Throughly enjoyed over and over on video, too.
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10/10
Don't Bleed on the Carpet, Dickie.
Silent_Cal21 May 2012
In the very first scene of "Piece of Cake", a squadron leader lands his plane in a ditch, and breaks his neck on his way to the ground. Things go from bad to worse: it's September 1939, and Britain and Germany have just declared war. RAF Hornet Squadron's first successful dogfight turns out to be an embarrassing friendly-fire incident. The young pilots' enthusiasm doesn't wane, however, and a new commanding officer soon arrives in a red sports car and immediately orders a bottle of champagne.

In France the squadron enjoys their comfy château with its full bar and squash court, as well as good food, good wine, and local women. In the air there is much confusion, as the pre-war RAF's tactics are gradually revealed to be inadequate in the face of the veteran German air force. The war heats up, things start to fall apart, and it all ends with the Battle of Britain in September 1940.

That should give you an idea of the tone and style of "Piece of Cake", a six-part miniseries based on Derek Robinson's 1983 novel. Much has been lost on the route from page to screen, including several characters and subplots. That's all right, since there were a lot of them to begin with. The cast fit into their roles smoothly and naturally: Neil Dudgeon plays the bullying Moggy Cattermole with easy charm; Tom Burlinson is the stalwart Australian flight lieutenant; Richard Hope is brilliant as the egg-headed intelligence officer Skull Skelton; and Tim Woodward brings an appropriate air of stubborn romanticism to the aristocratic Squadron Leader Rex.

There are plenty of vintage aircraft on display for those who like that sort of thing. The Spits are anachronistic, but excusable. You can also see a pair of Spanish-made Messerschmitts standing in for the Germans, and a few other old warbirds in the background. It's a relief to see the real things: not models, not computer-generated, and flying under bridges to boot.

Is it realistic? Is it true to history? Who knows. The survivors of the battle are not likely to appreciate their warts-and-all portrayal, as you'd expect. That's fine. "Piece of Cake" does nothing to tarnish their legend, nor does it try to: the idea is to show the heroes of the Battle of Britain as people the audience can understand, and it works. Humor, irony, and tragedy are the stuff of real life. I'd rather have the daunted, wearied, and worn-out men of Hornet Squadron than the cardboard cutouts of myth.
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9/10
What an aeroplane!
jkholman6 April 2006
Watching this television mini-series for the second time, I am enjoying Piece of Cake very much. Yes, the aircraft are not Hurricanes as they should be, possibly because they were unavailable. Maybe the production people used Spitfires because they were the only things on the shelf. I was relieved to find that after several minutes this technical defect did not detract from the film. It helps that the Spitfire is such a beautiful aeroplane (and I love the Hurricane) and is arguably as photogenic as Lana Turner. As mentioned elsewhere, the characters have their foibles, which make them that much more impressive to the audience. While Flying Officer Cattermole is given to deliberate cruelty, Pilot Officer Hart is no less (albeit unintentionally)so with his ill-advised intercourse with the enlisted person. Having been there myself, it is quite unpleasant. I had my druthers about the inclusion of an American in the story (many a good British film lost something by including an American not originally part of the book), but this one works. It does this by allowing Officer Hart to behave socially on a par with his Empire flying mates, although he botches it badly in the aforementioned incident. Yes, we Americans are naive. While it takes me awhile to warm to Officer Cattermole, he is easily the most reliable combat flier of the squadron. He seems to unreservedly accept the American (on equal terms) more than he does his peers. Not having read the book, I can only leave the detractors of this work to their own devices, but I will continue to enjoy this entertaining piece of cinematic work.
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from the horse's mouth
vironpride13 March 2006
I attended a symposium, dinner, and talk-- in Alexandria, Virginia, in October, 1990, sponsored by Virginia Bader, cousin to the legless RAF ace, Douglas Bader. She had invited General Adolf Galland and Air Vice Marshall Johnnie Johnson and their wives as guests of honor. I was too shy and in awe of General Galland, so I never actually met him (something I shall always regret), but I did meet AVM Johnson. I said, "I am honored, sir," and I meant it. At the talk that followed the symposium, someone in the audience asked Johnnie Johnson what he thought of "Piece of Cake" (which I had seen). He said, "It was bullshit!" Whereupon General Galland and the whole audience simply cracked up. He was there, so I guess he should know--
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3/10
Snobs Behaving Badly
PLRD3 February 2007
There's plenty to appreciate here: spectacular locations and flying sequences; period costumes, props and sets; and competent writing and acting. However, to enjoy a drama, we need at least one principal who exhibits some qualities that we can like or admire. In this bunch of catty snobs, we found only one character who is at all likable — a hapless enlisted man in a fleeting peripheral role as their helpless victim. From the reviews here, it is clear that we are completely out of step, but we did not find their malicious-schoolgirl behavior amusing or entertaining. Even the dog is detestable. We threw in the towel after two of the six episodes, so you should discount these observations accordingly, but what I could find written about this mini-series gave us no cause to expect character transformation or redemption.
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10/10
Nuanced exposition of a difficult subject
patters-0092824 February 2019
When this first aired in the late eighties I wasn't aware of it. Subsequently I have recently watched on Forces TV and found the positive reviews are correct , it is very well acted, nuanced in its portrayal and exposition, plus the aerial and action sequences play well on modern TV's.
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9/10
Twitching at the end
swjg19 June 2017
Warning: Spoilers
A miniseries adaption of Derek Robinson's book.

This is a work of fiction set against a historical timeline and so for the purists - you are going to hate the Sptifires in France (in the real war it was Hurricanes) and the wrong marks of Spitfires and Messerschmits used on the set - so set that aside before you even view this. For this 1988 production the special effects are pretty good and rather show up the sometimes overused clips taken from the 1969 Battle of Britain movie. But set that aside too because.....

What elevates this mini series are two key components:

The first - for Spitfire enthusiasts - are some of the flying sequences shot for this series. The pilots really had a good time and showed off their skills with some flair. Camera angles and careful lens selection can make a Spitfire look like it is flying among tree tops when the trees are in reality some distance from wings but you can's deny just how close to the ground some of these planes really are. When they fly in formation at a camera at almost zero feet you can see the planes bouncing around in each other's turbulence and ground effect and the pilots correcting and jinking to stay in formation. It is as close to being IN an airborne Spitfire as I am ever likely to get. There are also some wonderful shots of planes making the curved landing approaches required by Spitfires' long noses that you could not see over. Tail shots of three point tail dragger landings are quite spectacular too. Watch those unlocked tail wheels spin in the initial shock!

The second key part of this production - for those looking for the story - are the characters developing against the timeline and changing as the pressures of battle alter them all in different ways. Recent post war research has shown that the real make up of the RAF during the Battle of Britain had little to do with Univesity educated upper class so often portrayed. So this view is maybe closer to the pre-war squadron portrayed here - at least at the start of the series.

Important crunch issues of:

  • the difficulties of aircraft recognition, - outdated tactics on the British side, - friendly fire in battle, - how horribly people really died in their planes when hit, - how you could be just plain unlucky if your plane faltered in the heat of the moment - and just how hard it was for the RAF pilots to learn and pass on experience as they often failed to make it home to tell


all make a showing as "Hornet Squadron" falls back from France to literally sit on the edge of the White Cliffs of Dover in the front line of those trying to fend off the marauding Luftwaffe.

For the less well developed characters there is a horrific reality - they never survived long enough to get into the story because they get shot down as soon as they appeared.

What sets this series aside - especially from big perspective movies like the Battle of Britain - is the close up portrayal of the reality of rapid aircraft and personnel turnover. By the end - the few old timers are "twitching" with stress and falling as they make mistakes or their luck runs out. If you have ever read the official history of the battle and read the too often used line - "Squadron sent north to rest and re-equip" this series brings home the horrific reality that lay behind that seemingly bland statement. There is absolutely no doubt that in the final moments of the series as the stragglers return - that is where this squadron is headed - what is left of it.

A good adaption of the original book and a worthy tribute to "the few".

---------

Available on DVD - the transfer comes in for some criticism - but you can't make better resolution for a DVD out of an older and lower resolution telecine tape. Set aside the slight fuzziness and watch the story.
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1/10
Piece of Trash
spitfire-43 July 2003
"Piece is Cake" is defeatist, revisionist history of the worst kind, whose only point is to unfairly savage the reputation of the (admittedly fictional) pilots it portrays. It left a remarkably bad taste in my mouth.

In the March 1989 "Aeroplane Monthly", Roland Beamont wrote a stinging condemnation of the way that RAF Fighter Command was portrayed in the TV mini-series. A few of his comments are worth repeating:

"There was no sense of defeatism at any time in any of the squadrons that I saw in action, and a total absence of the loutishness portrayed in 'Piece of Cake'. It would not have been tolerated for a moment... ...The prevailing atmosphere was more akin to that in a good rugby club, though with more discipline. Nor was there any sense of 'death or glory'. RAF training had insisted that we were there to defend this country, and now we were required to do it - no more and no less.

"There was no discussion of 'bravery' or 'cowardice'. People either had guts or they did not - but mostly they did. But we knew fear, recognised it in ourselves and in each other, did our damnedness to control it, and then got on with the job...

"...I could feel no 'glory', but there was a sense of greatness, and none of this bore the slightest resemblance to 'Piece of Cake'."

Beamont was, in his own words, "a fighter pilot who, unlike the author and producer of the recent TV series, was there at the time".

Beamont served with 87 Squadron both in France and the BoB, before going on to become one of the premier exponents of both the Typhoon and Tempest, and a post-war test pilot.

"Piece of Cake" is an absolute, total misrepresentation of the way pilots in Fighter Command acted at the time. It is nothing less than a complete and utter disgrace...
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2/10
Was greatly disappointed in this production
pepperanne142 October 2003
I bought this DVD set, sight unseen, and wish I hadn't. The script needed some serious rewriting as it seems to be completely devoid of any feeling and pales in comparison to the book. The lighting is horrid, very unpolished, but if it was just that I could overlook it. The script doesn't focus enough on the characters...there is hardly an introduction to various characters making it a tad difficult to distinguish who is who(especially in the planes--no idea who dies when).

I have long felt that the key to a good film is in getting the audience to care about the characters; if you don't have that you don't have anything. There was no focus on the characters at all--you never got to know them--who they were, what they liked..what made them do the things that they do. The series is 5 hours long and split up into 6 parts...I bet you are wondering what they did with all this time if they didn't detail the characters---they put a lot of filler in it....I will say at least an entire hour is spent watching them land and take off in their planes LOL (I mean do we really need to see that over and over again???). I would have given this a much higher rating had they just improved our knowledge of the characters.
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10/10
Simply the best, most realistic aerial combat story ever told!
cinewill-219 June 2008
Sure they zoomed in on the same bad model explosions from "Battle of Britain" or that the annoying moving shadows on the tight cockpit shots. (mostly overcast) What triumphs is the powerhouse talent and real flavor of events. I watch it regularly,the spit scenes are languorous(?) and beautiful. the fact that the squadron is the main character,allows for characters to come and go (albeit painfully) Its lovingly art directed (This was a matter of national pride) - and directed with a sure hand.

I'm sure somebody in here in Hollywood caught this on cable and immediately wanted to make the rumored "The Few" With Tom Cruise. History has to take a bit of a hit to make a memorable movie.
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10/10
The ME109s were powered by Rolls Royce Merlin engines!
driscollx28 January 2008
The ME109s used in the series have a hidden irony. They were Hispano Aviación HA-1112 M. 1. L "Buchons" which had the "body" of a Messerschmitt Bf 109 and the "soul" of a Spitfire. They were powered by a Rolls Royce Merlin engine! This required significant modifications to the 109 fuselage. Look closely at the ME109s in the series and you can see the exhaust line at the top of the fuselage and the air intake under the spinner. The DB 601A used in Luftwaffe ME109s were mounted inverted. The exhausts are near the bottom of the fuselage. Also, there is no air intake directly under the spinner. The Buchons were retirees from the Spanish Air Force.
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