Children of Bond - Biggles: Adventures in Time

biggles movie

What film saw the last screen performance of Peter Cushing? That would be Biggles: Adventures in Time, a 1986 action film (loosely) based on the series of novels by W.E Johns and directed by John (Twins of Evil, The Legend of Hell House) Hough. Johns (who was a pilot himself) created the character James 'Biggles' Bigglesworth for a long running series of adventure novels (the first was published in 1932).
At the start of the books, Biggles is a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) during the First World War but most of the stories eventually took place after the war and had Biggles flying more modern aircraft. Biggles has been described as a sort of British version of Flash Gordon or Dan Dare before Dan Dare. Dan Dare was often described as "Biggles in Space" when he first appeared in Eagle comic at the start of the 1950s.
It was hoped that Biggles: Adventures in Time would be the start of a James Bond type series and although it didn't succeed in this aim (the box-office was fairly dismal but the film apparently did quite well on home video) it retains a certain dated likeability with the eighties trappings and nostalgic special effects. The story here is rather eccentric given the literary source and was presumably cobbled together with an eye on the American market and the knowledge that a film called Back to the Future had recently made an awful lot of money. Biggles: Adventures in Time is watchable nonsense though with a decent cast and a theme tune that will rattle around in your head for several days afterwards.
The plot has American yuppie Jim Ferguson (Alex Hyde-White) - a catering business executive in New York - inexplicably falling through a hole in time where he is suddenly transported to the Western Front in France during World War I. While he's there, he helps to save the life of a dashing British fighter pilot ace named James "Biggles" Bigglesworth (Neil Dickson). Ferguson is soon zapped back to present day 1986 where a mysterious elderly man called William Raymond (Peter Cushing) seeks him out.
Raymond says that Ferguson and Biggles are "time twins" who are linked together for some reason or other. "The hole opens when one of you is in mortal danger," he explains. Raymond is a former officer in the Royal Flying Corps who served with Biggles and now, as you do, lives in Tower Bridge. As if the time travel thing wasn't bad enough, Raymond explains to Ferguson that the Germans in Biggles' time are working on a secret Bond villain style super weapon which could alter the course of the war, history and time itself.
biggles film
I've never read a Biggles book in my life but I suspect any Biggles fan would be appalled at the treatment of the character here. He receives less screen time than Alex Hyde-White's contemporary Jim Ferguson and is thrown into a science fiction plot that is as concerned with Quantum Leap style time travel shenanigans and electricity lightning bolt Terminator special effects as it is with Sopwith Camel duel capers and World War I. Those of us who know absolutely nothing about the Biggles books though can park our brains at the door and enjoy Biggles: Adventures in Time as a slightly bizarre guilty pleasure from the eighties.
The variable special effects are not without charm and there is an irritatingly catchy and enjoyably cheesy/naff synthesiser theme song called "Do you want to be a hero?" which blares away over the action. The direction by John Hough is decent enough and watching this film you can sort of see why Hough came very close to directing a Bond film in the early eighties. Biggles: Adventures in Time had a budget of $7 million whereas Bond films in the early to mid eighties cost about $30 million to make. Hough was basically trying to make a Bond/Indiana Jones type film here with special effects and flying sequences but on only a quarter of the budget of things like For Your Eyes Only. If you'd given John Hough $30 million to make a Bond film in the early eighties I'm sure he would have turned in something competent and watchable.
Biggles: Adventures in Time is at its most Bondian when we have a helicopter flying around Tower Bridge. It somewhat evokes For Your Eyes Only's PTS but also anticipates future Bond films with London landmarks, like the Millennium Dome in The World Is Not Enough. Biggles: Adventures in Time has some sci-fi elements and period sequences but there are definitely some scenes where they seek to channel the Bond films. The eclectic nature of these influences all jumbled together gives the film a slight sense of incoherence that - strangely - actually works to its advantage.
The best thing about Biggles: Adventures in Time is Peter Cushing in his last role. Cushing is very expositional here and tries to make some sense of the ridiculous plot. Cushing's character explains to Jim (and the viewer!) what is going on and also helps us to learn more about Biggles and the top secret mission that pits him against a nefarious scheme by the Germans to create a super weapon. Whenever Cushing appears we get mysterious music and odd framing angles just to ram home the point that he's rather, er, mysterious. Cushing's character would have to be very old to have been Biggles' superior officer in 1917 but I suppose you don't look for complete logic in a film like this.
Biggles: Adventures in Time clearly did not have the most lavish budget ever and some of the special effects are average but the aerial flying sequences are nicely staged with mounted cameras providing lots of point of view shots. These sequences with Biggles in his natural habitat are not bad at all and the film is fast paced enough to stave off any boredom. You can though see some modern telegraph pylons in the background on one or two occasions in the World War I portions.
biggles film
The film strives to be a sort of Indiana Jones meets James Bond meets The Blue Max meets Back to the Future and is quite good fun at times although a part of you does always wonder why they didn't just make a Biggles film with Biggles in World War I as the star of his own film. Although the eighties electronic rock music seems out of place sometimes it is at least something different from a generic music score. The flying capers spark the film into life and Neil Dickson is actually very good as Biggles.
Dickson delivers an enthusiastic performance and does all that "chocks away old chap" stuff relatively well even if some of the dialogue is not brilliant. There are a few half decent lines here and there. "Quick! Untie us before they realise you're not a god - you're just an American!" Dickson has a James Bondish air about him and quite good chemistry with Alex Hyde-White's Jim. Hyde-White is ok although his character is the one that could easily have been written out of the film. Biggles: Adventures in Time is not an especially good film but it is a weirdly likeable film. It's hard to dislike a film that has Peter Cushing in the cast and such a silly mélange of elements.
While you feel there may have been a missed opportunity to make a much better and somewhat more faithful Biggles film, the pure daftness of Biggles: Adventures in Time is mildly endearing. When Biggles is flying a helicopter around Tower Bridge in contemporary (1980s) London with "Do you want to be a hero?" booming away you become modestly seduced by the pure silliness of it all. I don't think we really missed out on an awful lot by not getting a slew of Biggles sequels but this bizarre film is worth experiencing at least once.
- Jake


c 2019 Alternative 007

james bond alpine