Above and Beyond (2006)



Director:     Sturla Gunnarsson.

Starring:     Liane Balaban (Shelagh Emberly),  Jonathan Scarfe (Bill Jacobson),  Allan Hawco (Nathan Burgess),  Peter MacNeill (Gen. Anderson),  Robert Wisden (Pritchard),  Joss Ackland (Winston Churchill),  Jason Priestley (Sir Frederick Banting),  Kenneth Welsh (Lord Beaverbrook),  Richard E. Grant (Don Bennett). 

TV-miniseries about flying Hudson Bombers to Britain from Newfoundland, Canada to fight the Germans


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

Part I. 

English Channel, 1940.  A plane goes down.  The two crew members jump out of the plane with their parachutes. 

A jazz orchestra plays a piece of music in a club in Montreal, Canada.  A very handsome American blonde fellow named Bill Jacobson sees a brunette (Shelagh Emberly)  He immediately likes her.  Shelagh tells her friend that she really likes fliers.  Bill walks over to Shelagh's table and introduces himself and his friend Harrison to her and her friend.  The Germans have just taken Paris.  It's a sad day. 

In London Lord Beaverbrook wines and dines his secretary.  He is the Minister of aircraft production.   He attends a cabinet meeting with Churchill.  Churchill says that the Battle of France is over; the Battle of Britain has begun.  Lord Beaverbrook's personal enemy and a shrewd opponent is Arthur Sinclair who argues that he needs planes.  He can't get enough of them.  He implies that Lord Beaverbrook is incapable of providing him sufficient aircraft. 

In his office Beaverbrook mentions that he can get together seven squadrons.  Then he receives some bad news.  The cargo ship bringing plane parts to Britain was sunk.  Eight Hudson bombers were lost.  And it will not be until another six weeks before the next shipment arrives.  Beaverbrook's assistant Crowley asks a simple question:  "Why can't you fly the bombers across the North Atlantic?"  Lord Beaverbrook just laughs.  The planes would never make it across.

Bill walks Shelagh home He asks her where she grew up but she will not tell him.  She kisses him goodnight. 

Lord Beaverbrook has had a change of heart about a possible Atlantic route for the planes.  Captain Don Bennett speaks with Lord Beaverbrook.  Beaverbrook says that he is offering Bennett a chance at greatness.  He is asking him to go to Newfoundland and run the program that will fly the Hudson bombers over the Atlantic to England.  Bennett says that the planes have never been flown in winter.  Beaverbrook counters by saying that even if they lose one-half of the planes in the trips, they are still ahead of the game.  The U-boats are sinking too many transport ships. 

Gander Airport, Newfoundland.  Nathan Burgess is in charge of the civilian airfield.  His assistant is Pittman.  A strange plane approaches the airfield.  It turns out to be Saddler of the Royal Canadian Air Force.  Rosie Burgess runs out on the airfield to take a picture of the incoming plane.  Two fellows head out in an ambulance to get her off the airfield.  But the incoming plane almost clips the vehicle on the ground.  When Saddler gets off the plane he is very angry about the accident that almost happened.  He is a little too bossy.  After all, this is a civilian airport.  Rosie apologizes for her actions to her brother Nathan. 

Shelagh works as a typist for the Canadian Pacific Railway in Montreal.  She is asked to be the confidential stenographer for Captain Bennett.  She takes the job.  Bennett tells her that England needs aircraft and they aim to supply some of those aircraft to Britain.  He adds:  "What we will do here will change the course of the war."  Shelagh is excited by the thought of making an important contribution to a good cause. 

Air Chief Marshal Arthur Sinclair does not like Lord Beaverbrook's idea about ferrying the planes from Newfoundland.  But Churchill gives his blessing to the project. 

Captain Bennett is in desperate need of pilots and navigators.  Shelagh tells him that there are a lot of pilots who hang out at the Terminal Club.  She will go there and ask some of them if they are interested in flying for Canada.  Bill shows up at the club.  When he talks with Shelagh she tells him to stay away from Canadian Pacific Air.  Bennett starts interviewing pilots.  Shelagh and Bill go horse riding.  Bill tells her that he is going to join up with Bennett.  Shelagh emphasizes to him that she has serious doubts about the operation. 

Bennett wants Shelagh to fly to the Newfoundland airport.  Shelagh does not want to go back there.  She grew up very close to Gander airport.  She says:  "I can't go back there." 

Shelagh flies out to Gander airport.  When she gets off the plane she is met by Nathan.  It seems the two know each other already.  Nathan mentions to her that she has been away for four and one-half years.  He is now the airport control officer.  He gives her a ride to her mother's house.  She mentions that big things are happening, but cannot say what things.  Nathan calls her the "queen of secrets."  He drops her off at her house.  She greets her mother.  Then Rosie Burgess comes down to greet her. 

Bill starts a search for the missing Shelagh.  He even goes directly to Bennett, but he won't help him at all.  Bills signs up for Bennett's project. 

At Gander airport Shelagh has to fight for some space for an office.  Commander Saddler is of no assistance to her.  Nathan finally intervenes and offers her a corner in the tower for her office.  She takes it.  He seems to be very out-of-sorts with Shelagh.  Bill and Harrison arrive at Gander airport and Bill is very surprised to run directly into Shelagh.  He is still bewildered why she just suddenly disappeared without telling him anything.  She says she could not tell him (which isn't really true). 

Bennett starts testing his pilots.  He decides to dump Harrison, but Bill intervenes asking Bennett to give his buddy another chance.  Bennett gives in to Bill.  Harrison is very grateful to his friend. 

Bennett talks with Beaverbrook to say he desperately needs navigators.  Beaverbrook tells him to be the main navigator and the other planes will just follow him.  Bennett is very doubtful about this plan, but Beaverbrook won't listen to his objections. 

Bill, Harrison and another American take a Hudson bomber on a trial run.  As they climb in altitude they have to use their oxygen tubes.  But Harrison doesn't cooperate and doesn't use the tube.  Soon he is giddy and a bit out of control and the third crew member has to force Harrison to use the tube.  Bill has to tell him to shape up. 

Shelagh asks Nathan for help in getting needed accommodations for the pilots. 

It's now November and still there are no aircraft. Churchill warns Beaverbrook that time is running out on the project.  Beaverbrook says the planes are gathering now at Newfoundland. 

Bill's Hudson bomber's port engine goes out on him.  He has to land the crippled plane and does so successfully.  Shelagh tells him:  "I thought you said you'd stay away from Canadian Pacific Air?"  She asks:  "Why?"  Bill answers with a simple:  "Because I can." 

The civilian pilots get some criticism because they will receive $1,000 dollars for each flight they make across the Atlantic. 

November 10, 1940.  It's the last possible day for the ferry service to begin before the project is canceled.  Bennett arrives to speak with the pilots for the seven bombers that will head to England.  He says that many people would call the flight "imprudent".  But it's do or die time.  Bill gives a pep talk to his fellow airmen and everyone decides they will go.  Shelagh says goodbye to Bill and tells him to be careful. 

Part II.

 Shelagh and the air tower crew keep track of the flight.  The planes have just passed St. Johns.  Beaverbrook sends his congratulations to all seven of the planes.  Bill's plane develops a problem with the starter for the fuel pump.  But Bill comes to the rescue.  He is able to fix the starter using some tin foil and a new circuit plug.  The planes run in to severe turbulence and they have to climb to 2200 feet.  The planes have to separate, which creates a great deal of anxiety in Bill and his crew.  The planes reach the point of no return.  The automatic pilot on Bill's plane goes out.  The crew does not look forward to having to fly the plane by hand.  Again Bill saves the day.  He fixes the gadget, but in doing so, away from the oxygen tube, he passes out.  The third crew member can't get Bill up so Harrison has to dive the plane downward to where oxygen is available.  He straightens the plane out a short distance above the Atlantic Ocean.  Bill regains consciousness. 

After 10 hours and 18 minutes of flight Bennett's crew sights land and they make a landing.  Soon after landing five other planes are seen coming toward the runway.  There is one missing and that is Bill's plane.  Beaverbrook is informed that six of the seven planes have landed.  The Lord is ecstatic.  He says to his assistant:  "We've made history Crowley."  Bennett receives a phone call from Bill.  Bill and his crew landed south of the airport in an open field.  Beaverbrook hears the latest news and is soon teasing Sinclair about all seven planes arriving without a scratch.  Archie tells him that he is just lucky.  The Yanks arrive at the airport.  The ferry pilots will be taken to Southampton where they will get on a transport ship to go back to Newfoundland for another ferry trip.

Beaverbrook calls Bennett and tells him:  "I'm damn proud of you, Don."  Don tells him that he needs a navigator for each airplane.  Beaverbrook seems totally unconcerned about Bennett's concerns.

The crews arrive back at Gander airfield.  Bill and Shelagh have dinner together.  They kiss.

Another seven planes are going to be going out headed for England.  Shelagh tells Nathan that they are building a new hangar for the airfield.  This will be good for Newfoundland, because the British will take everything they produce there.  Sir Frederick Banting, the discoverer of insulin, arrives at the airfield.  He's a big celebrity at the airfield.  Shelagh coaxes him into having him say something to the audience at a dance.  The next morning Banting takes off headed for England.  But soon the air tower receives a message from the plane saying they are facing an emergency situation and are turning back.  The starboard engine is dead.  The plane loses altitude.  Banting's plane crashes into the ocean.  Archie Sinclair uses the death of Banting to really get in his digs on Beaverbrook.  The Nobel Prize winner is no more.  But Churchill has bigger problems to worry about.   Hitler has taken Rumania.  Churchill asks Sinclair to give Beaverbrook a few navigators.  Winston adds that Archie can send an inspector out to check on the activities at Gander airfield. 

Pritchard is the inspector.  He is shocked to learn that a civilian secretary oversees all maintenance on the planes.  Wing Commander Saddler complains of lax security at the airfield and implies the possibility of sabotage.  Nathan tells Pritchard that Saddler never liked the airfield because it is run by civilians.  Saddler confirms this.  Nathan and Sheila talk at the airfield bar and restaurant.  The inspector comes in to speak with them.  He actually tells them that he is impressed with their operation.  He even congratulates the two co-workers. 

Two hotels, for outgoing and incoming pilots, are being built at the airfield.  Nathan compliments Shelagh by saying that she is "something else".  An unidentified aircraft approaches the field.  The anti-aircraft crews man their weapons.  As the airplane nears the field, a soldier's foot slips and the weapon fires.  The explosion of the shell comes very close to the incoming plane.  The plane is from the United State Army Air Force.  Hoxley B. Anderson gets out.  He is here to check out the place.  The USA is suspicious of all the air activity over Newfoundland, a place so close to the US.  Hoxley suggests that the US might want to take over the Newfound airport.  Nathan doesn't like the idea at all. 

Bill hasn't seen much of Shelagh and he goes to her, but she virtually ignores him.  When he asks her if she ever takes a break, she nastily responds:  "I said no!  . . . Just leave!"  The next day at breakfast when Shelagh is asked where Bill is, she doesn't seem to give a damn.  A war bulletin comes over the radio:  the H.M.S. Hood has been sunk in battle with the German battleship Bismarck.  Later Shelagh goes to Bill to tell him that there is a discrepancy in the fuel consumption log for his plane.  Bill realizes that he accidentally transposed the figures.  Then Bill goes out of his way to apologize to her.  (For exactly what, I have no idea.)  He admits he was out of line and she says:  "Damn right you were."   She tells him that he just doesn't understand.  Bill says he is willing to learn and she seems to defrost a little. 

The British want Gander airfield and all its pilots and crews to be taken over by the Royal Air Force.  Nathan doesn't like this idea either.  He tries out his new radio.  This one is much more sensitive.  It picks up the sounds from a ship.  He has Shelagh phone this information over to Pritchard.  From this information the British know that the Bismarck is headed toward France after all.  Not much latter the news arrives that the Bismarck has been sunk.  The Canadians at the airfield celebrate the occasion. 

Shelagh and Nathan take a long walk.  She asks him if he would miss her if she went back to Montreal.  He says yes because she makes the place a lot brighter. 

Churchill says that FDR is offering pilots to Britain.  He wants the ferry service taken over by the RAF.  Beaverbrook is mad about this, but Churchill tells him that he will hand it over to Sinclair "graciously, victoriously."  He says he will accept Beaverbrook's resignation, but adds that he has got bigger things in store for him. 

Bennett tells Shelagh and Nathan that the RAF is taking over the airfield and the ferry service.  Air Chief Pritchard will be in command.  A very disappointed Bennett walks away from them.  Nathan says that when everyone is in uniform he might quit.  He says he doesn't want to be a make-believe soldier.  Shelagh tells him he cannot leave.  He knows too much about everything about the airfield and the people.  She adds:  "We need you."  She herself is staying. 

Bill asks Shelagh to marry him.  He is even willing to convert to Catholicism for her.  They can live in New York City and summer at Cape Cod.  Shelagh (insulting the Americans) says that she would have Yank children and she's pretty sure she wouldn't like that idea.  Bill is stunned by her non-enthusiasm. 

Bennett says that 22 planes were handled, their best day yet.  Bennett has been offered the position of group captain.  He says that it is time for something new.  Shelagh tells her mother that Bill asked her to marry him.  She says that she does not know what to do.  At a celebration Bennett says that so far 298 aircraft have been delivered to England.  He congratulates all those involved in the very important project.  Bill visits with Shelagh and shows her the train tickets he has purchased for them for the trip to New York.  She tells him that she cannot leave.  She has a job, commitments.  She kisses him goodbye.  He still seems bewildered by her actions. 

Shelagh pays a visit to Nathan.  He thinks she is leaving with Bill.  He brings up an old wound.  She never told him she was thinking about leaving him.  He quotes from the letter she wrote him, after the fact:  "Please don't wait for me."  Shelagh says she had to go, because she loved him.  (Sounds pretty lame to me.)  And she was afraid.  After all, she says, she was only 17 and too young.  "I never meant to hurt you."  But now she says she doesn't want to lose Nathan again.  She and Nathan kiss. 

Nathan receives his military uniform.  He has Shelagh open the box.  She is going to like him in uniform. 


Bennett's team became the heart of the RAF Ferry Command.  With their American allies they delivered over 25,000 aircraft from Newfoundland, changing the course of the war.  More than 500 men and women died flying for Ferry Command (about 2% percent loss).  Captain Don Bennett went on to found and lead the Pathfinders, an elite group of pilots who led Allied bombers to their targets in Nazi Germany. 


The story of the ferry service out of Newfoundland headed for England was good.  It was interesting following the trials and travails of the ferry service.  But the triangle love story sucked big time.  Here's a basic rule.  To make a successful love story, the hero and heroine have to be basically good people or become basically good people after being transformed by love.  The hero and heroine have to not only love each other, but be respectful of other people's feelings and ideas as well.  The heroine failed on the level of basic decency.  In Newfoundland, she leaves a man she loved and who loved her without saying a word to him at the time.  She starts falling in love with an American pilot named Bill, but then just suddenly picks up and leaves again without saying anything to the man.  When Bill finds her she makes lame excuses and then starts up another love relationship with him.  But somewhere along the way she feels that Bill is not serious enough for her.  After all, she has such an important job (even though it is Bill who is risking his life).  And suddenly, she just drops him like a hot potato without ever giving him a decent reason.  Apparently, her feelings have changed and now she seems intent on going back to Nathan.  We have no idea why she did a 180 degree turn.  But she is not good at telling people about her emotional states and the changes in them.  She would rather just walk away from people.  And that's what she does with Bill.  Then she goes to Nathan and just suddenly announces that she loves him without any real previous show of real affection for him.  Such a woman I would not touch with a ten foot pole.  I also did not care for her nasty and biased attitude toward the U.S.  (And I am the one usually and unfairly accused of being anti-American.)  The love triangle just left me disgusted because of the heroine and her actions.  Actually to call her a heroine is to go too far. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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