Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Desert Victory (1943)

Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum

Main image of Desert Victory (1943)
35mm, 60 min, black & white
DirectorRoy Boulting
Production CompanyArmy Film Unit;
 RAF Film Production Unit
SponsorMinistry of Information
ProducerDavid MacDonald

The story of the Battle of Alamein, 1942, using material actual and reconstructed.

Show full synopsis

The films making up the Victory trilogy are perhaps the most lasting legacies of the long career of filmmaker Roy Boulting - more famous for his fiction features made with brother John. In fact, one of the brothers' early short films had been the sober and interesting rural documentary Ripe Earth (1938). But alongside Roy Boulting's later, lightly satirical farces, Desert Victory, Tunisian Victory (1943) and Burma Victory (1945) were deadly serious in intent and effect.

The Oscar-winning Desert Victory was a co-production of the service film units first set up in 1941. It recounts the second Battle of El Alamein, in which General Montgomery's Eighth Army forced the retreat of Field Marshall Rommel's German and Italian forces. Miles of footage shot by frontline cameraman (and some captured German footage) were honed into coherent shape under Boulting's supervision, combined with maps and an intelligently lucid commentary. Frequently musing on subtle shifts in Rommel's strategic thinking, the narration betrays the same grudging admiration that Montgomery himself reputedly had for his German counterpart. Otherwise, the Axis forces are treated with matter-of-fact dignity, but no pity or regret is wasted on them. For every Commonwealth casualty there were five on the enemy side: 'bombed, blasted and machine-gunned, they tasted what they had administered in France and Poland'.

Attention is focused on the common British soldier. The unquestionable highlight is the sequence covering the initial offensive - beginning with the sights of the troops' last evening before the battle, followed by night descending (the frame plunged into ominous darkness, the soundtrack hushed) then the tension exploded by shells and gunfire mingled with roaring voices, while flares illuminate swiftly moving soldiers. This sequence was constructed from a mixture of the material sent back to London from Africa, and shots filmed in Pinewood. As with the 'over-the-top' sequence of the previous generation's The Battle of the Somme (1916), this unforgettable sequence is a continuing reference point for debates about the ethics of documentary staging.

Patrick Russell

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Complete film (58:07)
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Boulting, Roy (1913-2001)