The Battle of the River Plate (film)

Infobox Film
name = The Battle of the River Plate
(Pursuit of the Graf Spee)

image_size = 215px
caption = theatrical poster
director = Michael Powell
Emeric Pressburger
producer = Michael Powell
Emeric Pressburger
writer = Michael Powell
Emeric Pressburger
starring = John Gregson
Anthony Quayle
Peter Finch
music = Brian Easdale
cinematography = Christopher Challis
editing = Reginald Mills
distributor = Rank Film Distributors Ltd.
released = 30 November fy|1956 "(UK)"
runtime = 119 minutes
country = United Kingdom
language = English
budget =
gross =
imdb_id = 0048990

"The Battle of the River Plate" is a fy|1956 war film by the British director-writer team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, starring John Gregson, Anthony Quayle and Peter Finch. In the United States the film was retitled "Pursuit of the Graf Spee".

The film portrays the Battle of the River Plate, ["River Plate" is a mis-translation of the river's Spanish name, "Rio de la Plata". "Plata" in Spanish means "silver" and "Plato" means "plate", so the river should actually be called the Silver River.] a naval battle of 1939, between a Royal Navy force of three cruisers (HMS "Exeter", HMS "Ajax" and HMS "Achilles" ) and the German pocket battleship "Admiral Graf Spee". Unlike many British war movies of its time, "The Battle of the River Plate" treats the Germans as honourable opponents rather than as cardboard cut-out "Huns". This was a recurrent theme in Powell and Pressburger's films, including "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp".


In the early months of WWII, the German Navy sent out various surface raiders to attack Allied merchant shipping. The Royal Navy sent out various hunting groups to find them. The group that found "Admiral Graf Spee" was very lightly armed in comparison, but went straight to the attack.

The British were led by Commodore Harwood (Anthony Quayle), with Captain Woodhouse (Ian Hunter) commanding the "Ajax", Captain Bell (John Gregson) the "Exeter" and Captain Parry (Jack Gwillim) the "Achilles". Captain Hans Langsdorff's (Peter Finch) "Graf Spee" was much better armed than the three cruisers and inflicted a lot of damage but was fooled by the tactics of the British. The "Graf Spee" sustained damage itself and took refuge in a neutral port, but according to international law, had to leave by a specified time. Falsely believing that an overwhelming British force was lying in wait, Langsdorff took his ship out with a skeleton crew and scuttled her.

Historic details

The film pays particular attention to detail, including the bells ringing before each salvo, the scorching on the gun barrels after the battle, and the accurate depiction of naval procedures. The scene where Harwood meets with his captains on board "Ajax" is pure fiction, created for the movie in order to explain the situation to the audience. The battle is seen entirely from the perspective of the British ships, plus that of prisoners (captured from nine merchantmen) held on "Graf Spee".


* John Gregson as Capt. Bell, HMS Exeter
* Anthony Quayle as Cdre. Harwood, HMS Ajax
* Ian Hunter as Capt. Woodhouse, HMS Ajax
* Jack Gwillim as Capt. Parry, HMNZS Achilles
* Bernard Lee as Capt. Dove, MS Africa Shell
* Peter Finch as Capt. Langsdorff, Admiral Graf Spee
* Lionel Murton as Mike Fowler, Montevideo
* Anthony Bushell as Millington Drake, British Minister, Uruguay
* Peter Illing as Dr. Guani, Uruguayan Foreign Minister
* Michael Goodliffe as Capt. McCall, Royal Navy military attaché
* Patrick Macnee as Lt. Cmdr. Medley, HMS Ajax
* John Chandos as Dr. Langmann, German Minister, Uruguay
* Douglas Wilmer as M. Desmoulins, French Minister, Uruguay
* William Squire as Ray Martin, Montevideo
* Roger Delgado as Capt. Varela, Uruguyan Navy
* Andrew Cruickshank as Capt. Stubbs, Doric Star
* Christopher Lee as Manolo
* Edward Atienza as Pop
* April Olrich as Dolores
* Muriel Smith as Dolores (singing voice only)

Cast notes
*Future director John Schlesinger has a small part as a prisoner onboard the "Graf Spee". [imdb name|0772259|John Schlesinger (I)] , as does Capt. Patrick Dove, who is himself portrayed in the film by Bernard Lee.
*Anthony Newley and Donald Moffat have small parts as a radio operator and a lookout. Moffat was making his film debut, as did Jack Gwillim. [imdb name|0627969|Anthony Newley, imdb name|0595567|Donald Moffat, imdb name|0007232|Jack Gwillim]


asLt.Cmdr Medley, Anthony Quayle as Cdre Harwod and Jack Gwillim as Capt Parry] "The Battle of the River Plate" had its genesis in an invitation to Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger to attend a film festival in Argentina in fy|1954. They decided they couldn't afford to take the time from their schedules unless it was a working vacation, and used the trip to research the defeat of the "Admiral Graf Spee". They came across the "hook" for their story when one of the surviving British naval officers gave Pressburger a copy of Captain Patrick Dove's book "I Was A Prisoner on the Graf Spee", which became the basis of the necessary human story of the film.Miller, Frank [ Pursuit of the Graf Spee (TCM article)] ] Powell's work on this film was influenced by Noel Coward's film "In Which We Serve" (fy|1942).

Most of the action of the battle and prior to it takes place on real ships at sea. The producers had the advantage of having elements of the Mediterranean Fleet of the Royal Navy available for their use and USS "Salem" to play the part of "Admiral Graf Spee" (although she had the wrong number of main turrets). This meant that they did not have to rely on extensive use of models like most Naval war films, although they did make use of a 23-foot model (with details only on the side being shot) in a six-foor-deep tank at Pinewood Studios for scene depicting the scuttling of "Admiral Graf Spee", which was assembled from multiple takes from different angles.

In one scene it is claimed that the "Graf Spee" is being disguised - using features such as a false funnel - as an American cruiser, a trick typical of commerce raiders. The U.S. Navy would not allow any Nazi insignia to be displayed on the "Salem" so the wartime German flag being hoisted and flown was filmed on a British ship. This is also the explanation as to why the crew of the "Graf Spee" are seen wearing US Navy pattern helmets rather than German "Coal Scuttles" – whilst the film-makers wanted to achieve an accurate impression and use German helmets they were refused permission. This aspect is often erroneously described as a "goof" on the part of the film-makers but was in fact a circumstance forced upon them.

Filming started on 13 December fy|1955, the sixteenth anniversary of the battle. The HMS Ajax and River Plate Association reportedly sent a message to the producers: "Hope your shooting will be as successful as ours." Location shooting for the arrival and departure of the "Graf Spee" took place at the port of Montevideo, using thousands of locals as extras.

Two songs written by composer Brian Easdale were used in the film, "Dolores' Song" and "Rio de la Plata". Both were acted by April Olrich as "Dolores", with singing voice dubbed by Muriel Smith. [IMDB [ Soundtracks] ]

hips used

*HMS "Achilles" played by herself (INS "Delhi")
*HMS "Exeter" played by HMS "Jamaica"
*HMS "Ajax" played by HMS "Sheffield"
*"Admiral Graf Spee" played by USS "Salem"
*HMS "Cumberland" (which joined after the main battle) played by herself
*HMS "Battleaxe" and HMS "Birmingham" were used as camera ships.
*The supply ship Altmark was played by the fleet oiler Olna.

Release and reception

When "The Battle of the River Plate" was completed and screened for executives at the Rank Organisation, it went over so well that it was decided to hold the release of the film for a year, so that it could be chosen as part of the next year's Royal Command Performance (in fy|1956), since fy|1955's film had already been selected. The film did very well at the box office, and was the most commercially successful film made by Powell and title|0048990|The Battle of the River Plate]

Awards and honors

"The Battle of the River Plate" was nominated for three BAFTA Awards in fy|1957, for "Best British Film", "Best British Screenplay" and "Best Film From Any Source". [IMDB [ Awards] ]


In 1956, Powell published "The Last Voyage of the Graf Spee", also known as "Death in the Atlantic", retelling the story of the film.

"The Battle of the River Plate" does not go into one aspect of the story: the death of the captain of the "Admiral Graf Spee", Hans Langsdorff, who committed suicide in a hotel room in Buenos Aires a few days after he had the "Graf Spee" scuttled. He shot himself, dressed in full uniform and wrapped in his ship's battleflag.




* Christie, Ian. "Arrows of Desire: the films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger". London:Faber & Faber, 1994. ISBN 0-571-16271-1. 163pp (illus. filmog. bibliog. index).
* Pope, Dudley. "The Battle of the River Plate". London: William Kimber, 1956. 259pp (illus).
* Powell, Michael. "A Life in Movies: An Autobiography". , 1986. ISBN 0-434-59945-X.
* Powell, Michael. "Million Dollar Movie". London: Heinemann, 1992. ISBN 0-434-59947-6.

External links

*. Full synopsis, film stills and clips viewable from UK libraries
* [ Reviews and articles] at the [ Powell & Pressburger Pages]
* " [ Battle of the River Plate] " at DVD Beaver

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