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Stars: Neil Armstrong

Director: David Fairhead

Fortunately for him, perhaps, there was no-one around to record what Christopher Columbus might have said when, heading for the Far East in the 15th century, he found himself ending up in the West Indies instead.

Not so for Neil Armstrong who, stepping onto the surface of the moon on July 20th 1977, spoke what is probably the most celebrated quote in human history, 'One step for man, one giant leap for Mankind'.

(Surely only dedicated cynics would suggest that the line might have been especially created prior to the landing to celebrate to mark history's most extraordinary journey).

Fairhead's riveting biopic makes fascinating viewing, charting as it does Armstrong's life prior to space travel when, of German descent, he spent his childhood in rural Oklahoma, became a pilot in the US Air Force where he experienced near-death events in aerial combat during the Korean War before testing himself to the limit as a test pilot before achieving eternal fame as humankind's first Moonwalker.

While his place in history is unchallenged, his image was not that of a wannabe Flash Gordon. He was quiet, poised and confident and, said a fellow airman. 'He was just one of the boys'. And, noted by his second wife of Armstrong's skill as a golf player, 'He wasn't a great player but he loved it'.

Fairhead’s summary of his film says it all: 'Telling this story is a documentary filmmaker's dream. When Neil made his small step onto the lunar surface, it marked his transformation from mere man to global celebrity - something he spent the rest of his life trying to avoid. Through the testimony of colleagues, friends and family we outline his achievements and tell the seemingly familiar, yet little known tale of the First Man on the Moon.'

Archive footage of the flight to the moon is still compelling. The launch sequence still grips with mounting suspense although the sight of the crowds of spectators armed with cameras - instead of today's omnipresent mobile phones posing as cameras - inevitably dates the footage

Star Wars space hero Harrison Ford (better heard than seen?) delivers the narration well.

Alan Frank

USA 2019. UK Distributor: Altitude . Colour.
100 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: PG.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 20 Jul 2019