Even though I enjoyed this production on American television, its inclusion in "Masterpiece Theatre" made me question whether the producers' definition of the word "masterpiece" was not, in this case, hyperbolic. On the one hand, the series is more than competently acted, but on the other, it sprawls and does not really pick up momentum until episodes five and six, when the action in the air becomes riveting. Part of the trouble is that the episodes set in France during the "phony war" are by nature slow. This would not be a problem if the characters were fully developed (as they were in Kenneth Brannagh's "Fortunes of War"). Unfortunately, the characters in "Piece of Cake" are either left in an embryonic state (e.g., Jeremy Northam--a fine actor who does his best with what he has to work with, but whose persona, as written, is so undistinguished that I wasn't really interested in his romance with one of the French girls), or else they seem clichéd (e.g., the Yank whose cluelessness upsets the class conventions of the time--although I really liked the actor who played the part). Other characters are so persistently unpleasant that I shed no tears (except for the RAF and for England) when they were blown out of the air: e.g., the first squadron commander, Rex, who indulges in luxury as much as he indulges his opprobrious dog; and Moggie Cattermole, who is unrelenting in his bullying of everyone. In fact, the characters whom I found the most interesting were not the flyers, but the low-keyed young ex-Cambridge don and the adjutant, "Uncle," both of whom remain earth-bound in every sense of the expression.
Episodes five and six work, not because they are action packed (and the scenes of the Spitfires buzzing the chalk cliffs are thoroughly compelling), but because they represent a persuasive and gripping truth about the desperate battle to save Britain from what at the time seemed the unstoppable onslaught of the Luftwaffe.
I fell in love with the entire RAF when I was a little girl and my father brought several of their officers home for dinner one Christmas during the War (What they were doing in Los Angeles I never found out.). I therefore feel almost unpatriotic in criticizing this series about the "few," in Winston Churchill's words, to whom "so many" owe "so much;" and for whom the word 'valiant' in no way constitutes hyperbole.