Friday, February 15, 2008

Essential Cinema - 20

In Which We Serve

Noel Coward
Derek Elphinstone
Michael Wilding
Robert Sansom
Philip Friend
Ballard Berkeley
Hubert Gregg
Richard Attenborough

Noel Coward
David Lean

Noel Coward

Ronald Neame

The story of a British Destroyer in WWII and the lives of her crew. The stories of the various crew members are shown in flashback after the destroyer is sunk in the Mediterranean.

Propaganda in the 1940s. A film to boost British morale during their darkest hours of WWII. The film is meant to be an example of how the British were supposed to behave and fight and how British resolve can conquer almost anything.

Noel Coward is the over-riding presence in this film, having produced, written, co-directed and stared in it. My primary reason for wanting to see the film is David Lean's directorial debut, having co-directed it with Coward.

While this is a competent film and enjoyable to watch, it shows the British as somewhat one dimensional characters. This probably has to do with the era in which it was filmed. The film also highlights the concept of class society in England during the 1930 and 40s, although this was not meant to be the focus of the film when it was made.

All of the characters in this film are basically emotionless. Noel Coward, as the Captain of the ship, never smiles and appears to be almost condescending to his ever-faithful wife and children. The enlisted seaman seem to be the only characters that have any real affection for their ship or their spouses, but this is also shown in the light of them being 'lower-class' individuals, fit only to be ordered around and to do physical labor.

While watching the film I noticed a small cameo by a very young Richard Attenborough, who is not named in the credits.

This film epitomizes the concept of the British 'stiff upper lip' and their sheer determination to prevail in the face of overwhelming odds. It is fascinating to see a culture such as this but I would never want to live in it. There is resolve....and then there is being reduced to an automaton. This film blurs the lines between the two.