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In Which We Serve

Posted by martinteller on September 19, 2012

“This is the story of a ship.”  The H.M.S. Torrin, to be precise, a destroyer with a company of 244 men, commanded by Captain Vinross (Noel Coward).  As the film starts, the Torrin is under attack.  As it sinks, a small group of survivors clings to a life raft, waiting to be rescued while German planes continue to shower them with machine gun fire.  In flashback, they reminisce on the events of the past few years… heavy battles, rescue missions, spending time on leave with family (or falling in love), receiving good news… and bad.

It’s a rather predictable and by now old hat collection of scenes, the usual British war film with the characteristic stiff upper lip spirit.  But it’s quite well done and very effective.  It’s difficult not to be stirred by it, and a few moments choked me up.  Lean and Coward (who not only wrote and starred in it, but also composed the score, produced and co-directed!) are remarkably efficient at establishing characters who are easy to identify with and easy to care about.  With brief but dense strokes, they come to life with their own quirks and turns of phrase and sparkling bits of humanity.  Besides Coward, the cast is packed with a host of likable and proficient actors, many of whom would appear in other Lean/Coward films — John Mills, Celia Johnson (who gets what I consider the best speech in the film), Michael Wilding, Bernard Miles, Kay Walsh, Richard Attenborough.  There is is a scene with Attenborough that is daring in that it shows a moment of weakness, that as much as we are to admire these dutiful sailors, they are still human.

Rousing and moving, maybe not the deepest or most original picture, but well executed on all fronts.  Rating: Very Good (81)


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