Sunday, August 25, 2013

"In Which We Serve": backstories from men on raft from sinking British ship in WWII examine courage, facing adversity imposed by an enemy

In Which We Serve”, a famous British “patriotic war film” directed by Noel Coward and David Lean in 1942 for British Lion, starts out with the line, “This is the story of a ship.”

Indeed, most of the story is told in flashback as seamen played by Noel Coward, Bernard Miles and John Mills, and others, float on rafts off the HMS Torrin after it has been hit by the Nazis in the earliest days of WWII, in the Mediterranean.  Men get shot at even as they drift on the rubber rafts.  I recall the setting for the opera by Hans Werner Henze, “The Raft of the Medusa”, in the 1950s, as a bit similar.

Apparently the Torrin was really a fictional name for a similar ship, the HMS Kelly, commanded by Lord Louis Mountbatten, and sunk during the Battle of Crete. 

The backstories invoke the whole interesting subject of how both civilian and military (Naval) populations understood what was happening with Germany and the rest of the world just as the war started.  The answer is not very well.  Some thought that there was starving in Berlin, when in fact under Fascism, Germany was booming, but at a terrible price.  Everyone believes there want be war, until there is (and the scene where the men on the ship that war has been declared is made heartbreaking).  Later, the bombing of London and the effects on ordinary civilians is shown.
This was an era where young men did not own their own lives, and had to risk it all for the great good of their country.  The same was true in the United States as long as we had a military draft, which I dealt with (however evasively with the deferments and special MOS) during the Vietnam era.  But women had their own risks in earlier times, like childbirth.

There is one backstory of particular interest, when the ship was near Norway, a sailor went AWOL. The captain later tells the men he let the guy off with a warning.  But given the conditions of the times, he could have been executed for cowardice (not exactly like Billy Budd).

The music score is by Noel Coward himself (an ironic last name, given the subject).  It rather reminds one of Malcolm Arnold.
I rented the (black and white) film from Netflix (Westlake, at one time United Artisits), but it is offered “free” on YouTube, as by Gravitas Ventures.

For today’s short film, someone asked me to present “Definitely Different” by Jodi Good, here. 3 minutes, definitely a pounding rhythm.

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