England at War
"In Which We Serve" is held in high esteem as one of the great British war movies, made in 1942 when WWII was still going on and it must have been a stunning experience to watch back then. 70 years later well unsurprisingly it feels dated, the clipped way of speaking now sounds false and with so many other war movies which followed some of what is shown feels no different. But having said that "In Which We Serve" is still a cut above your usual 1940's and even 1950's war movie with some brilliant performances but also drama which still hits home now.
Now "In Which We Serve" is a strange movie because whilst the movie focuses on the crew of the HMS Torrin and takes us from the destroyer being built to its sinking what we witness is a scattering of events on and off the ship, some which happen before the destroyer takes to the water some during various missions. Basically you could say it is a snapshot of England at war, I say England because from recollection I don't remember their being a non English accent in the entire movie. As such we have events from when Captain E. V. Kinross R.N. takes ownership of the vessel and has his men prepare it for war to them being shot at following the sinking as the survivors cling to a life raft. It is these men who provide the other stories as events in their lives are played out in the form of flashbacks.
Now the majority of these events focus upon Captain E. V. Kinross R.N. from his life at home with his wife and children to him in command, dealing with a man who abandons his post, talking to the men as a collective and also dealing with each of those fatally wounded individually. And this side is in many ways where it feels dated because we have Noel Coward and his clipped tones as Captain E. V. Kinross R.N. which today sound false. Having said that whilst it may sound false Coward's performance is unsurprisingly first rate and without forcing it he delivers this wonderful character, a tough but compassionate Captain who for all his seniority is interested in the men who work for him. It makes it a touching performance as we see him deal with loss not only the loss of the boat when it goes down but also of the men.
But it is not just about Captain E. V. Kinross R.N. because then we have the stories of the working classes such as Chief Petty Officer Hardy, a proud man ready to fight for his country who has to deal with loss. We have Shorty Blake who on the train to report for duty meets Hardy's niece Freda and ends up marrying her and there is also a Young Powder Handler who abandons his station when they come under fire and in doing so struggles with the fact he was a coward. But with all these stories which focus on life at sea we also get those back on shore and we see how the wives and loved ones deal with their men being at war.
And this leads me to what is one of the great things about "In Which We Serve", there is a scene where we see a telegram reach home to one of the working class wives who having been bombed has little and you see the joy at discovering her husband is still alive. This is followed by the parallel of a rich wife also receiving good news that her husband is alive and you see how despite the different circumstances the women are going through the same worry, pain and joy. And this leads to one of the movies most touching scenes when a young sailor has to inform a superior that his wife and mother was killed in a bombing, it is so powerful and touching it has you on the edge of your seat.
Now I have already mentioned Noel Coward who not only acted in "In Which We Serve" he wrote, produced and directed the movie with the help of David Lean. But it is not just all about Noel Coward and there is a whole string of brilliant performances from John Mills as Shorty Blake and Richard Attenborough as the young man who abandons his post. But in many ways the greatest performance comes from Bernard Miles as Chief Petty Officer Hardy because he has the most memorable and touching of scenes.
What this all boils down to is that like with may war movies from the 1940's "In Which We Serve" is dated but it is still a cut above the rest. It is one of those movies which some may class as a propaganda movie but in truth it is more than that, it is a great look at England at war and the people both at home and at sea.