Monday, January 08, 2018
In Which We Serve
Directed by Noel Coward and David Lean and written, starring, and music score by Coward, In Which We Serve is the story of Royal Naval sailors fighting in World War II as deal with their role in the war as they fight the Germans. The film is a dramatization of the exploits of Captain Lord Louis Mountbatten who would fight the Germans during a campaign in Crete in which his destroyer had sank during the campaign. Also starring John Mills, Bernard Miles, Celia Johnson, and Richard Attenborough. In Which We Serve is a riveting and evocative film from Noel Coward and David Lean.
The film follows the life of naval crew whose destroyer is being attacked by German air forces as they think about their lives at home as well as their lives working on this ship they love. It’s a film that explores men who are dealing with survival as they also reflect on their lives at home as much of it takes place on a lifeboat where a captain and other survivors think about home and the events that lead to the situation they’re in. Noel Coward’s screenplay takes a back-and-forth narrative of Captain E.V. Kinross (Noel Coward) and his crew trying to survive as well as looking back into their own lives at home as well as their life on the destroyer known as the HMS Torrin. Much of the film is told through flashbacks of not just the life that Captain Kinross has but also some of his officers and crew members including sailors who had families to go home to. Notably Chief Petty Officer Hardy (Bernard Miles) and Seaman Blake (John Mills) who would both endure changes into their own lives at home.
Coward’s direction mainly focuses on a lot of the film’s dramatic moments as well as many scenes not set during the conflict as he aims for something simpler in the compositions with a few stylish touches. Shot largely at the Denham Studios in Denham with a few exteriors shot in nearby locations, much of Coward’s direction would have a few wide shots of the locations but mainly focuses on close-ups and medium shots to play into the drama. Notably the lives of Captain Kinross, Hardy, and Blake as well as a few others including their respective spouses/lovers where Coward’s direction has elements of theatricality in its framing and long takes but does manage to establish what is going on and who these characters are.
Much of the film’s action scenes are helmed by David Lean who would use a lot of wide shots and some stock footage to play into the battle as a way to showcase the intensity of these battles. Even in the scenes on the lifeboat where the survivors have to evade the firepower from enemy planes with the wounded on the boats. Coward and Lean would still provide moments that play into what is at stake as well as the need to survive and watch their beloved ship in its final moments. Overall, Coward and Lean create a gripping and compelling film about the life of a British destroyer’s captain and his crew as they try to survive against the Germans.
Cinematographer Ronald Neame does brilliant work with the film’s black-and-white cinematography as it play into the beauty of some of the locations outside of the studio the scenes in the sea with its usage of lights for the scenes in the day and night along with its interiors. Editor Thelma Myers, with additional work from David Lean, does excellent work with the editing in its usage of stylish transitional dissolves as well as some rhythmic cuts for some of the film’s action scenes. Art director David Rawnsley does amazing work with the look of the interiors of the destroyer as well as the shipyard and the homes of some of the characters.
The special effects work of Douglas Woolsey is fantastic for the usage of miniatures in some of the action scenes whenever the ships are destroyed as well as a few visual tricks in some of the transitions. Sound recordist C.C. Stevens does terrific work with the sound in capturing the sound of bombs during the blitz sequence as well as the sound of gunfire in some of the action scenes. The film’s music by David Lean, with contributions from Clifton Parker, is wonderful for its usage of orchestral string arrangements with elements of percussion bombast and military cadences to play into the drama and action throughout the film.
The casting by Irene Howard is marvelous as it feature some notable small roles from Daniel Massey and Ann Stephens as Captain Kinross’ children, George Carney and Kathleen Harrison as Blake's parents, Richard Attenborough as a young seaman who enters an empty bar following the Dunkirk evacuation, and Michael Wilding as a sailor named Flags. Kay Walsh is fantastic as Blake’s girlfriend/future wife Freda as a woman he meets on a train as they become a couple as she worries about what will happen to him. Joyce Carey is wonderful as Hardy’s wife Kath as a woman that knows what her husband is dealing with as she befriends Freda and helps her deal with being a sailor’s wife. Celia Johnson is brilliant as Alix Kinross as Captain Kinross’ wife who deals with the same issues as the other spouses as she is this picture of grace as someone who is trying keep her family together and know what to expect if things go wrong.
John Mills is excellent as Seaman Shorty Blake as a sailor who is dealing with a new love as well as the expectations of becoming a father while dealing with his role as a sailor as he does whatever he can to help his fellow sailors and officers. Bernard Miles is amazing as Chief Petty Officer Walter Hardy as an officer who is a second-in-command of sorts for Captain Kinross as well as be someone who is a friend of the sailors including Blake whom he offers advice to about marriage. Finally, there’s Noel Coward in a remarkable performance as Captain E.V. Kinross as the captain of the HMS Torrin who is trying to run things as well as be someone a group of sailors and officers can count on while being a good father and husband to his family as he knows the struggle he has in being away from them.
In Which We Serve is an incredible film from Noel Coward and David Lean. Featuring some dazzling visuals, an inventive screenplay, a great cast, and some amazing action sequences. It’s a war film that maybe a propaganda film for its time but it is still a riveting film that explore how important the need to fight for the good of the world. In the end, In Which We Serve is a marvelous film from Noel Coward and David Lean.
David Lean Films: This Happy Breed – Blithe Spirit - Brief Encounter - Great Expectations (1946 film) – Oliver Twist (1948 film) – The Passionate Friends - Madeleine (1950 film) – The Sound Barrier - Hobson's Choice - (Summertime (1955 film)) – The Bridge on the River Kwai - Lawrence of Arabia - Doctor Zhivago - Ryan's Daughter - (Lost and Found: The Story of Cook’s Anchor) – A Passage to India - (The Auteurs #75: David Lean)
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