FF131 - In Which We Serve

Intro by Adam Pranica

Whether it is experiencing a major life event, a personal tragedy, or a war, the prevailing wisdom is that time grants the perspective necessary to process these moments in a healthy way. It is why we teach small children to take a deep breath before reacting to playground conflicts, it is why meditation is so au courant, and it is why generally war films are made after the wars they are about have concluded. Which brings us to In Which We Serve, a film about World War II made during World War II, and in fact made only around its halfway point, a moment in time when propaganda generally was at its saturation point and the movie-consuming public of Great Britain could really use a boost of morale.

Now, if you can, try to imagine living in a moment when the outcome of the world's fight against fascism was very much in doubt. Now write and direct a film about that, while at the same time not predicting the outcome. It is kind of like when sports writers for newspapers used to have to write about the endings of extra-inning baseball games before the papers went to print. That is a big swing for a director / writer / producer / star Noël Coward to take.

Maybe, instead of making bold predictions, it is because the story remains modest in scope: This is the story of a ship. The ship is the HMS Torrin and that ship is sunk early in the film. As the crew clings to a life raft what follows are flashbacks which construct the timeline leading to their eventual fate. We get to know the crew and their families well, and especially their commanding officer, Captain Kinross. No-one is particularly exceptional. These are normal people in extraordinary times, fighting an enemy we don't really even see, because demonizing the enemy isn't the point of this film.

Rather, it is about getting to know a way of life that would be lost if the wrong side won the war. As propaganda films go, "life raft after your ship has been sunk" had to be a pretty tough sell. But at the end of the film we understand a form of propaganda at its most subtle, a form that may be at its best not when our heroes are invincible, but instead when they are undefeated in their resolve. "It's a small world and no error!" On today's Friendly Fire: In Which We Serve.

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