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COMRADES (director/writer: Bill Douglas; cinematographer: Gale Tattersall; editor: Mick Audsley; music: Hans Werner Henze/David Graham; cast: Robin Soans (George Loveless), William Gaminara (James Loveless), Jeremy Flynn (Brine), Keith Allen (James Hammett), Stephen Bateman (Old Tom Stanfield), Philip Davis (Young Stanfield), James Fox (Norfolk), Michael Hordern (Pitt), Freddie Jones (Vicar.), Alex Norton (The Lanternist), Vanessa Redgrave (Mrs. Carlyle), Murray Melvin (Clerk), John Hargreaves (Convict), Imelda Staunton (Betsy Loveless), Robert Stephens (Frampton); Runtime: 175; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Simon Relph; BFI (Pal format); 1986-UK)

A remarkable epic film by Bill Douglas.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A remarkable epic film by Bill Douglas (“My Way Home”/”My Ain Folk”/”My Childhood”), with a good eye for details on rural life, with a strong sense of what it’s like to fight for justice when not part of the power structure, with a keen sense of history about the beginnings of the modern labor movement and a compassionate take on human suffering and the hypocrisy exhibited by the elect officials over inequality. Douglas films a didactic but moving story that’s well-worth telling and gets first-class performances. It’s based on a true account, a lanternist’s account, of the Tolpuddle Martyrs. Tolpuddle is a small town in the British Southwest.

In 1834 six Dorset peasant craftsmen form a trade union to try and get better than their substandard wages. They are James Brine (Jeremy Flynn), James Hammett (Keith Allen), George and James Loveless (Robin Soans and William Gaminara), and Thomas and John Standfield (Stephen Bateman and Philip Davis).

Most of the workers in the Tolpuddle community are under the rule of Frampton (Robert Stephens), a ruthless land owner, and his overseer Clerk (Murray Melvin). George Loveless (Robin Soans) is a Methodist minister, whose flock is a group of working families in Tolpuddle. The minister takes pity on his flock and encouraged by political activist Pitt (Michael Hordern), they form the Society of Friends, an early labor union, and the union tries to negotiate with Frampton for better pay. Instead their salaries are cut and Loveless and his men go on strike, which could do serious damage to Frampton financially. But the politically well-connected Frampton has help from the government and a private militia is sent in to break the strike and punish the rebellious laborers. The union members are tried as criminals and exiled to Australia for a seven-year sentence.

The film has an alternate aim, to show how movies evolved from a time before movies were made and the Lanternist (Alex Norton) wandering the 19th-century countryside giving slide shows for a mere penny is one way films began to evolve.

The film was shot in England and Australia


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”