In Which We Serve (1942)




(director: Noel Coward/David Lean; screenwriter: Noel Coward; cinematographer: Ronald Neame; editors: Thelma Connell/David Lean; music: Noel Coward; cast: Noel Coward (Capt. Edward V. Kinross), John Mills (Shorty Blake), Bernard Miles (CPO Walter Hardy), Celia Johnson (Alix Kinross), Ann Stephens (Lavinia Kinross), Daniel Massey (Bobby Kinross); Runtime: 115; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Noel Coward/Anthony Havelock-Allan/Herbert Smith; United Artists; 1942-UK)

“It’s dated, but still holds up as one of the better flagwavers.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Stuffy but effective and starkly realistic propaganda film of World War II, told in a semi-documentary style and shot in black-and-white, that helped raise the morale back home. Told in an understated fashion, something the Brits take pride in as part of their stoic heritage and the noble way they deport themselves with a stiff-upper-lip in difficult times. It’s dated, but still holds up as one of the better flagwavers. Its message is that victory depends on all classes pitching in and cooperating, as teamwork is essential in wartime.

It’s about a newly commissioned Brit destroyer, HMS Torrin, hit by German planes in the Battle of Crete in 1941, after it destroyed a German transport ship, and the three survivors having flashbacks while on a raft adrift at sea while Luftwaffe planes strafe the men. The three are: Seaman Shorty Blake (John Mills) who tunes us into his courtship with Freda (Kay Walsh). Chief Petty Officer Hardy (Bernard Miles) telling how his wife Katherine (Joyce Carey) bravely handled herself during the London blitz, and Capt. Edward Kinross (Noel Coward) recalling with fondness his wonderful two children and dear wife Alix (Celia Johnson). The Torrin somehow survives, and is brought back to England to be repaired.

It’s based on a story by Noel Coward, known primarily for his acting on the Brit stage, who based it on the experiences of his friend Lord Mountbatten aboard the HMS Kelly. Mountbatten gave Noel Coward the story and his hat to wear in the film. It starts out with a voiceover by writer/director/producer/composer/star Coward telling us “This is the story of a ship.”

David Lean picked up his first directing credit, as he co-directs with Coward. He also was co-editor with Thelma Connell. Dicky Attenborough made his screen debut as a young sailor who leaves his post and (a pre-one-year-old) Juliet Mills, the real-life daughter of John Mills, appears as his film baby.