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Comrades (1986)

 -  Drama  -  23 August 1987 (UK)
7.5
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The story of "The Tolpuddle Martyrs". A group of 19th century English farm labourers who formed one of the first trade unions and started a campaign to receive fair wages.

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Title: Comrades (1986)

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Credited cast:
...
Dave Atkins ...
Mr. Frampton's Foreman
Stephen Bateman ...
Katy Behean ...
Mark Brown ...
Legg
Michael Clark ...
Sailor
Lynette Curran ...
Prostitute
...
Mrs. Frampton
...
Arthur Dignam ...
Fop
Patrick Field ...
Jeremy Flynn ...
Brine
...
Norfolk
William Gaminara ...
John Hargreaves ...
Convict
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The story of "The Tolpuddle Martyrs". A group of 19th century English farm labourers who formed one of the first trade unions and started a campaign to receive fair wages. Written by Steve Crook <steve@brainstorm.co.uk>

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23 August 1987 (UK)  »

Also Known As:

Comrades - uomini liberi  »

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1.78 : 1
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Trevor Howard was offered the role of Mr. Pitt (Michael Hordern) See more »

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Solid but too long
16 November 2011 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

Bill Douglas – the director – might have been born to tell this story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs; his own Scottish childhood had been something of a martyrdom to working class deprivation and poverty.

I vaguely knew about these Tolpuddle Martyrs from school history: how 6 humble farm labourers in rural Dorset of the 1830′s had dared to form a union and ask for higher wages , and as a sorry consequence got deported to Australia.

This "poor mans epic" was a flop in the cinema and got dropped after a couple of weeks, never, or hardly ever to be seen again. I can sort of see why it didn't have general commercial appeal.

At times Douglas's way of telling the story gets in the way, slows down, or even just undercooks, dedramatises – deliberately? – the films propulsion, pace, purpose. I suppose i've been too used to being spoon-fed glossy costume dramas on prime-time BBC 1: narrative elements – exposition, explanation, transition – are all smoothly storyboarded in to give you the slick entertainment experience this film seems resolutely not to want to give you.

It could be that Douglas wasn't experienced enough as a film maker to make a grand epic drama (he'd only made his small-scale low-budget autobiographical Trilogy previously) The toil in the soil, the squelch of the mud, the hovel-like existence of downtrodden agricultural workers – not many rights or entitlements, very little power, hardly any choice in the matter – you do get a sense for all of that in this film. It feels like a dirty life, basic survival existence, punctuated by simple "entertainments – lantern shows, travelling fairs, communal singsongs, folk dancing – with life's inevitable fall ameliorated via mutuality, familiarity, warm comradeship.

There's a lot of film technique on show, which might be Douglas's self-conscious need to make it look stylistically different, uniquely his own: lots of long shots and slow shots, and focusing on still faces looking straight into the camera; abrupt and occasionally jarring transitions; using a lantern show to pick out salient features in the narrative – which i found a bit irritating (too fairy-tale like – i craved more of the nitty-gritty squelchy mud realism!) The last third of the film moves to Australia; we've already had 2 hours or so – and another hour gets tacked on. The shift to somewhere else breaks the intensity of focus; the immersion in that localised rural reality of rainy dirty Dorset becomes too dissipated. I felt most of this Australia section could have been edited down into a 5 minute montage.

After watching this film i was curious to find out more about what happened on Google. I read several articles.

So i guess if a film has inspired me to want to know more, get further "inside" the history of these Tolpuddle Martyrs – then as a historical document its succeeded. But as a Film film perhaps less so. I doubt i'd want to watch it again.

Still, i feel enlisted as one of Douglas's "comrades" now. I'm one of them. One of him.


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