Comrades (1986)

Keith Allen, Dave Atkins, Stephen Bateman, Katy Behean,
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.
  • 7.4 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2018-09-07 Added:
  • Writer:
  • Bill Douglas, Director:
  • Simon Relph, Producer:

All subtitles:



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/ 10

This is one of the greatest underrated epics of Brtish cinema.

Not only does it chart a pivotal event in the development of tradeunionism but one of the few films portrays the harshness of theAustralian exile system.

Everyone looked like they wanted to make this film and excel in it. Thenarrative slow burning but riveting, pausing to allow the audience totaste life of that period.

We see much of the wretchedness of late Victorian urban life on thescreen but this early rural period is often pasteurised like aConstable painting or concentrates on the upper classes.

Bill Douglas owes more to Ken Loach than Merchant Ivory.

I believe this film was made by Channel 4 but it is never shown and orhas a DVD release.

If anyone who has any experience of Channel 4 , I would be interestedto know what they have against this film.

10/10 / 10

likewise..this is a truly great bit of film making. I have never seen afilm before or since that gives such an interesting and atmosphericaccount of life in the English countryside of the 19th century. Also afilm with a compassionate social message with strong characters thatlooks at what "ordinary" people can achieve when they work together.This is a film that should be issued on DVD and i would urge whomeveris in charge of such things to find a way of doing this. It wouldappeal to many people from film buffs through to history students. Ioriginally had to watch the film as part of a history course and itreally brought that period of history to life for me.

/ 10

In 1843, six English agricultural labourers – George and JamesLoveless, Thomas and John Standfield, James Brine and James Hammett -were sentenced to transportation to Australia because they had formed atrade union (which was legal) and administered oaths (which was not).This is the compelling story told in "Comrades".

It took writer and director Bill Douglas eight years to make the filmand it was finally released in 1987 when Margaret Thatcher was doingher best to neuter the British trade union movement. It was poorlyreceived at the box office and quickly withdrawn from cinemas; it wasrarely shown on television and spoiled by advertisements; only in 2009– to mark the 175th anniversary of the Tolpuddle martyrs - did theBritish Film Institute reissue the film as a DVD which is how I came tosee it.

As someone who spent 24 years as a professional trade union official, Iapproached the film with enthusiasm but I cannot let my politicalvalues diminish my critical faculties as a reviewer. Elements of thisfilm are masterly but it is deeply flawed.

Let's start with the positives. This seminal event in the history ofthe British labour movement deserved the big screen treatment. It wasshot entirely on location in Dorset and Australia. The cinematography –by Gale Tattersall – is wonderful. It is a marvellous evocation of thetimes with great attention to clothes and buildings and the 'new'technology of the laternists. There are mesmerising close-ups ofcharacterful faces. The acting is impressive with the working classportrayed by relatively unknown actors and some well-known stars – suchas James Fox and Vanessa Redgrave – taking on the role of the rich.

But there are such serious weaknesses. It is far too slow. It is fartoo long – just over three hours. The dialogue is excessively sparse –so too little information is provided and frequently it is unclear whatis happening. We do not see the trial of the labourers or anything ofthe campaign to have them released. It is uneven with more action anddialogue in the Australian scenes and an incident with an Italianphotographer that is totally out of place both in subject and tone.

And the characters are far too one-dimensional: the labourers and theirfamilies are presented as mythic in their nobleness while thelandowners and their allies are shown as unremittingly callous and evil(there is a scene with a dog that has no justification whatsoever). Thelittle speech at the end – reminiscent of the conclusion of "The GrapesOf Wrath" - is unnecessarily polemical.

When all is said and done, "Comrades" should be seen and admired, butthis is not the masterpiece that some would pretend.

/ 10

WHY ISN't THIS FANTASTIC FILM AVAILABLE on vid or DVD?? That is mymessage -mainly intended for whoever holds the rights...

Btw - for those who are interested in pre-cinema stuff - Bill Douglas hadamassive collection of pre-cinema artifacts (much referred to in thisfilm)which are now housed at the Bill Douglas Center at the University ofExeter.

/ 10

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

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

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

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

It could be that Douglas wasn't experienced enough as a film maker tomake a grand epic drama (he'd only made his small-scale low-budgetautobiographical Trilogy previously) The toil in the soil, the squelchof the mud, the hovel-like existence of downtrodden agriculturalworkers – not many rights or entitlements, very little power, hardlyany choice in the matter – you do get a sense for all of that in thisfilm. It feels like a dirty life, basic survival existence, punctuatedby simple "entertainments – lantern shows, travelling fairs, communalsingsongs, folk dancing – with life's inevitable fall ameliorated viamutuality, familiarity, warm comradeship.

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

After watching this film i was curious to find out more about whathappened 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 historicaldocument its succeeded. But as a Film film perhaps less so. I doubt i'dwant to watch it again.

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