“This is the story of a ship.” It’s also about the men who served her and their wives who know they come second to her. Real life survivor of the H.M.S Torrin, Noel Coward directs with David Lean in Lean’s first and Coward’s only film.
After the H.M.S Torrin, a British destroyer, is sunk her survivors cling to a life raft bracing themselves for aerial attacks and praying for rescue. In a series of flashbacks their individual stories are told, both on and off the Torrin. We see the men with their families, celebrating their leave and preparing to set sail again. They cherish life and all it has to offer off the ship, but never grumble when on the Torrin. They love her and are true to her as if she were a second wife.
One scene I found very fascinating is where the men are in battle. In war films today, it seems that guns just go off effortlessly and the men stand and shout orders in utter chaos. This scene shows the men in an assembly line, passing the huge pieces of ammunition from one man to the other, onto a sort of conveyer that takes it to the next man up until one man loads it into the gun. It’s so controlled and efficient, if there weren’t planes overhead and the sounds of bombs dropping, it would be calm. The scene really shows the discipline and focus of the men until, well you’ll see at the end of the scene.
Some might classify In Which We Serve as just another WWII film glorifying the brave men who fought and died. Those are a dime a dozen. Written with Coward’s first hand experience you can see the heart as he tells his story and that of his comrades. There’s a much bigger focus on time with family rather than battle stations on deck, as that is what men clinging to a life raft would be thinking about. As for director Lean, he seemed to become the brains when it came to film making, even though he was technically second in command. Nonetheless, this is a wonderful to film start his amazing career with and he has much to thank Coward for. Lean would later direct the timeless epic Lawrence of Arabia among other classics.
“God bless our ships… and all who sail in them.”