british film notes

In Which We Serve (1942)


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In Which We Serve tells the story of the Royal Navy destroyer HMS Torrin and those that serve in her.

In the Battle of Crete she is dive-bombed while steaming at thirty knots and goes down fighting. The survivors tell their own stories, at war and on the home front, as they wait for rescue from their lifeboat.

Created by actor-writer-director-producer Noel Coward as a morale booster for Britain at war, the film is rightly recognised as a classic of its genre. Coward received the Honorary Academy Award for his “outstanding production achievement”.

An outstanding cast includes John Mills (best performance in the film by a country mile apart from the magnificiently creepily cowardly Richard Attenborough though his role is very small), Bernard Miles, Celia Johnson and Coward himself. The film was co-directed by David Lean.

Survivors from a torpedoed destroyer recall their life at sea and on leave ... Dated (very) but splendid flag-waver; an archetypical British war film of almost limitless propaganda value … Halliwell’s … The story and the Coward character were based on the experiences of Lord Louis Mountbatten, whose ship HMS Kelly was sunk under him . . . Alternate Reviews and remarks: ”One of the screen’s proudest achievements at any time and in any country” - Newsweek ~ ”Never at any time has there been a reconstruction of human experience which could touch the savage grandeur and compassion of this production” - Howard Barnes, New York Herald Tribune ~ Special Academy Award® Oscar©, to Noel Coward . .

From a personal point of view this is a solid film rather than a classic. As British war films go this is not in the same class as Carol Reed's The Way Ahead but then neither co-director, Coward or Lean, good as they were, had the same capacity to take risks that Reed so did in abundance. What we are left with is a good for its time kind of film that does not transcend its era as so many of Reed's films do.

Two other points are a drawback for me. 1) The story is told in flashback. Having that as a frame for the film irritates the hell out of me. To me it's just plain lazy as it's yawningly easy to tell all the individual stories in that context. You can go anywhere with that. Take 'flashback' away and then both the directors and writers would have had a far harder job telling the stories and it would have been far more interesting to see how they tackled it.

2) Is it just me or was Coward not that great an actor? His clipped delivery becomes boring after a while and he just looks wooden. Seeing Celia Johnson act him off the screen near the start sealed it for me: as a leader of men he wouldn't inspire me to light one of his cigarettes.

Having said all that, others pull it away from the abyss of mediocrity. Mills and Kay Walsh are endearing, sweet and almost angelic as sweethearts cum newlyweds; Wilding a masterclass to Hugh Grant in how foppish should be done; and names like James Donald and Bernard Miles show glimpses in early roles (well quite early for Miles) on why they would become such important supporting actors in British films.

3 stars out of 5

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    Shooting began on Thursday 5 February 1942. By then all the roles were cast. Interestingly, while many of the stars went on to become household names (well, in Britain) at the time of the film they were really starting out in their careers. Concerns were raised about Coward as a film draw.

    Coward's close friend, Gladys Calthrop, was engaged to design the film's civilian interiors. David Rawnsley designed and constructed The Torrin, which was mocked up on the soundstages at Denham.

    The budget for the film came in at a hefty £250,00. It premiered at the Gaumont cinema in the West End of London on Sunday 27 September 1942.Noel Coward wrote the part of Shorty Blake in In Which We Serve for John Mills because he knew he needed the work. It was physically a very arduous film to make with lots of time spent in cold water in the studio tank at Denham. They were in that tank for nearly two weeks and it was absolutely filthy by the time they finished.

    John Mills' daughter, Juliet (born 1941), made her film debut as an infant in the film.

    There are links to the great man Carol Reed himself. His 2nd wife, the beautiful Penelope Dudley-Ward, appears in the film as Maureen. And Reed it was who was one of several people to suggest David lean to Coward when he was looking around for the ideal technician to bring his work to the screen.

    The Navy provided several advisors to the film. The film was based on an actual event that had happened to Coward's close friend Lord Louis Mountbatten who had survived the sinking of his ship. the desroyer HMS Kelly, during the Battle of Crete. Mountbatten was on hand to smooth out problems as the Ministry of Information had strong reservations about the production (understandable with the story about a British ship being shown bomed and destroyed).

    Working title Coward worked under was White Ensign.


    D and P Studios, Denham Studios, Denham, Buckinghamshire, England, UK

    Denham Studio, Denham, Buckinghamshire, England, UK

    Dunstable Downs, Hertfordshire, England, UK

    Plymouth, Devon, England, UK

    Portland, Dorset, England, UK

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  • Certificate: U
  • Running Time: Approx. 109 minutes
  • Audio: English, Mono
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Black & White
  • Release Date: 1942
  • Released By: Two Cities Films

    Directed by

  • Noel Coward
  • David Lean

    Writing credits

  • Noel Coward   writer

    Cast (in credits order)

  • Noel Coward ... Captain E. V. Kinross R.N. / Captain 'D'
  • Derek Elphinstone ... No. 1
  • Michael Wilding ... Flags
  • Robert Sansom ... Guns
  • Philip Friend ... Torps
  • Ballard Berkeley ... Engineer Commander
  • Hubert Gregg ... Pilot
  • James Donald ... Doc
  • Michael Whittaker ... Sub
  • Kenneth Carten ... Sub-Lieutenant R.N.V.R.
  • John Varley ... Secco
  • Bernard Miles ... Chief Petty Officer Hardy / Walter Hardy
  • Caven Watson ... Brodie

  • John Mills ... Ordinary Seaman Blake / Shorty Blake
  • Geoffrey Hibbert ... Joey Mackeridge
  • Frederick Piper ... Edgecombe
  • Lionel Grose ... Reynolds
  • Leslie Dwyer ... Parkinson
  • Charles Russell ... Fisher
  • John Singer ... Moran
  • Robert Moreton ... Coombe
  • John Boxer ... Hollett
  • Kenneth Evans ... Posty
  • Johnnie Schofield ... Coxswain
  • Franklyn Bennett ... Commander Spencer (as Franklin Bennett)
  • Charles Compton ... No. 1. 'Tremoyne'
  • Walter Fitzgerald ... Colonel Lumsden
  • Gerald Case ... Jasper
  • Celia Johnson ... Mrs. Kinross / Alix
  • Daniel Massey ... Bobby
  • Ann Stephens ... Lavinia
  • Joyce Carey ... Mrs.Hardy / Kath
  • Kay Walsh ... Freda Lewis / Freda
  • Kathleen Harrison ... Mrs. Blake
  • Dora Gregory ... Mrs. Lemmon
  • Penelope Dudley-Ward ... Maureen (as Penelope Dudley Ward)
  • Barbara Waring ... Mrs. Macadoo
  • Eileen Peel ... Mrs. Farrell
  • Lesley Osmond ... Nell Fosdick
  • Josie Welford ... Emily
  • Kay Young ... Barmaid
  • Trixy Scales ... Mona Duke (as Trixie Scales)
  • George Carney ... Mr. Blake
  • Wally Patch ... Uncle Fred
  • Michael Anderson ... Albert Fosdick (as Mickey Anderson)
  • Jill Stephens ... May Blake
  • Everley Gregg ... Nurse
  • Roddy Hughes ... Photographer
  • Norman Pierce ... Mr. Satterthwaite
  • Juliet Mills ... Freda's baby

      rest of cast listed alphabetically:

  • Richard Attenborough ... Ordinary Seaman who deserts his post (uncredited)
  • John Brabourne ... Soldier in the Dunkirk sequence (uncredited)
  • Leslie Howard ... Voice (uncredited)

    Produced by

  • Noel Coward .... producer
  • Anthony Havelock-Allan .... associate producer
  • Herbert Smith .... executive producer in charge of production (uncredited)

    Original Music by

  • Noel Coward (musical score)
  • Clifton Parker (uncredited)

    Cinematography by

  • Ronald Neame (photographed by)

    Film Editing by

  • Thelma Connell (as Thelma Myers)
  • David Lean (uncredited)

    Casting by

  • Irene Howard (uncredited)

    Art Direction by

  • David Rawnsley

    Makeup Department

  • Tony Sforzini .... makeup artist (as Toni Sforzini)

    Production Management

  • Michael Anderson .... unit manager
  • Sydney Streeter .... production manager (as Sydney S. Streeter)

    Second Unit Director or Assistant Director

  • Kenneth Horne .... first assistant director (uncredited)
  • Tom Payne .... second assistant director (uncredited)
  • Norman Spencer .... third assistant director (uncredited)

    Art Department

  • William C. Andrews .... associate art director (as W.C. Andrews)
  • G.E. Calthrop .... art supervisor to Noel Coward
  • Norman Delaney .... set dresser
  • John Elphick .... assistant art director (uncredited)
  • Gus Walker .... assistant construction manager (uncredited)
  • Harry White .... assistant art director (uncredited)

    Sound Department

  • C.C. Stevens .... sound recordist
  • John Aldred .... sound assistant (uncredited)
  • Walter R. Day .... assistant sound (uncredited)
  • Desmond Dew .... sound recordist (uncredited)

    Special Effects by

  • Douglas Woolsey .... special effects
  • Bill Warrington .... model and miniatures supervisor (uncredited)

    Visual Effects by

  • Derick Williams .... special effects cameraman
  • W. Percy Day .... matte painter (uncredited)
  • Frank Gibson .... visual effects production manager (uncredited)
  • P.G. Hemfrey .... first assistant camera: visual effects unit (uncredited)
  • T. Pickett .... model assistant (uncredited)

    Camera and Electrical Department

  • Guy Green .... camera operator
  • Jack Atcheler .... clapper loader (uncredited)
  • Jim Body .... clapper loader (uncredited)
  • Jock Dymore .... chief electrician (uncredited)
  • Norman Foley .... focus puller (uncredited)
  • B. Francke .... camera operator (uncredited)
  • J. Green .... clapper loader (uncredited)
  • Alan Hume .... clapper loader (uncredited)
  • Max Rosher .... still photographer (uncredited)
  • Henry Slagter .... clapper loader (uncredited)
  • Ray Sturgess .... focus puller (uncredited)

    Editorial Department

  • Reginald Beck .... supervising editor (uncredited)
  • Pat Danes .... assistant editor (uncredited)
  • Peter Taylor .... assistant editor (uncredited)
  • Norah Walsh .... assistant editor (uncredited)
  • Renee Woods .... assistant editor (uncredited)

    Music Department

  • Muir Mathieson .... conductor
  • Roy Douglas .... composer: additional music (uncredited)

    Other crew

  • I.T. Clark .... naval advisor (as Lt. Commander I.T. Clark, O.B.E., R.N.)
  • C.R.E. Compton .... naval advisor (as Lieutenant C.R.E. Compton R.N.)
  • T.W.J. Lawlor .... naval advisor (as Able Seaman T.W.J. Lawlor)
  • Betty Curtis .... continuity (uncredited)
  • Irene Howard .... rehearsal director (uncredited)
  • Gordon Parry .... location manager (uncredited)
  • Maggie Unsworth .... assistant continuity (uncredited)

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    Changes last made: 2020