Wessex on Screen: Comrades

Comrades was a 1986 film written and directed by Bill Douglas telling the story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs. The Martyrs themselves will be the subject of a separate article in due course, so this post will concentrate purely on the film.

The film clocks in at nearly three hours, the first half of which takes place in Dorset, and the second in Australia after their unjust transportation for the "crime" of forming a trade union. Douglas was previously known for the autobiographical, social realist trilogy My Childhood (1972), My Ain Folk (1973) and My Way Home (1978). Comrades was the result of a nine-year struggle to bring it to the screen.

Rather than a straight retelling of the story, Comrades uses an impressionistic approach, with the tale told by a magic lanternist played by Alex Norton, who also plays a dozen other roles scattered throughout the film. It was praised as a "poetic and painterly work" by Sheila Rowbotham in The Guardian, and won the BFI's Sutherland Trophy for 1986, as well as being nominated for the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival the following year.

Despite what the DVD cover used as the featured image (taken from Wikipedia) says, the film was never an 18 certificate. It was originally cut by three seconds in order to receive a PG rating, and re-released uncut on home video in 2009 with a 15 certificate.

Comrades is available to rent on the BFI Player.

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