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.

Wessex on Screen: Inspector Morse

Inspector Endeavour Morse is the creation of Colin Dexter, the star of 13 novels, a short story collection and two successful TV series. He is now so associated with Oxford, where the stories are set, that a veritable cottage industry in Inspector Morse tours has now sprung up in the city.

Dexter originally conceived the character of Morse while on holiday in Wales in 1972. He spent the next 18 months writing the first novel, Last Bus to Woodstock, which was eventually published in 1975. The novel was adapted for BBC radio in 1985, and six more novels were published before ITV turned it into the highly successful TV series starring John Thaw.

The series spawned a spin-off, Lewis, starring Kevin Whately in the role of Morse's former sidekick; and a prequel series, Endeavour, starring Shaun Evans as the young Morse. The music by Barrington Pheloung was based on the Morse code for the name MORSE. Pheloung later stated that he had also provided clues in some episodes by spelling out the killer's name in Morse code.

All three series are now available to stream on the Britbox, the new streaming service from the BBC and ITV.

Wessex on Screen: Coming of Age

Coming of Age was a BBC Three sitcom about sixth form students set in Abingdon, though mostly filmed at the BBC Television Centre in That London. A pilot, with several of the leads played by different actors to those featured in the eventual series, was broadcast on 21st May 2007. The brainchild of Tim Dawson, who was 19 when he first started writing it, it was very much a freshman effort, filled with obvious gags and broad performances from its young leads. It was, however, immensely popular with its late-teenage target audience, pulling in over a million viewers per episode and running for three seasons from 2008.

Critics were less kind. Harry Venning pretty much summed up the critical consensus, writing :

I sat through Coming Of Age with the will to live seeping from my every pore, leaving me drenched in a puddle of despair. 

The Stage, 13 October 2008

Venning was presumably not a teenager when he wrote that, though. If the success of Coming of Age proves anything, it's that audiences respond to seeing themselves more or less accurately represented more than they analyse the polish of the finished product.