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Comrades 1987
Description: The storyline 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 obtain fair wages.
Released: 23 Aug 1987 Director: Bill Douglas Writers: Bill Douglas Actors: Keith Allen, Dave Atkins, Stephen Bateman, Katy Behean Genres: Drama, History
Trailers and related videos:

See Comrades (1986) trailer on youtube.

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See FAREWELL COMRADES PART III Hop on youtube.

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See Comrades (1986) - Film restaur on youtube.

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See Comrades (1975) Original Sound on youtube.

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See comrades of summer on youtube.

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See Comrades - The early days, mas on youtube.

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See Labour - Comrades At War on youtube.

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See Comrades: аll that jazz / Това on youtube.

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See Comrades In Arms Trailer 1991 on youtube.

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See Cutting Edge - Comrades (Milit on youtube.

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Comrades Reviews:

This is one of the best underrated epics of Brtish cinema.Not only does it chart a pivotal happening in the development of trade unionism but one of the several movies portrays the harshness of the Australian exile system.Everyone looked like they wanted to create this movie and excel in it. The narrative slow burning but riveting, pausing to let the audience to taste life of that period.We see much of the wretchedness of late Victorian urban life on the screen but this early rural period is often pasteurised like a Constable painting or concentrates on the upper classes.Bill Douglas owes more to Ken Loach than Merchant Ivory.I trust this movie was made by Channel 4 but it is never shown and or has a DVD release.If anyone who has any experience of Channel 4 , I would be interested to know what they have vs this film.


Bill Douglas's last film, one of the nice movies of British cinema, and a superb visual poem of surpassing beauty. Among students of the British movie industry "Comrades" is greatest known for its commercial flop: given a wide theatrical release in 1987, disappointing box office led it to be taken off within a couple of weeks before word of mouth suggestions should do anything to build an audience - doubtless many folks were expecting a narratively straightforward, Merchant-Ivory piece of historical costume drama. It's never been released theatrically since, and Channel 4, who made it, have only shown it twice since on tv - I strongly doubt they've even shown it on their dedicated movie channel, FilmFour, either (it doesn't involve folks pointing guns at every other). As such, it's a nice unknown, and rare copies of the video are difficult to come by, so for the instant future, it's difficult to see how this gem is going to become better known.The melody is an oddly inspired choice: apart from the hymns and folk songs that are sung by the characters, the soundtrack melody makes no attempt at pastiche of 19th-century musical forms or styles. Instead, Douglas got Hans Werner Henze, one of the leading German composers of the post-war years, to deliever melody (all the more strong for being sparingly used) in his own, fully uncompromised modernist idiom (no doubt Henze accepted to do it for tiny money, as his well-known radical politics would have made him sympathetic to a movie about the birth of trade unionism). The rich and magical soundworld Henze evokes with a tiny group of instruments adds immeasurably to the sense of wonder and the sheer, marvellous strangeness of many of the scenes.What sticks in the memory most, though, are the arresting, breathtakingly pretty visual images, frozen in time and never to be forgotten: the lanternist walking across the chalk figure of the Cerne Abbas giant on a dark hillside during the game sequence, then soon seen in silhouette passing silently in front of a large full moon; Hammett (Keith Allen giving his finest performance), too furious to speak, holding up six fingers to the viewer, turning away and then coming back to repeat the gesture to indicate how many shillings they were getting for that week's work; George Loveless (Robin Soans, criminally underused ever since) pushing a shilling coin in front of the face of Jesus in an engraving of the nativity to present Frampton how he, like the wise boys in the picture actually appear to be doing, worships money; James Loveless walking across a trackless Australian beach and blundering into the shot of an itinerant Italian photographer attempting a portrait of an Aborigine; the Stanfield family telling grace around the table before dividing a pitifully tiny loaf between too many mouths; George Loveless feeling his method through the depths of a dark Australian forest, enraptured by the beauty and seemingly free, but now in the world's biggest prison. And there are many, many more.Every photo works in its own terms as a visual composition - as striking in their vivid colours, visual rhythm, and the sometimes stylized, almost hieratic gestures of the actors as Caravaggio's "Supper at Emmaus" or "Entombment of Christ". But the photos themselves are never tediously lingered over, or presented only for their own sake: common themes run through them. The concept of one object obscuring another, or silhouetted vs other (the coin over the face of Christ, the lanternist vs the moon) or of an photo being projected or captured (the shadow of Frampton's maid passing from room to room, projected vs the curtains by the light of her own candle, the lanternist making animal shapes with the shadow of his hands vs a wall, the photographer trying to capture an other-worldly photo on the beach) are a powerful undercurrent, suitably for a film-maker who saw his role as a painter of images. This is made apparent in the director's alter ego throughout the film, Alex Norton - superbly diverse in few various cameo roles, including the photographer, a silhouettist who cuts a paper photo of the governor of the Australian penal colony as he engages in barbed political banter, and the lanternist himself (the subtitle of the movie is "a lanternist's acc of the Tolpuddle Martyrs"): the conceit of the entire film, as an epilogue makes clear, is that it was all a lanternist's show, presented to an audience of well-wishers who had worked for the Martyrs' release. Tips had been given: Norton's different characters had been the only ones, at different times, to stare directly at the viewer, into the camera, the director engaging conspiratorially with his viewers. The nice tragedy for film-lovers everywhere, and what gotta have been a nice sadness for Douglas, who died in 1991, is that his viewers have been so few.UPDATE (February 2009): Film4 finally showed "Comrades" on 21 February this year, more than ten years after the channel began broadcasting. At almost the same time, the British Movie Institute announced that they would be releasing the movie on DVD and Blu-Ray in summer 2009. Hooray!


In 1843, six English agricultural labourers – George and James Loveless, Thomas and John Standfield, James Brine and James Hammett - were sentenced to transportation to Australia because they had formed a trade union (which was legal) and administered oaths (which was not). This is the compelling storyline said in "Comrades".It took writer and director Bill Douglas eight years to create the movie and it was finally released in 1987 when Margaret Thatcher was doing her greatest to neuter the British trade union movement. It was poorly received at the box office and quickly withdrawn from cinemas; it was rarely shown on tv and spoiled by advertisements; only in 2009 – to tag the 175th anniversary of the Tolpuddle martyrs - did the British Movie Institute reissue the movie as a DVD which is how I came to see it.As someone who spent 24 years as a professional trade union official, I approached the movie with enthusiasm but I cannot allow my political values diminish my critical faculties as a reviewer. Elements of this movie are masterly but it is deeply flawed.Let's begin with the positives. This seminal happening in the history of the British labour movement deserved the large screen treatment. It was shot entirely on zone in Dorset and Australia. The cinematography – by Gale Tattersall – is wonderful. It is a marvellous evocation of the times with nice attention to clothes and buildings and the 'new' technology of the laternists. There are mesmerising close-ups of characterful faces. The acting is impressive with the working class portrayed by relatively unknown actors and some well-known stars – such as 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 far too long – just over three hours. The dialogue is excessively sparse – so too tiny notification is provided and frequently it is unclear what is happening. We do not see the trial of the labourers or anything of the campaign to have them released. It is uneven with more action and dialogue in the Australian scenes and an incident with an Italian photographer that is fully out of zone both in topics and tone.And the characters are far too one-dimensional: the labourers and their families are presented as mythic in their nobleness while the landowners and their allies are shown as unremittingly callous and evil (there is a stage with a dog that has no justification whatsoever). The tiny speech at the end – reminiscent of the conclusion of "The Grapes Of Wrath" - is unnecessarily polemical.When all is told and done, "Comrades" could be seen and admired, but this is not the masterpiece that some would pretend.



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