Wednesday, February 18, 2009

One for your diary . . .

. . . if you happen to be in Britain, have Film4 and are so inclined.

Via Scottish Patient Kev comes the news that Film 4 is showing Bill Douglas's 1986 film, 'Comrades', tonight at 11pm.

'Comrades' is a dramatisation of the Tolpuddle Martyrs. Of course it's a work of fiction; when was the last time you heard of six activists at a union branch meeting?

As I've only ever seen five minutes of the film - and Kev seems to love the film in the same way that I love Cornish Pasties - I think it's best if he does the sales pitch:

"'Comrades' has been described as one of the lost masterpieces of European cinema. It appeared in 1987 to critical acclaim then disappeared almost as quickly. It hasnt been seen in cinemas or on television for almost twenty years. But tomorrow night (Wed 18th) Film4 will show a very welcome screening of Bill Douglas's epic three hour movie about the Tolpuddle Martyrs. This really is a special event. People have campaigned for many years to have this film returned to the public domain.

For my money Bill Douglas's masterpiece stands alongside the best of Tarkovsky, Bresson and Bergman. Within minutes the viewer is pulled into a story of love and passion, solidarity and bravery. 'Comrades' is not just one-dimensional political polemic either. Far from it. Nor just a historical epic. This is character-driven story-telling of the highest order, definitely, although there are many layers to the film. It fuses and transcends both narrative drama and the avante garde and cries out for further viewings.

In many ways 'Comrades' is an experimental visionary movie as well as a tribute to the cinema that came before cinema. (Watch out for the magic lanternist who appears in many guises.) Interestingly, the famous actors of the day - who Douglas didn't want in the film but was forced to use - were cast as the affluent classes while complete unknowns were cast as the Martyrs and their families.

Director Bill Douglas was a man knew about poverty and struggle. He was raised in abject poverty in Newcraighall, which was then an impoverished mining village on the outskirts of Edinburgh. His autobiographical 'Trilogy' - filmed in a post-war Newcraighall that is now gone - is his only other cinematic output. But what a work! It is by far the finest cinematic achievement to ever come out of Scotland. Even the film scripts of 'Trilogy' are works of literature in their own right.

It is one of those typically Scottish re-occurrences that this intensely creative and single-minded individual had his artistic vision blocked at every twist and turn after 'Trilogy'. Bill Douglas had a purity of aesthetic and a nobility of purpose that few before or since have matched. Perhaps now that 'Trilogy' is out on DVD and 'Comrades' returned to its rightful place in the public domain more people will come to realise just what we lost when Scotland's greatest cinema auteur died at the young age of 41.

If you love cinema try not to miss 'Comrades'. It starts at 11pm on Wed 18th Feb on Film4. And a big thanks to those at Art-Flix for the nod.

OK, so it's not John Thaw in 'Praise Marx and Pass the Ammunition' - a film I only know of by reputation but which I'm desperate to see - but if you have the chance, you should definitely check out 'Comrades'. Maybe, just maybe, it's our 'Matewan' or 'Commune' and where else will you see Lily's dad playing a hero of British Labour Movement history?

PS - Anyone reading this who happens to rip it, bit torrent it and then uploads it onto Pirate Bay or Mininova, I have to inform you that that is illegal activity . . . I think you know what I'm saying.


Will said...

ta for this. hadn't seen it was on. will be watching it.

michael said...

One of my first forays on the internet was to try and find information about this film. I emailed, begged, cajoled and begged again to try and obtain a copy......i never did.

So it was supreme delight that i channel surf past it last night by complete chance as it was about to start.

All i can say is, it was well worth the wait. What a film. A worthy successor to The Trilogy and all the more heavyweight due to its 215 minute running time.

Stunningly good with Bill Douglas stamped all over it...those beautiful long shots, tight close ups and storytelling that even the smallest child could cope with.

I managed to record it and once i edit the adverts out i will be venturing over to the bay of pirates to make sure this film receives the exposure it deserves.

A talent that British cinema never even knew it had, until it was too late.

John said...

Praise Marx and Pass the Ammunition was bloody awful, from what I remember, but it may generate some nostalgie de bou among those of us with memories of the WRP and its ilk.

Can't get Film 4 here. The bastards.

mick said...

Looks as though Comrades AND The Trilogy will be getting the Blu-Ray treatment come June.

I think this may spur me to a purchase a HD set up...

Darren said...


The bay of pirates, you say? I will have to google this new name . . . if only for research purposes.

Thanks for the comment, btw. With regards to your first foray on the internet and search for 'Comrades', I was the same with John Byrne's tv drama, 'Tutti Frutti'.


The write up for the film on imdb looks more like a write down when I come to think about it, but I'd still like to see it. If only for curio purposes. And I know that even if it was excellent, I'd still come away disappointed. I'm hardwired that way. ;-)

(Now that I think about it, I'm sure there was a similar type film made in the States at the same time starring Jon Voight.)


I'd be surprised if they release a version compatible with DVD players in the US . . . so it looks like I'll be meeting John over at the Bay of Pirates in the near future. Do we need a secret oath?

mick said...


Would it be safe?

I don't fancy Australia, too dry for me

Incidentally, i am the same Michael from the post above, strangely logged into 2 seperate accounts by mistake.

I will try and edit the adverts out tonight. My HDD recorder is a bit on the idiotic side, so i'm hoping it won't start any of it's nonsense.

I will let you know when i've been successful, and f i can't get access to 'the bay', i will happily post a copy to wherever you may be.

Can't wait for those blu-ray version...we live in exciting times!!

Darren said...

if you can't wait for the blue ray version, someone has contacted me offlist with links to a couple of places where the film has been bit torrented:


Bay of Pirates

I thought I would be polite by passing the links on.

John said...

Jon Voight? *shudders*

This looks like it might be amusing, though.

Darren said...


cheers for the heads up about the 'Blame It On Fidel' film. I remember the (positive) reviews at the time when it got a limited release in the States and it was one of those films where I made a mental note of 'when it gets released on DVD . . . '.

Of course I totally forgot about it until now. So much for me and my mental notes . . .

With regards to that Jon Voight film, it also stars Robert Duvall and Seymour Cassell, so it I definitely want to see it now. And I bet it's easier to track down than the John Thaw film.

John said...

"There are some very good moments,including a scene where Voight is caught painting anti-capitalist manifestos on a wall."

Was it "Romanes Eunt Domus"?

Darren said...

Actually, now that I think about it, isn't it the case that both Voight and Duvall are members of that oppressed minority otherwise known as the 'Hollywood Republican'?

(Portraying) sixties radicals turned right-wing nutjobs? Could the catering on the film really have been that bad?