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Comradeship (1919)

Courtesy of Really Useful Group

Main image of Comradeship (1919)
35mm, black and white, silent, 6000 feet
DirectorMaurice Elvey
Production CompanyStoll Film Company
Original storyLouis N. Parker
ScriptJeffrey Bernerd
PhotographyPaul Burger

Cast: Lily Elsie (Betty Mortimer); Gerald Ames (John Armstrong); Guy Newall (Lieutenant Baring); Peggy Carlisle (Peggy Carlisle); Teddy Arundell (Ginger Dickens)

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Two young soldiers develop a close friendship on the battlefield despite their differences in class and experience.

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The first feature film produced by the Stoll Film Company, Comradeship was also one of the first WWI films made following the Armistice. The film romanticises some aspects of the war - as the title suggests, the bonds of love and friendship established during the conflict are central to the narrative - but it also attempts to highlight some of the problems faced by injured soldiers returning from the trenches.

This particular concern is perhaps due to the philanthropic interests of the Stoll Film Company's founder and figurehead, Oswald Stoll. In 1916 Stoll established a charity to create homes for disabled soldiers, and he later commissioned a short film, The Victory Leaders (1919), to raise money for blinded veterans. This theme is picked up in Comradeship, as pacifist-turned-soldier, John Armstrong, is blinded saving the life of a fellow officer on the battlefield. Returning from the conflict, John wonders what "a blind man is to make of civilian life". The film proposes that continuing the camaraderie of wartime is the key and John finds a new purpose when he forms a veterans' club. He is rewarded at the end of the film by marriage to aristocratic nurse Betty Mortimer and, in an element of more extreme wish-fulfilment, the promise of the restoration of his sight.

Comradeship provides an early example of the type of cross-class relationship that would feature in later films about the war's impact on society, such as Blighty (d. Adrian Brunel, 1927). Betty is attracted to shopkeeper John "by his masterful intellect, despite their difference, socially," but it is actually ideological (his reluctance to enlist and implied socialist tendencies) rather than class differences that initially keep them apart. John, in turn, is instinctively wary of the working-class soldiers he is stationed with, who make jokes about his fancy pyjamas and his reluctance to bed down in a crowded tent. The offending sleeping garments are soon torn apart, as are social distinctions, and John forms a mutually supportive and lasting friendship with working-class Ginger.

The filming of Comradeship took place around the time of the Armistice and director Maurice Elvey took advantage of this to incorporate documentary-style snapshots of postwar London into the film's narrative. Victory celebrations feature alongside location shots of Ginger wandering amid captured German guns displayed along the Mall, offering a fascinating (if brief) glimpse of the city immediately after the war.

Nathalie Morris

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Video Clips
1. A full heart (3:06)
2. Comradeship (3:35)
3. The Armistice (2:12)
Elvey, Maurice (1887-1967)
Newall, Guy (1885-1937)
Stoll Picture Productions