Bill Douglas called his film Comrades “a poor man’s epic”, and the special screening at Studio 74 at the Exeter Phoenix reinforced the epic qualities of this too-much overlooked film. But then the film does tell the story of the too-much overlooked tale of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, and highlights the humanity of their struggle.
The screening was to mark a number of special occasions, not least the 20th anniversary of the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, at Exeter University.
The film was introduced by the Bill Douglas museum curator Phil Wickham as he steered the playful, energetic and enthusiastic Peter Jewell through fascinating anecdotes of the the film’s production.
Peter was script editor on Comrades, but more than that he was a long-time friend of director Bill, the pair having met in Egypt as 18-year-old conscripts. And it was out their fascination with early cinema that the collection now housed in Exeter University’s old library came about.
Comrades ‘uses many pre-cinema devices in Bill and Peter’s collection through the character of the lanternist, played by Alex Norton in 13 different guises, to underline the film’s theme of new ways of seeing the world’.
The multi-cultural, inter-generational audience took the rare opportunity, not only for the pre-feature chat, but to watch the film on the big screen. One member had travelled from Edinburgh to Exeter, such was the rareity of the opportunity.
If you get a chance, watch the film, and visit the museum.