Jonathan Rayner
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Post-war British naval films and the service comedy
in The naval war film
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In the 1950s, British war films became some of the most successful national film products. They entered the national consciousness as the common frame of reference on the conflict, particularly for later generations who did not experience it first hand. Where some films produce heroic, uncomplicated retransmissions of accepted versions of known events, others offer a painful, private and subjective vision of war experience, which emphasises the compartmentalisation of the conflict, particularly in naval terms. The remarkable aura of defeat and loss is magnified in some naval examples (The Cruel Sea, The Gift Horse, Above Us the Waves, The Ship That Died of Shame), and yet downplayed, dismissed or exulted in heroic terms in others (Sailor to the King, The Battle of the River Plate). The films addressing naval subjects display remarkable consistency, despite tonal differences. A continued convergence between the stylistic and structural characteristics of the wartime documentary feature and the drama-documentary basis of many naval films is evident in several productions. The service comedy applies a basic unit of humour (inappropriate or incongruous behaviour) to the regulated environments and forms of conduct demanded within the military.

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The naval war film

Genre, history, national cinema

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