A World War II propaganda film that actually holds up...nearly 70 years later. A genuinely moving film telling the story of a British ship and its crew in flashbacks...as the survivors cling to a life raft. Focuses specifically on the captain, played by Noel Coward (who also produced, wrote and co-directed the film with David Lean) and two of his shipmates...played by John Mills and Bernard Miles. With the exception of his two speeches to the crew, at the beginning and the end of the film, Coward's portrayal is rather wooden. His flashback scenes are definitely the weakest of the three. Mills and Miles' characters you grow to like almost immediately...along with their families. You truly care about them as they deal with triumph and hardships. Although the film was made first and foremost to rally support for the British at wartime, it has heart. Perhaps that is part of why it holds up better today than Mrs. Miniver...the Best Picture winner from 1942. Both films were made with the same purpose...but the heartbreaking moments of "In Which We Serve" hit you straight in the solar-plexus and you grieve for the characters...more so than in Miniver.
The battle scenes are impressive to watch...a mix of actual footage and miniature work. At times, some of these scenes go on rather long though. However, what makes this film are the flashbacks and the two speeches by Coward's character that bookend the movie. Also of note, a young Richard Attenborough playing a sailor who has deserted his post in battle. He only has a couple of lines, but his facial expressions and eyes show the inner torment his character is coping with.
It's too bad the movie didn't come a little earlier. It may indeed have won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1942 over Mrs Miniver. However, this film qualified for the 1943 Oscars. It was nominated for Best Picture, but had the unenviable task of going up against Casablanca!