films that make a difference
Filmed inside the closed community of The Salvation Army’s Officer Training College in London this documentary explores this intriguingly eccentric British institution. Famous for it’s brass bands, military uniforms, charity work, who would choose, in this day and age, to give up home, job, family to work full time for an Officer’s allowance of £7,500 a year?
New recruit Darron, gives up a successful career as a baker, selling his families possessions at car-boot sales. Dancer Sylvia’s glamorous ballroom dress is unwrapped for us in a brief outing from the wardrobe, a sparkly symbol of past vanities - now she’s sparkling inside. Annmarie, being taught to work with women in prostitution, tells us the story of Teddy, the first toy she was given aged 5 after being rescued by a Child Protection Team. Then there’s wonderfully honest College Tutor Major Janet who left the Army at 16 to taste the demon drink and ex-vicar’s daughter Katy who pines for a Pimms.
Humorous comparisons to Harry Potter and Star Wars reveal that cadets sign up to fight in a spiritual war, where good triumphs against evil. Admirably they search for a more meaningful life away from the ‘me’ generation. But will they find it here?
Cadets struggle with petty rules. Darron is disapproved of for his expensive wristwatch, Katy for shopping at Waitrose.
When another cadet anonymously tells Darron to ‘mind his tongue,’ his feelings of discomfort grow as he questions whether he has joined a sect too reliant on Salvationist families who reinforce its ranks. Is it a sect, clan, brand, tribe, or as Major Janet says “a great big somewhat dysfunctional family?” Approaching its 150th anniversary the Salvation Army remains a unique religious order.
Brass music artistically weaves into College life, as cadets and staff reveal the heart breaking vulnerabilities and life experiences that led them here. As they strive to join this iconic institution, these Salvation Army cadet’s poignant and intimate revelations draw us into the more universal questions of virtue, faith, doubt and the nature of salvation. Will they despite their pasts reap their reward in heaven?