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 on the approach to its 150th anniversary. Famous for its brass bands, military uniforms and charity work, who would choose, in this day and age, to give up a home, job and family to work full time for an Officer’s allowance of £7,500 a year?
New recruit Darron abandons a successful career as a baker, selling his family’s possessions at a car-boot sale. Dancer Sylvia unwraps her glamorous ballroom dress for us, a sparkly symbol of past vanities - now she’s sparkling inside. Annmarie, now learning to work with prostitutes, tells us the story of Teddy, the first toy she was given aged 5 when 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.
Cadets struggle with petty rules. Darren’s expensive wristwatch and Katy’s shopping habits spark disapproval. When another cadet anonymously tells Darron to ‘mind his tongue,’ his discomfort grows. What has he chosen to become a part of? A sect, clan, brand, tribe, or as Major Janet says “a great big somewhat dysfunctional family?”
Humorous comparisons to Harry Potter and Star Wars reveal that cadets sign up to fight in a spiritual war where good triumphs against evil, raising universal questions of virtue, faith, doubt and the nature of salvation. Admirably the Salvation Army cadets search for a more meaningful life away from the ‘me’ generation. But will they find it here? And will they, despite their pasts, reap their reward in heaven?