Peter Howell: ‘Stand!’ teaches us our history, which makes it worthy, not great

Peter Howell: ‘Stand!’ teaches us our history, which makes it worthy, not great

Stand!

Starring Marshall Williams, Laura Slade Wiggins, Gregg Henry, Lisa Bell, Paul Essiembre and Gabriel Daniels. Written by Rick Chafe and Danny Schur. Directed by Robert Adetuyi. Opens Friday at Cineplex Yonge-Dundas. 111 minutes. PG

The musical “Stand!” is as much a public service as it is a movie.

Many Canadians aren’t familiar with their own history, possibly because it doesn’t get told on screens big and small the way American history is.

This includes the month-long Winnipeg General Strike of 1919, a landmark battle that saw workers of diverse interests and backgrounds join forces and down tools to fight for better pay and working conditions at home following the First World War, paving the way for a united labour movement to come.

There’s almost too much story to be told, at least in a single film running a relatively brisk 111 minutes.

Shot in Winnipeg and adapted from the stage musical “Strike!” which, like the film, incorporates a “West Side Story” romance, “Stand!” unfolds as more of a series of teachable moments than as cohesive drama.

Director Robert Adetuyi, composer/co-writer/co-producer Danny Schur and co-writer Rick Chafe present one stereotypical character after another to make their points about love, liberty and virtuous struggle.

The central couple are Ukrainian immigrant Stefan (Marshall Williams from TV’s “Glee”) and suffragette Rebecca (Laura Slade Wiggins) — a Catholic and Jew, divided by religion, prejudice and circumstance but yearning for each other regardless.

The film’s many characters also include a union organizer (Hayley Sales) who fights sexism as she seeks recruits; an African-American maid (Lisa Bell) yearning for respect and a better life; and an Indigenous soldier (Gabriel Daniels), recently returned home from the war and wondering what happened to the country he was fighting for.

There are troublemakers — returning soldiers led by the mouthy Davey (Ryan Ash) resent immigrants taking their old jobs — and an outright villain: affluent lawyer A.J. Anderson (Paul Essiembre), who can dial up the prime minister at will and who wants to start his own cabal of capitalists to stop the workers in their tracks.

Somewhere in between is Stefan’s alcoholic dad Mike (Canuck screen vet Gregg Henry), who objects to the strike plans but only because he fears for his son and the loss of badly needed income.

With all this going on at the narrative level, the songs become more of a distraction than a plus. You probably won’t be whistling any of these tunes as you leave the theatre, but you may well remember the struggle that inspired them, and that’s the whole point of the movie.

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Peter Howell

TORONTO STAR

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