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VOD Review: Stand!

May 19, 2021

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Based on the stage show Strike!, Stand! is a Canadian musical that dramatizes the events surrounding the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919, an important moment in the history of labour rights in our country.

The film, which was shot in Winnipeg and screened theatrically in Canada for the hundredth anniversary of the strike in 2019, is finally being released digitally this week.

The story centres around Ukrainian immigrant Mike Sokolowski (Gregg Henry) and his son Stefan (Marshall Williams), labourers who take whatever work they can get at the pump house, trying to save enough money to bring the rest of their family over.

They face resentment from a group of Canadian soldiers, led by key agitator Davey (Ryan Ash), who have returned from World War I and are angry to find their jobs taken by immigrants, whom the factories are hiring because they are able to pay them lower wages. Stefan joins the burgeoning labour movement when he meets Rebecca Almazoff (Laura Slade Wiggins), a young Jewish woman that he falls for. Rebecca is involved with labour activist Helen Armstrong (Hayley Sales), who is trying to organize trade unions.

The story is set up as a sort of Romeo and Juliet style romance between Stefan and Rebecca, with his Catholic father not approving of him being with a Jew, and her brother Moishe (Tristan Carlucci) trying to keep him out of the movement. Meanwhile, Stefan’s father is reluctant to join the strike, as he is afraid of upsetting his bosses and losing any source of income. There is also a subplot involving Emma (Lisa Bell), an African-American maid who works for A.J. Anderson (Paul Essiembre), a wealthy lawyer with political connections who is determined to crush the labour movement by turning public opinion against the workers.

Directed by Robert Adetuyi, and adapted for the screen by Rick Chafe and Danny Schur who also wrote the stage show, Stand! is a pretty good movie that serves as a fine re-staging of the musical itself, which features some hummable tunes that help guide the story along. While it does feel stagey at times, and maybe tries to pack a bit too much into an under two hour running time, the film as a whole is still able to mostly overcome its more stilted Heritage Minutes moments.

The Canadian production has an ambition to it that is admirable, and the film is emboldened by some decent handheld digital camerawork. The point of the film is to make us more aware of the Winnipeg General Strike, and the story does allow for a few powerful moments as it goes along. This includes a poignant scene with Indigenous soldier Gabriel (Gabriel Daniels), who is expected to take the side of Davey and the other soldiers, but feels an allegiance with the immigrants and striking labourers.

Through its dramatization of the strike itself, which lasted for six weeks and saw thousands of workers from diverse backgrounds walk off their jobs and take to the streets, Stand! allows for moment of both inspiration and heavy drama. The film seems destined to live on in classrooms, with the story offering a good introduction to this chapter in history, while the romance and musical numbers provide greater chance for audience involvement.

Stand! is now available to watch on a variety of Digital and VOD platforms. It’s being distributed in Canada by Vortex Media.

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