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Queen & Country

D: John Boorman / 110m

Cast: Caleb Landry Jones, Callum Turner, Pat Shortt, David Thewlis, Richard E. Grant, Vanessa Kirby, Tamsin Egerton, Aimee-Ffion Edwards, Sinéad Cusack, David Hayman, John Standing, Brian F. O’Byrne, Julian Wadham

Nine years after the events depicted in Hope and Glory (1987), eighteen year old Bill Rohan (Turner) is nurturing a desire to get into movie making. But National Service comes along and Bill is conscripted into the Army, where his skills lead him – and his friend Percy (Jones) – to teaching other conscripts how to type. With the threat of being transferred to the front line in Korea hovering over them, Bill and Percy make the best of their lot, including continual run-ins with their immediate superior, the punctilious Sergeant-Major Bradley (Thewlis). They find a comrade in skiver Private Redmond (Shortt), and resolve to steal the regimental clock as a two-fingered salute to one of their senior officers, the pompous, overbearing RSM Digby.

While Bill and Percy circumvent the rules with seeming impunity, they also find love: Percy with nurse Sophie (Edwards), and Bill with emotionally distant Ophelia (Egerton). But the course of true love fails to run smoothly for either of them, with Ophelia proving complicit in an abusive relationship, and Percy showing no signs of committing to Sophie. Their run-ins with Sgt-Major Bradley escalate to the point where they turn the tables on him, a decision which has unforeseen consequences. The search for the regimental clock leads Private Redmond – suspected by Digby and Major Cross (Grant), the officer in charge – to ratting on Percy to avoid being sent to Korea. With his friend facing a court-martial, and his affair with Ophelia offering no comfort, Bill’s rite of passage to adulthood proves a rockier experience than he ever expected.

Queen & Country - scene

Widely reported as John Boorman’s swan song movie, Queen & Country is a largely disappointing end to a career that has had some tremendous highs – Point Blank (1967), Deliverance (1972), The General (1998) – and one incredible low – Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977). What’s disappointing is that Boorman has failed to inject the same kind of nostalgic bonhomie that made Hope and Glory such a joy to watch. And though the movie is based on Boorman’s own experiences in the Fifties, there’s little here that resonates as effectively as his experiences of World War II. It’s a shame, as the movie will generate a lot of interest due to the warm regard held by its predecessor, but anyone persuaded to watch this as part of a Boorman double bill with Hope and Glory would do well to choose something else (the undervalued Leo the Last (1970) perhaps).

This isn’t to say that the movie is a complete disaster – Boorman is too good a director for that, and the material does have moments where it’s both affecting and heartfelt. Bill’s despair at the actions of Ophelia tugs at the heartstrings, while Bradley’s officious nature hides a man struggling to maintain his sanity. The performances range from the credulous (Jones, all sniggering, body-wracking obnoxiousness), to the pantomimic (Grant, operating at a level of high-strung anxiety that would look less out of place in a drawing-room farce), while Egerton strikes a chilling note as an upper-class object of desire who has no idea of her own self-worth. Turner is okay as the older Bill, but thanks to Boorman’s script, is hampered by being too likeable throughout, and isn’t allowed to show any other facets of the character. But the standout is Kirby as Bill’s rapacious sister, Dawn, a force of nature that the script – thankfully – fails to keep a lid on. References to Bill’s family living near to Shepperton Studios hint at his future endeavours and there’s a lovely final shot that is as succinct as it is emotive. If Boorman is persuaded to continue making movies, his take on starting out in the industry would be well worth waiting for.

Rating: 5/10 – awkwardly irreverent in its dealings with the Army, but on surer ground in its more emotional relationships, Queen & Country is a mix of drama and comedy that never quite gels; with some scenes that feel extraneous, and others that seem burdened by the need to harken back to Hope and Glory, this is a movie that – sadly – promises more than it actually delivers.