‘Queen and Country’ offers bittersweet recollections

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For Digital First Media

Back in 1987, John Boorman wrote the screenplay for and directed “Hope and Glory.” The largely autobiographical film received five Academy Award nominations, including nods for Best Film, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay.  Now, almost three decades later, Boorman offers a sequel, “Queen and Country.” Like its predecessor, this film also draws from autobiographical elements.

“Hope and Glory” took place during World War II. London is being bombed by the German Luftwaffe. Boorman demonstrates his skill at reducing large historical events to a distinctly human scale.

“Hope and Glory” was from the perspective of Boorman’s onscreen stand-in, nine-year old Bill Rowan (Sebastian Rice-Edwards). He was coming of age and confronted by many of life’s challenges. His father, Clive (David Hayman) a World War I veteran, was back in the army. He served as a clerk/typist on a base in the north of England, safely ensconced far from the front lines. Bill’s mother, Grace (Sarah Miles) had been left alone to raise Bill and his two sisters. Unsuccessfully coping with loneliness, she embarked on an illicit affair. Bill’s adolescent sister, Dawn (Sammi Davis) became sexually active and eventually became pregnant. The family moved into the idyllic cottage of Bill’s curmudgeonly grandfather, George (Ian Bannen). The latter had an idyllic cottage, situated on a Middlesex island in the middle of the River Thames.

The last scene of “Hope and Glory” depicted the aftermath of an errant German bomb, which had leveled Bill’s grade school. The students celebrated the celebration of classes. One young schoolboy looked skyward and jubilantly exulted, “Thank you Adolph!”

Boorman recycles the memorable last scene of “Hope and Glory” and efficaciously uses it as segue to his new film, “Queen and Country.” After the recycled opening vignette, “Queen and Country” then jumps forward nine years to 1952. Bill (now Callum Turner), his father (David Hayman, the only retuning cast member from “Hope and Glory”) and mother, (now Sinéad Cusack) are still living in the island home of Bill’s grandfather (now John Standing).

Bill’s island home is located close to Shepperton Studios, so he frequently sees outdoor shooting. Presumably, this is a biographical touch, which reflects Boorman’s early exposure to the filmmaking industry.

A screen capture from a trailer to the film "Queen and Country" at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5oVLWqRSUU

A screen capture from a trailer to the film “Queen and Country” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5oVLWqRSUU

In the background, the Korean War is raging. One day, Bill receives a conscription letter. He heads to basic training, where he meets Percy Hapgood (Caleb Landry Jones). Percy is a ginger haired troublemaker with a keenly felt contempt for authority.

Bill and Percy both prove to be inept as soldiers. So, they are fortuitously assigned to become typing instructors. Bill and Percy thereby avoid being shipped to Korea and becoming frontline combatants.

The lads’ immediate supervisor  is Sergeant Major Bradley (David Thewlis), a humorless, regulations-obsessed NCO. Cross demands strict compliance with each and every Army regulation. One day, one of the buttons on Bill’s  tunic jacket is unbuttoned. Cross insists on dragging him before Major Cross (Richard E. Grant) on charges of being out of uniform. Cross is exasperated by Bradley’s litany of charges for the most nugatory of rule violations. Nevertheless, to mollify Bradley, he issues a series of perfunctory reprimands.

To deal with the inanities of military regulations, Bill and Percy engage in a series of escalating pranks. This culminates in the theft of an antique clock. It was awarded to the regiment by Queen Victoria for their valiant service during the Crimean War. The memento is the source of considerable pride to the regiment, particularly one of its officers, Digby (Brian O’Byrne).

A screen capture from a trailer to the film "Queen and Country" at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5oVLWqRSUU

A screen capture from a trailer to the film “Queen and Country” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5oVLWqRSUU

Bill and Percy are on the prowl for female companionship. Percy meets Sophie (Aimee-Ffion Edwards), a young nursing student with a penchant for playfully flashing her naked breast. Meanwhile, Bill meets Ophelia (Tamsin Egerton), a striking blonde with a polished, upper class manner. What chance does Bill stand with this woman? Isn’t she hopelessly out of his league?

As he did with “Hope and Glory,” Boorman adroitly balances light-hearted humor with serious subjects. These decidedly non-jocular topics include court martial, wartime casualties, and adulterous trysts. Once again, he also does a superb job of capturing a vivid sense of time and place.

In his distinguished career, the 82-year old Boorman directed 22 films.  In addition to “Hope and Glory,” he helmed “Deliverance,” which garnered Oscar nominations for Best Film and Best Director. Among Boorman’s other noteworthy films are “Point Blank,” “Excalibur,” and “The General.” Boorman has announced that “Queen and Country” is his directorial swan song.

“Queen and Country” certainly never reaches the vaunted heights of “Hope and Glory.” However, chocked full of resonant, bittersweet recollections, “Queen and Country” is a worthy successor to it.

*** No MPAA rating. 115 minutes

Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at lernerprose@gmail.com.


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