Queen and Country (John Boorman, 2014)
And way back in 1987, John Boorman directed an autobiographical film which was a loving portrayal about living through the Second World War, Hope and Glory. I remember rich reds and oranges and sunsets and barrage ballons and the occasional bombsite. Nearly thirty years on, we see the celebration of the child at his schools having been bombed, before cutting to a decade later and life on an idyllic island on the Thames as a prelude to being conscripted into the British army.
It is 1952 and the British are fighting Korea (as part of the communism vs capitalism war) and the old king, who never wanted to be a king, is dying; Elizabeth is going to be crowned and the new Elizabethan Age is dawning. Alter ego Bill Rohan (Callum Turner) meets new BFF Percy (Caleb Landry Jones, who I think gets top billing) and both get put in charge of the typing school and briefing the new recruits. Life is made unbearable by stickler Bradley (David Thewlis) and bearable by shirker Redmond (Pat Shortt) – and the whole film is made bearable by Major Cross (Richard E. Grant).
Is that damning enough?
And there’s girls, glimpsed at a cinema, nurses, and the One, Orphelia (Tamsin Egerton), whom Rohan falls head over heels with despite the large warning light over her head (and the fact that she does get to talk sense about how men treat women in the period whilst still being damaged goods).
I guess this is all very mythic and there’s that whole generation of writers and directors too young for the (Second World) war who did national service and had Sensibilities Formed; some went to to private school, others failed the eleven plus, they’re all eighty or above now, if they’re still alive. If asked, I think I might have assumed that Boorman had died at some point.
The film’s conflicted; on the one hand grandfather despairs about the shame that Rohan has brought on the family, on the other I seem to recall it’s him who gets to dismiss the first Elizabeth. And Rohan is a cipher – neither communist nor capitalist, neither really betraying or supporting others, not quite seduced by his sister, not quite clear what he believes in (besides what he reads in The Times). He is, I fear, the least interesting character in the film. You wonder how Korea itself is going to be handled – an early sequence is not promising – and you slowly realise that virtually everyone over 25 has some kind of PTSD. But there’s just enough gentle comedy not to despair.
I doubt there will be a quarter century gap before this is turned into a trilogy – but I’m assuming a third film about joining the movie industry is envisaged, Pearl and Dean, say. Fun with the Dave Clarke Five. Dealing with Lee Marvin. Buggery in the woods. And Sean Connery in leather shorts.