Queen and Country
Thursday 9th October, 6pm – BFI Southbank NFT1
Queen and Country is the semi-autobiographical story of director John Boorman’s time in national service in the 1950s. We follow Bill and Percy, two young conscripts (played by Callum Turner and Caleb Landry-Jones) who are eventually promoted to Sergeant and begin to train new recruits. They pass their two years subverting the oppressive military discipline and attempting to avoid being sent to fight in the Korean War.
It captures the atmosphere of post-war Britain, an Empire in decline, and a new youth culture attempting to break with the past. Bill believes that Britain’s involvement in the Korean War is merely strategic, and does not consider himself a patriot. This contrasts fiercely with David Thewlis’ jingoistic, long-serving Sergeant Bradley, a stickler for doing things by the book, and a constant nemesis for Bill and Percy. He despises the younger generation for their lack of conviction.
Percy is an incorrigible rogue, indulging in disruptive and childish behaviour, culminating in the theft of an antique clock from the mess hall. Much of the film is given over to this Carry-On style larkiness, which is amusing enough at first. But occasionally it will lurch clumsily into more serious territory, such as when Bill visits a military hospital and sees the harsh realities of war – or when MI5 come to investigate Bill after one of his soldiers refuses to go to Korea, having been dissuaded by Bill’s honest assessment of the situation. It’s a jarring shift in tone that occurs throughout and is not well handled. American Landry-Jones is also woefully miscast as Percy – he tries hard, but his English accent is appalling, and is extremely distracting throughout.
There’s also a dreadful love story in which Bill chases a girl (Tamsin Egerton) whom he calls Ophelia, not knowing her real name. She claims she is damaged in some way, and that she will only let Bill down, that she cannot love him like he loves her, that she is numb, and so on and on she babbles in endless, moon-faced self-pity. Eventually she rejects him outright, but he gets over it pretty quickly.
It’s all a bit of a mess really – the half-baked subplots, the dull scenes back at Bill’s family home on the Thames, and the overwhelming sense of pointlessness to it all. Still, it’s amiable enough, and Thewlis is great as Sgt Bradley.
Queen and Country is released in the UK on 9th October 2014.
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