Queen and Country is John Boorman’s hugely likeable, if oddly mundane, sequel to “Hope & Glory,” made back in 1987. It’s clearly autobiographical with Boorman, now 82, looking back on his early life. Central character Bill Rohan (played with great subtlety by Callum Turner), has been brought up on an island in the Thames close to Shepperton and so film making is his great interest.
As he’s 18, and the film set in 1952, Bill’s called up for his two years’ National Service, and the likelihood of fighting in the Korean War. But he and his best mate Percy Hapgood (an exceptional performance by Caleb Landry Jones) are made sergeants and somehow stay in the barracks teaching recruits how to type and describing the conditions they’ll face in Korea. These two free spirits come up against unbending commanding officer Sgt. Major Bradley (David Thewlis is superb), and unwisely befriend devious skiver Redmond (a role clearly enjoyed by Pat Shortt) to bring Bradley down.
They also want to lose their virginities and so Bill becomes infatuated with posh enigmatic Ophelia, whose vulnerability is convincingly portrayed by Tamsin Egerton, while Percy falls for Sophie, a fun loving nurse nicely played by Aimee-Ffion Edwards.
Most of the action takes place in the barracks, which is a shame because the episode where Bill visits his family – his flighty sister Dawn (gorgeous Vanessa Kirby) home from Canada – and watch the Queen’s coronation, is a highlight which could have been extended. It would have been good to know how Bill and Sophie fall in love, and if Percy and Dawn got beyond a one-night fling. The Rohan family’s eccentricity, emphasised by their Thames island existence, should have been made a stronger counterpoint to the ambivalent characterisations of the barracks.
The problem with the time spent at the barracks is that it’s part comedy, parodying the army’s regimental rigidity, and part tragedy since Bradley’s obsession with keeping to the army rules is his way of coping with post traumatic stress he suffered in Normandy in 1944. Yet due to a tawdry conspiracy between Rohan, Hapgood and Redmond, he ends up in a military hospital, a broken man. David Thewlis’s portrayal of Redmond is the film’s highlight, with Richard E Grant doing a fine job as the regiment’s frustrated commanding officer.
Indeed, it’s the quality of all the performances which save Queen and Country from being a rather lightweight affair, though of course with Boorman in charge, the filming is always elegant and the storytelling simple.
Find time to see this film as it will bring back memories of the 1950s and the changes in society, class and morals. Note too how the cast struggle with smoking untipped cigarettes, and how all the females have perfect figures…something which underlines Boorman’s somewhat fairy tale and clichéd, though very enjoyable, direction.
Queen and Country – Sunday 11.05pm on FilmFour.
Review courtesy of 50connect.