Tuesday, April 14, 2015

QUEEN AND COUNTRY

Though people mostly remember him for his breakthrough American films, Point Blank and Deliverance, British veteran John Boorman's first feature was the Dave Clark Five's A Hard Day's Night equivalent Catch Us if You Can, done at the height of the Swinging Sixties. There's always been a very British mischievousness in his eye, a desire to do things his own way that has made him a more interesting director than most but also a highly uneven one.

     For Queen and Country, working under the understanding this would be his final feature, the 82-year old director brings his career full circle with a sequel to 1987's fondly-remembered Hope and Glory, the lively comedy about a young schoolboy growing up in WWII London that fictionalised Mr. Boorman's own childhood. Queen and Country picks up nine years later, as the 18-year old Bill Rohan (now played by Callum Turner, looking like a younger Benedict Cumberbatch), living with his family next door to the Shepperton film studios, is conscripted into military service.

     But whereas there was a sense of wide-eyed buoyancy in Hope and Glory, while portraying a situation where all normal rules of society were suspended for the duration of the war, the new film has to deal with the post-war blues, the sense that the world was changing into something else and nobody quite knew what to expect. Bill and his fellow squaddies are forced to try to fit in into a society that seems by now pretty fusty and old-fashioned - the Army is here presented as a metaphor for the "old England" WWII had pretty much dismantled but to which the country was still hanging on by a thread, while Bill and his best mate Percy (Caleb Landry Jones) are the first seeds of the "new", "pop" Britain that the Beatles came to epitomize. Not by nothing does Mr. Boorman end his film with Bill's first attempts at filmmaking - and those in on the joke will no doubt bring it full circle to Catch Us if You Can. 

     Even granting that by its very nature this isn't a story as light as Hope and Glory - since it deals with the moment in life where the freedom of childhood gives way to the demands of adulthood - Queen and Country comes off as a perfectly nice but rather unmemorable five o'clock tea. Though always warm-hearted and sincere, the film never seems to find the balance it aims for between broad service comedy and bitter-sweet Bildungsroman: the puppy love between Bill and the too-good-for-him Ophelia (Tamsin Egerton) takes a backseat to the underwhelming series of barracks episodes that bring no new particular insight to the genre and seem to essentially overly belabour the issues.

     Maybe the issue is that Queen and Country extends for nearly two hours when it could have very well made its point in 90 minutes - there are certainly worse sins than that. Or maybe it's just that, in following up such a fondly remembered film, it could have used a bit more zip. Or, ultimately, it's just that this is a film Mr. Boorman made mostly for himself, more than for the world at large. Which would make it an even more fitting ending to a certainly idiossyncratic but never less than intriguing career, even if an underwhelming one.

QUEEN AND COUNTRY
France, United Kingdom, Ireland, Romania, 2014
110 minutes
Cast Caleb Landry Jones, Callum Turner, David Thewlis, Pat Shortt, Brían F. O'Byrne, Tamsin Egerton, Vanessa Kirby, Aimée-Ffion Edwards, Sinéad Cusack, David Hayman, Simon Paisley Day, John Standing, Richard E. Grant
Director and screenwriter John Boorman; cinematography Seamus Deasy (colour); composer Stephen McKeon; designer Anthony Pratt; costumes Maeve Paterson; editor Ron Davis; producers Kieran Corrigan and Mr. Boorman; production companies Le Pacte, the British Film Institute and Merlin Films in association with the Irish Film Board
Screened April 6th 2015, Lisbon (distributor DVD screener)


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