A movie review of “Queen and Country,” John Boorman’s semi-autobiographical film about his days as a conscript in the British army. Rating: 4 stars out of 4.
Pick any random person in a crowd, and chances are you’ll land on someone who would love to make a movie like “Queen and Country.” Every year, a dozen or so actually make the attempt, to immortalize their youth and capture the glow of some distant point in time, but they hardly ever succeed. Something essential gets lost in the translation.
So “Queen and Country,” John Boorman’s semi-autobiographical film about his days as a conscript in the British army, has to be counted as something magical. Somehow he does it. He brings us to a time and place, Britain in the 1950s, and places us with a set of characters, and immediately we’re at home in this world. The story is minimal, just a series of events in the life of a young man and his circle, but every scene is rendered with such authenticity that it’s riveting, almost like it’s a privilege to be stepping back in time.
A sequel to his 1987 film “Hope and Glory,” about being a child during World War II, “Queen and Country” has two dominant strains. On the one side, Boorman’s vision of the past is caustic, and he presents army life as an absurdity. The commanding officers are incompetent or delusional, operating according to rules that no longer seem to apply. They look stiff and ridiculous next to the young men around them.
Movie Review ★★★★
‘Queen and Country,’ with Callum Turner, Caleb Landry Jones, Tamsin Egerton. Directed by John Boorman. 115 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. Sundance Cinemas (21+).
At the same time, “Queen and Country” is a loving film. Love pervades it, in Boorman’s depiction of friendship and comradeship, in his re-creation of his childhood home, in his presentation of sex and young romance.
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Here Boorman, 82, applies what he’s learned in life to the story of Bill (Callum Turner), who is 18 and drafted into the British army. Instead of being sent to the Korean War, he is assigned to become a typing teacher. It’s a boring assignment, but it leaves him time to do all the things that young men do, like get into trouble, fall in love and visit home.
Throughout, there are hints of Boorman’s future profession in Bill’s interest in movies, but Boorman doesn’t hammer that point too hard. François Truffaut used to speculate whether cinema was more important than life, but as Boorman makes clear in the film’s last image, for him cinema is at best a close second.