By: Oberst von Berauscht –
In 1987 Director John Boorman released Hope and Glory, a comedy/drama that depicted daily life in middle class England during WWII, seen through the eyes of little Billy Rohan and his family. Queen and Country comes nearly 30 years later, but Boorman is back to continue the story. Nine years have passed since the events of Hope and Glory, and the Korean War is going on elsewhere in the world. While the British are deploying troops along with other countries, the impact it has on everyday life isn’t near that of the last war. Bill Rohan is now a young adult and becomes conscripted into service with the Army. He undergoes basic training and then is assigned to a desk job along with his friend Percy, training new recruits at the most important military task imaginable.
It is here that Bill and Percy run afoul of Sgt. Major Bradley, an officious little man who treats every one of the slightest bends to the rule book as an offense worth reporting. While working his hardest to keep from doing actual work, Bill falls in love with a girl, watches TV at home for the first time, witnesses major historical events, and learns some very grown up lessons in the process.
Queen and Country is at the core a solidly constructed follow-up to Hope and Glory, following through with that film’s themes, comedic tone, and fast pace. These are films that are not designed for the American sensibility, the humor is too wry and the story too British. Cinephiles (who also happen to be Anglophiles) will have much to appreciate, though, as the film offers a unique view of a time in history that is so often depicted under the veil of the ramping up Cold War, with the focus put heavily on the two remaining superpowers. A 19 year old boy is often far more focused on himself to care about what is happening in the bigger world, and the film points this out. Bill Rohan’s arc as a character is to be kicked out of his little bubble to realize he has bigger issues to care about than himself.
For his part as Bill, actor Callum Turner perfectly embodies the nervousness a teenager has knowing that he has to forge a future for himself for the first time. David Thewlis plays Sgt. Major Bradley, the film’s principal (and principled) antagonist.
As the story develops Bradley’s backstory shows more and more grey. As the story reveals more of the reasons for his behavior, the audience can’t help but empathize with him. Bill himself slowly comes around to a similar line of thought, but too late to prevent irreparable damage.
As with Hope and Glory before it, the story depicts many fun and comical set-pieces set within a nostalgia bubble that is hard not to appreciate. Much like Woody Allen’s Radio Days, the film can sometimes feel like a compilation of well-written scenes, rather than a clear narrative. That worked in Radio Days, and it worked in Hope and Glory because taken as a whole, the films serve as mood pieces for the periods in which they are set.
Director Boorman focuses on Bill’s story more directly here, and the increased attention on a central narrative gives the film an additional dramatic punch in doing so.
The film’s chief flaw is in the romantic subplot, which feels underwritten and more or less just disappears by the end of the film. The scenes are interesting, but ultimately left without any real resolution. The film would have benefited from more of this, as the contrast of Bill’s time away from the Base is a welcome change of pace in the story.
Queen and Country is a wonderfully fun and farcical follow-up to Hope and Glory. Perhaps even superior because of the more focused story.
Queen and Country (2015) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for comedic coincidence
Take a Drink: every time the Sgt. Major quotes from the book
Take a Drink: for every reference to the clock
Do a Shot: for direct references to current events