DVD Review - Queen and Country

Writer-director John Boorman has made a sequel to his semi-autobiographical film Hope and Glory (1987). It continues to follow the character of Billy Rohan, the proxy of Boorman. The previous film was set during World War II and was about experiencing that war through the eyes of a 9-year-old on the periphery. Now, Billy is 18 and it's about his conscription into the military around the time of the Korean War, as Billy is pulled a little closer to war but is still kept at a distance, while in the backdrop is England, 1952 to 1953, the year that King George VI died and Elizabeth II, the current Queen, had her coronation.

Callum Turner (Green Room and Victor Frankenstein) stars as Billy Rohan, a gorgeous young man, a kid who if he wasn't serving his country could easily get work as a male model. He lives in Shepperton, a village in England, outside London and along the River Thames. In fact, he lives on Pharoah's Island, a piece of land in the Thames, adjacent to Shepperton. The only way to get to it is by boat or swimming, and the first time Billy in 1952 is seen is as he swims to the island. He emerges from the water at another point as some girl's wet dream.

Caleb Landry Jones (X-Men: First Class and Antiviral) co-stars as Percy Hapgood, a fellow conscript, ginger hair and pale, freckled skin, but such a smart ass and such a trouble-maker who can definitely be impulsive. He bonds easily with Billy as they learn to march in formation and lead a class in the barracks on typing. He clashes with his NCO, Sgt. Major Bradley, played by David Thewlis (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), an NCO who is very strict and all about regulations and discipline to an anal-retentive degree.

There's two situations going on. Both might be reflective of real experiences that Boorman had but both are rather boring. One situation is a stolen clock and the other is the pursuit of a slightly older girl. The stolen clock situation is supposed to be the cornerstone of a grander argument about how the younger generation views the war and military, as opposed to how the older generation views war and military. It does so in a slightly humorous way, but the way it's rendered just wasn't exciting or compelling at all. At one point, Percy references Alfred Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train, but this movie never rises to the level of that Hitchcock film.

The other situation is Billy's pursuit of a slightly older girl. That girl is nicknamed Ophelia and she's played by Tamsin Egerton. She's tall and beautiful. She's also really sophisticated and proper. Yet, there's something more to her. She's allowing this boy to pursue her, despite being in some kind of relationship. Billy is however too smitten and doesn't see the forest for the trees.

Ultimately, that pursuit of Ophelia doesn't matter and is practically abandoned. Yet, the movie takes a weird turn in the final third that I didn't understand nor connect. If one looks at the DVD cover image, it's a still frame from the movie of Billy holding a woman slightly above him in his arms. That woman looks like she's about to kiss him passionately. When you watch the movie, it's learned that the woman isn't Ophelia. That woman in Billy's arms is his sister, Dawn, played by Vanessa Kirby.

There are several scenes when Billy returns to Pharoah's Island to visit his family. In those scenes, there is a quasi-incestuous vibe between Billy and Dawn. The vibe mostly comes from Dawn who seems like a very sexually-liberated woman, especially so for a woman in 1953. Billy seems fairly unaware, but the feeling is conveyed that Dawn wouldn't mind having sex with her clearly attractive brother.

Yet, it's played off and Boorman leaves it as just a thing that perhaps percolated beneath the surface but never went anywhere. This is actually a metaphor for the entire film. Things percolate beneath the surface but never go anywhere. Whether it's the issues below Billy's romantic entanglements or the issues below the military scenes, the whole thing just never feels like a full meal.

For example, the movie attempts to address homophobia. Alfie Stewart plays Henderson, a fellow conscript who is in Billy and Percy's typing class. At one point, Percy questions Henderson's sexuality. As a joke, he basically says he is gay. Later, Billy's father questions Billy's sexuality. A newspaper reports Billy as "seducing an officer" and his father assumes it to be sexual. Billy doesn't feel the need to clarify but it would have been interesting if these questions of sexuality were pushed more, as the likelihood that gay people were among the conscripts.

Two Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but for ages 14 and Up.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 54 mins.


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