Queen & Country, 2014.
Written and Directed by John Boorman.
Starring Callum Turner, Caleb Landry Jones, Pat Shortt, David Thewlis, Richard E. Grant, Vanessa Kirby and Tamsin Egerton.
An Englishman who grew up in London during World War II joins the military to fight in the Korean War.
In 1987, Hope and Glory was released to a crescendo of positive praise, both commercially and critically. After many awards and nominations at the time, the film is now considered a British classic and now almost three decades later, writer/director John Boorman has returned behind the camera for Queen & Country, a semi-sequel that again is semi auto-biographical of the directors experiences when he was a young man.
Queen focuses on young Englishman Bill Rowan (Turner), a London-born man who grew up during World War II and decides to join the military soon after. Along with his best friend Percy (Landry Jones), they join just as the Korean War begins in earnest but rather than being dispatched across the world, they’re left as officers in charge of the typing corps. On one of their nights off, Bill meets an older woman (Edgerton), and soon enough becomes infatuated with her. With love on his mind as well as the war, Bill is forced to decide where his allegiances really lie.
Director John Boorman (of Exorcist II: The Heretic fame) is something of an auteur to many and has obviously spent many hours laboring over this story to make sure those who loved Hope were not disappointed. In terms of the settings and design, there is great work from the director’s art team Anthony Pratt, Maeve Paterson and Serban Porpuca, with everything looking and feeling real, putting you firmly in post-War London and in amongst the barracks of an army still repairing itself after the devastations of previous years. Sadly, that’s where the positives end and the problems begin.
Boorman’s direction is slow and cumbersome, lacking any real urgency or energy through the over-long run time, as well as any real style. His shots are lifeless and dull, while his pacing is slow and cumbersome meaning that the film comes off as more of a cheap-TV drama than wonderful cinema spectacle. It’s perhaps more disappointing since Boorman is not only coming off almost a decade’s break from filmmaking, but that Hope scored 5 Oscar nominations back in 1987. Judging by his latest effort, the awards Queen & Country could receive may have a more raspberry-looking shade.
Like with the original film, Boorman tries his best to add some humour into the proceedings, trying to blend some laughs in amongst the shadows of war, but where the original succeeded in its blend, this one fails miserably. There are some minor chuckles to be had, but you suspect that an older audience would appreciate them more than a modern one.
Across the board, the acting efforts too range from bad to awful, even those of which come from a distinguished background. The likes of Richard E. Grant, David Thewlis and Sinead Cusack look uncomfortable throughout, as if they have suddenly realised that this was perhaps not what it was intended, and are terribly wasted. The younger members meanwhile don not fair any better: newcomer Callum Turner struggles to carry the film, the weight of a lead role certainly noticeable; Tamsin Edgerton (4321), a decent enough talent elsewhere looks like a deer in headlights and you wonder what the young soldier sees in her character.
Worst of all is Caleb Landry Jones (X-Men: First Class), who provides abysmal support as Turner’s best friend in one of the year’s most misjudged performances. Horribly over-acting, the young American acts like a weird version of Heath Ledger’s Joker: all mouth licking and body “ticks”, but without a shred of nuance or subtly, buffooning his way through proceedings, while his English accent is never more than atrocious. Like Edgerton, he is a genuine talent, with his brief turn in the recent God’s Pocket much better than this dreadful performance.
While an older generation may get some reward from watching Queen & Country if for no other reason than sentimentality, for anyone else the film is a monotonous bore. Avoid.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ / Movie ★