By Bill Goodykoontz | Gannett News Service
Good things come to those who wait.
Not great things, necessarily, but good, sometimes really good. That’s the case with “Queen and Country,” John Boorman’s follow-up to his brilliant film “Hope and Glory” — 28 years later. The first film saw World War II Britain through the eyes of 9-year-old Bill Rohan, capturing the fear, danger, love and yes, joy and excitement the war brought to England. If the new film suffers in comparison, well, so do most. “Queen and Country” still is a success in its own right.
Boorman briefly revisits “Hope and Glory” at the beginning of the new movie, with a short scene when Bill and his classmates rejoice upon learning their school has been leveled by a German bomb. “Thank you, Adolf!” they scream.
Then Boorman, who also wrote the script, advances the story nine years, when Bill (Callum Turner) has been conscripted into the army. But the army — and the world — are vastly different from what they were in the first movie. No longer are they fighting on the beaches and in the fields and streets. Instead, recruits are being shipped off to frozen Korea to fight communism in a land unfamiliar to most of them.
However, Bill and his bunkmate and friend Percy (Caleb Landry Jones) avoid battle by being assigned to teach typing to new recruits. It’s not exactly heroic duty, which suits Bill just fine. He isn’t what you’d call a true believer. He’s in the army because he has to be, like most soldiers his age. It’s a changing of the guard, so to speak.
But plenty of the old guard remains. Bill and Percy are particularly bedeviled by Sgt. Maj. Bradley (David Thewlis), who survived the Normandy invasion and clings to army rules and regulations as a means of retaining a tenuous grip on what’s left of his sanity. This means demerits and wearing a regular path to the office of Maj. Cross (Richard E. Grant), who would rather not be bothered but wears the expression of a man who constantly is.
Bill takes it all with a sense of offhand bemusement — everything, that is, except his feelings for Ophelia (Tamsin Egerton), an older woman (24) with plenty of secrets and sadness, which attracts Bill all the more. He wants to save her — from herself, from her boyfriend, from whatever an 18-year-old boy wants to save a woman from. But repairing a broken heart is a difficult task, and Bill’s good intentions may not be enough.
Back at the base, he finds himself dragged into the theft of a clock supposedly given to the regiment by Queen Victoria herself (for valor, and hearing Brian F. O’Byrne as a short-tempered sergeant major spit out the word is delightful fun all by itself). Also involved is Pvt. Redmond (Pat Shortt), a slacker’s slacker who invests untold amounts of time and energy into wasting lots of time and expending little energy.
Although Bill has plenty of innocence left to lose, the world is not as full of wide-eyed wonders as it was to a 9-year-old (particularly a 9-year-old living through the Blitz). That was one of the things that made “Hope and Glory” so wondrous, and it’s missing here by necessity. But Boorman retains the sense of melancholy and, ultimately, optimism from the first film. That, coupled with excellent portrayals of what could have been stock war-movie characters, makes “Queen and Country” a worthy follow-up to a classic.
BBC Worldwide North Americapresents a film written and directed by John Boorman. Running time: 115minutes. No MPAA rating. Opens Friday at the Gene Siskel Film Center.