In the truly enjoyable and very moving “Queen and Country,” John Boorman’s sequel of sorts to his wonderful autobiographical film, “Hope and Glory” (1987)–the account of a nine-year-old boy’s experiences during the blitz in London–the great director revisits his alter ego, Bill Rohan.
It’s now 1952. Bill (charming, blue-eyed Callum Turner) is 18, slacking off at his family’s home on an island in the Thames (where they had moved during World War II after a bomb destroyed their house in London), waiting to be drafted into the army for two years, and possibly sent to fight in Korea. One day he goes for his routine swim and discovers a small film crew at the water. Watching the director ordering multiple takes, Bill decides that shooting a film, “over and over, until they (get) it right (is) much better than life, where you only have one go.”
At basic training, Bill, sweet-natured (but with a sly streak), meets frenetic, trouble-generating Percy (Caleb Landry Jones, amazing). Neither is shipped off to Korea, but are promoted to sergeant, and assigned to teach typing and other skills (they barely have) to newer conscripts.
Fighting the boredom of their military service and the stultifying rigidity of their superior officer, Sgt. Major Bradley (the great David Thewlis), they pull pranks, smoke cigarettes, try to attract young women and form a real friendship. Together they grow from teenagers into young men, trying to define themselves, as the empire declines, as part of a generation determined to create a more egalitarian country.
Although the events in the film occurred more than 60 years ago, realized with great performances and exacting details, beautifully shot (no clichéd honeyed light here), they’re immediate and urgent. The nostalgic sense of longing and loss has a rare honesty. Says Boorman, “As with ‘Hope and Glory,’ my memories of that time have been replaced by the scenes in the film.”
During our shoot we talked a bit about film vs. digital. I like digital but 35mm, not so much, miss 6×6 and feel like I’ve been demoted. Boorman shot “Queen and Country” digitally and commented that even when a director chooses film, the work is digitized for projection and that projectionists are yet another group made extinct by the new technology. He added that he had had an appointment at a post-production facility in Ireland to watch a cut of his film and when he arrived, only a cleaning woman was there, going about her work. Asked when someone was scheduled to show him the film, she said, “Oh, I can do that, come with me” and flicked a switch.
Unlike with film, with digital prints, Boorman continued, you know exactly what the audience will see. “Do you know the quote about film projection by Stanley Kubrick, that it’s the projectionist who has final cut?”
John Boorman is 82 (“Not the oldest director in the world,” he said at yesterday’s shoot–we agreed that title belongs to Manoel de Oliveira, 104) and although I’d read that “Queen and Country” would be his last film, he said he has a new script, “We’ll see.”
“Queen and Country” opens today at Film Forum for a two-week run, with John Boorman in person at the 7:00 pm show today and on Friday, February 20. The film will open in Los Angeles on Friday, February 27.