BACK in 1987, John Boorman’s Hope and Glory, a semi-autobiographical tale of London life during World War II was released, opening to substantial praise and eventually receiving five Oscar nominations, including Best Picture.
Twenty eight years on, Boorman returns to the story of Bill Rowan with Queen and Country, a long-overdue but welcome addition to the modern British film industry’s take on war.
Fast-forwarding nine years after it predecessor, Bill (star-in-the-making Callum Turner) is now a young man, still living with family in the idyllic house by the Thames, but enlisted for National Service to fight in Korea.
Accompanied by close friend Percy (Caleb Landry Jones), the two discover that they lack the physical requirements needed to fight, are delegated to performing uninspired tasks such as teaching spelling to recruits, all under the watchful eye of old-school and tradition-obsessed Bradley (a plump David Thewlis).
Over the next two years, Bill and Percy become involved in various events, involving humour, frustration and love, where the friendship is bought to a testing point, due to the differing attitudes between the headstrong Bill and the often foolhardy Percy.
Of the several subplots included, the one that stands out well in a film full of engaging ones, is the psychological rivalry between Percy and the bullying RSM Dibgy (Brian F. O’Byrne).
A clock of sentimental value to Digby is stolen in a collaborative effort involving the film’s comic relief Redmond (Pat Shortt), resulting in the suspicious Digby threatening the not exactly match-fit Redmond with a posting to Korea unless the clock is discovered.
Leading to a dilemma as to where loyalties lie and what one would do to effectively save their skin, this adds to the more enjoyable plotlines due to its successful mixture of typical British humour, unpredictability and nervy tension.
Another rivalry subplot that works well sees Bill and Percy finding themselves continuously at loggerheads with Bradley, whose gradual unpopularity and demand for total respect tells that this may be down to something on a more personal basis, a likely case of PTSD, which tragically was not portrayed in the same manner then as is today.
Bringing too many characters into a film can often result in the work being damaged by such a trait, but the more characters show up, the more entertaining the film becomes.
Richard E. Grant turns up occasionally in an enjoyable performance as Major Cross, often forced into deciding the outcome of various incidents which Bill and Percy find themselves caught in between.
Standing well on its own feet, it also brings back some of the family members (albeit older) from Hope and Glory.
While Sarah Miles is replaced by Sinead Cusack as the mother and Vanessa Kirby takes on the older version of the promiscuous sister Dawn, David Hayman reprises his role as the father.
While it’s good seeing his character return and chastise his son for his misbehavior being published in a newspaper headline, it can’t help but be noticed how Hayman is playing a part he originally played 28 years ago and yet the film is set only nine years after then.
Though likely 20 years too old for the part (not helped by the dodgy wig), seeing Hayman in the part is a wise choice for contributing to the nostalgic feel of the first film.
The film itself has the appearance of what looks like is going to be a full on drama, but actually turns out to be, like its predecessor, one that passes as a comedy too.
Boorman manages to create a work where humorous scenes like Redmond’s penchant for sarcasm towards his superiors juxtapose well with dramatic scenarios such as Bradley’s gradual mental decline or the obstacles in a relationship between Bill and Ophelia (Tamsin Egerton).
Queen and Country marks itself as not only an entertaining sequel to one of the most memorable British works of the 1980s, but also adds argument as to why British cinema today is undergoing a wholly impressive period for war films.
Even if it likely won’t sustain the timeless nature of Hope and Glory in the long run, the fact that such a film has managed to succeed as a whole so long after the original is proof that bringing another film about Bill Rowan was a smart decision.
As with splendid recent works The Railway Man and Testament of Youth, it proves that when it comes to films with war themes, it does not have to always be about life on the battlefield, and that extensive character study is just as necessary to the genre as its basic conventions of blood and guts spilling out are.