Although John Boorman took nearly three decades to make Queen and Country, a fine sequel to his excellent 1987 semi-autobiographical drama, Hope and Glory, this new film takes place only ten years after the first. Set in 1952, Bill (Callum Turner), the 9 year-old hero from Hope and Glory is now in his late teens and living at The Sphinx, a cozy home on a little island in the Thames. Shepperton Studios is nearby, and Bill watches the films being made. He also quotes cinematic dialogue in his everyday speech.
When he is conscripted to military service (the Korean war is on), Bill befriends Percy (Caleb Landry Jones) during basic training. However, instead of being sent off to war, the men are assigned to teach typing under Sgt. Major Bradley (David Thewlis), an officer who firmly enforces the letter of the military law. Sgt. Major Bradley makes Bill and Percy’s lives difficult by cracking down on every infraction—an unbuttoned button!—which prompts the friends find ways to alleviate their stress, and get Bradley off their backs.
Queen and Country reveals each man’s character as their life during wartime unfolds. Bill is impartial, willing to wait out his two years and do his duty. Percy, however, is an instigator. He steals a valuable clock with the help of the scheming Redmond (Pat Shortt). The guys also search for girlfriends in their free time. Percy attracted to the bubbly nurse, Sophie (Aimee-Ffion Edwards), while Bill is smitten with a mysterious, troubled beauty he calls Ophelia (Tamsin Egerton) since he never got her proper name.
The film’s romantic drama is pure, old-fashioned coming-of-age stuff, but it feels warm, not corny. Boorman handles the military base comedy, the romance, and the family scenes as a series of fond, poignant memories. A sentimental anecdote, such as Bill’s story of his first cigarette, is a nice, throwaway moment that harks back to a simple time, when youth were both optimistic and a bit cheeky. This wistfulness is what makes the film so charming. All of the characters—from Sgt. Major Bradley to Ophelia—display their coping mechanisms for dealing with their anxieties and fears during a still uncertain time. And the film is not without a few painful episodes to remind viewers how each character suffers. One of the best, most telling scenes in the film has Bill, his family, and Percy watching the queen’s coronation on television. How each family member reacts to the pomp and circumstance reveals much about their character.
Queen and Country is a modest film that thankfully never overreaches. Even if an extended plot about the missing clock goes on a bit long, there is a nice payoff that provides some depth to Bill and Percy’s friendship.
In the lead role, Callum Turner is consistently likeable, sympathetic, and even a bit plain, which may be why the supporting cast—Landry Jones, Shortt, Edwards and Thewlis, along with the terrific Vanessa Kirby who plays Bill’s free-spirited sister, Dawn—standout in contrast.
Ultimately, Queen and Country is not unlike Bill, who examines every situation and decides if it is better to use his head or his heart, to find the most appropriate response. Viewers will likely be like Bill, too, and pulled along by their heartstrings.
Queen and Country opens today in Philly area theaters.