Friday, April 3, 2015

A filmmaker's story continues

Director John Boorman's Queen and Country is a belated but agreeable follow-up to his 1987 Hope and Glory.

Near the beginning of John Boorman's Queen and Country -- a much-belated sequel to the director's 1987 Hope and Glory -- a young man watches as a small crew films the shooting of German soldier who's trying to cross a river, presumably on the run from Allied forces.

The movie ends with that same young man doing his own filming in the very same spot. Boorman's final image: A picture of what appears to be the young man's 16 mm Bolex camera, its winding crank dutifully turning before the credits roll.

These scenes take place on an island in the Thames in the town of Sheperton, home to a famous film studio, which explains why the German soldier met his doom in a river more associated with London than with his homeland.

Although Queen and Country can be viewed as a semi-autobiographical look at Boorman's life, little else about it directly involves filmmaking,.

Still, aspiring film students could do worse than spend a couple of hours with Boorman's film, which takes place during the 1950s as opposed to the war years chronicled in Hope and Glory.

The reason I suggest young filmmakers take a look has nothing to do with stylistic breakthroughs or insider insights. This story about a clever but callow young man can be seen as a necessary prelude to a filmmaking career.

At 18, Bill Rohan (Callum Turner) is on the verge of being drafted. Bill hopes to avoid conscription, but -- alas -- the fateful day arrives. He's drafted into the army.

The military that Bill discovers is quite different from the one that he probably fantasized about as a kid in London during the Blitz. Neither Bill nor any of his fellow recruits seem to take the army seriously, and Britain itself isn't under attack.

Bill finds his immediate supervisor, Sgt. Major Bradley (David Thewlis), to be small-minded and laughable. He's also at odds with another sergeant major (Brian F. O'Byrne), a career soldier who loathes conscripts and believes in the letter of military law.

Richard E. Grant appears as a major, who seems to regard military affairs as an intrusion into whatever passes for his life.

Bill and his best pal Percy (Caleb Landry Jones) aren't exactly living the warrior's life. They wind up teaching typing to other soldiers, a task which they find mildly risible, a sentiment most of their students share.

Of course, typing beats service in Korea, which is where those who get crosswise with the base leadership are sent.

Pat Shortt plays Pvt. Redmond, a soldier with a strong aversion to finding himself in Korea, where the weather is frost-bite cold and soldiers are getting shot.

Because Bill is a teen-ager, part of his evolution naturally turns to love. He falls for a beautiful, upper-class woman (Tamsin Egerton) he meets in the town where he's stationed. She likes him, but she's involved with someone else.

Percy is taken by a more attainable romantic target, a nurse played by Aimee-Ffion Edwards.

It's not necessary to have seen the first movie to appreciate this one. Queen and Country functions on its own, but it may mean more if you remember from Hope and Glory that Bill's mother (Sinead Cusack) didn't marry for love, that her husband (David Hayman) fought in the war, and that Bill's older sister Dawn (Vanessa Kirby) got pregnant during the war and married a Canadian. She returns to England while Bill's still away from home, and seems hellbent on trying to be uninhibited when he returns on leave.

So, back to what I said about Queen and Country being valuable for aspiring filmmakers.

It's just this: It takes a bit of living to become a good filmmaker, and that includes the kind of exposure to reality that Bill faces as he leaves home, presumably for the first time.

Before the movie's done, Bill begins to understand what made some of the soldiers he so disdains into the people they are. He realizes that not all love is requited. He learns important lessons about friendship and loyalty, and living with imperfection. He's a lot less smug.

I'm an admirer of Hope and Glory and of much of Boorman's career, which includes movies such as Point Blank (1967), Deliverance (1972), Zardoz (1974), Excalibur (1981), The Emerald Forest (1985) and The General (1998).

I wish I could say that Queen and Country was a masterpiece, a summary work by an 82-year-old filmmaker who has matched and even exceeded what he accomplished 28 years ago.

That's not the case. But if Queen and Country isn't a great movie, it's an agreeable one, a reminder that it's best if artists live a little before they think about unleashing themselves on the world.

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