Netflix UK film review: Queen and Country
Pat Shortt's scene-stealing performance8.5
Miscast Caleb Landry Jones6.5
Matthew Turner | On 14, Jun 2015
Director: John Boorman
Cast: Callum Turner, Caleb Landry Jones, David Thewlis, Richard E Grant, Sinead Cusack
Watch Queen and Country online in the UK: Netflix UK / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Curzon Home Cinema / TalkTalk TV / Google Play
Directed by John Boorman (82 this year), Queen and Country is a companion piece to Hope and Glory, his 1987 semi-autobiographical wartime drama, which depicted the hero, Boorman surrogate Bill Rowan, as a young boy. (If at all possible, try to see Hope and Glory beforehand.) While the new film doesn’t quite hit the heights of its predecessor, it’s still an engaging and enjoyable drama, bathed in the warm glow of nostalgia.
Set in 1952, a decade after the events of Hope and Glory, the film sees 18-year-old Bill (newcomer Callum Turner) doing national service at a military training base in the UK, with the constant threat of being shipped off to Korea hanging over his head. Assigned the post of instructor, Bill befriends roguish hell-raiser Percy (Landry Jones) and the pair of them play a series of pranks, testing the patience of their uptight, by-the-book Sergeant Major (Thewlis). Granted leave, Bill takes Percy home to meet his family and finds himself falling for an enigmatic blonde (Tamsin Egerton), who tells him to call her Ophelia.
It’s fair to say that the pleasures of the film are not exactly plot-based, since there isn’t really any more to the story than the above and the film lacks the inherent drama of, say, the air raids in Hope and Glory. Similarly, the central romance is less than compelling, while the film rather under-uses the various members of Bill’s family, particularly older sister Dawn (a vibrant Vanessa Kirby), who returns from an unhappy Stateside marriage and takes a shine to Percy.
Visually, Queen and Country is brightly coloured, evoking films of the 1950s, while cinematographer Seamus Deasy bathes everything in warm sunlight, adding to the nostalgic haze. Where it shines, though, is in its cast of colourful supporting characters, particularly Pat Shortt as professional skiver Private Redmond, a constant thorn in the side of Thewlis’ almost comically rigid sergeant major. There’s also welcome support from Richard E. Grant as their exasperated superior officer, while David Hayman reprises his Hope and Glory role as Bill’s father, Clive. Indeed, the only wrong note is the miscast Landry Jones, whose all-over-the-place accent is a constant distraction, while his erratic performance means you’re never quite sure whether maybe there’s meant to be something mentally wrong with Percy. Similarly, Turner is solid in the role, but lacks the necessary charisma to make both the performance and the chemistry with Egerton come alive.
More interesting is the way the film sows the seeds of Boorman’s future career, whether its discussing a screening of Rashomon with Egerton’s character, or eyeing up random crews from Shepperton Studios during their constant location shoots near his family home by the river. This leaves the tantalising possibility that a third instalment might deal with Bill’s / Boorman’s time in the British Film Industry in the 1950s. Here’s hoping that comes to pass.
Queen and Country is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.