World War II wasn’t just a war between the Allies and the Axis; it was a war between the forces of good and the forces of evil. For Britain in particular, it was a war that was fought for King and Country, for tradition and for the righteousness of order. Evil was defeated, order was restored and all who survived, lived to see the future that they fought so hard for.
Queen & Country depicts that future, and all the baggage the war brought with it. The King is dead and Queen Elizabeth II ascends to the throne and inherits a new war, this time a cold war fought between North and South Korea. One that will not end well for England or for the soldiers that fought for her.
Following the conscription of two sergeants into the Royal Army, Queen & Country looks to poke fun at the stuffiness of British regime and the horrors of post-traumatic stress. Bill Rohan (Callum Turner) is a young cinephile and romantic and Percy Hapgood (Caleb Landry Jones) is a royal troublemaker. Their friendship sees them through an uneventful career in the army of stealing clocks and teaching typing (until a girl comes between them), but not even friendship can shelter them from the madness that surrounds them, nor keep them from moving in opposite directions.
Written and directed by John Boorman, Queen & Country is the long-awaited sequel to his seminal Hope and Glory from 1987. Sadly, a 28-year gestation period has done little to help the results. Queen & Country is a wild picture with its parts running willy-nilly in every possible direction. Actors playing the commanding officers (David Thewlis and Brían F. O’Byrne in particular) reduce their characters to caricatures, turning them into mid-century Col. Blimps so hopelessly out of touch with their surroundings that the only way to resolve their actions is to either make them a) suffer a nervous breakdown or b) exit the story entirely. All of this backed by an overly dramatic score of strings that adds little to the texture.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg. The makers of Queen & Country seem to have little faith in their audience and load characters with dialogue such as, “Sorry it’s such a mess, but so am I.” And, “I take him seriously. I take his name seriously.” Throw in an exaggerated, over-the-top performance from Jones as Hapgood, Ophelia’s (Tamsin Egerton) bizarre and breathy presence, poor little Sophia (Aimee-Ffion Edwards) who exists solely to cure Bill’s melancholy with sex, and a sudden shift to the horrors of war and PTSD in the final ten minutes and you’ve got one hell of a head-scratcher.
French critic and filmmaker François Truffaut once wrote that, “I demand that a film express either the joy of making cinema or the agony of making cinema. I am not interested in anything in between; I am not interested in all those films that do not pulse.” Cinema doesn’t play an integral part in Queen & Country, but it does play a peripheral one, particularly in the final shot, but it’s still not enough to make the rest of it pulse.