John Boorman’s avowed final film Queen & Country (15) *** is as out-of-date as a ration book found in the attic yet its very mustiness reveals a certain timepiece charm.
A sequel to his 1987 WWII memoir Hope and Glory, the film begins in 1952 as Bill Rohan (Callum Turner), now 18, is conscripted for National Service and has to leave the idyllic island house in the Thames near Shepperton, to which the family had moved to escape the Blitz.
I can’t recall the last movie about this rite of passage that so affected the youth of an entire generation, so this one takes on the faded touch of Dad’s Army and Carry On Sergeant, wafting over like some uncomprehended compendium of TV clips from my own childhood, when the sitcoms of the 1970s remained tethered to the radio humour of the 1950s and pre-fab buildings and hospital wards preserved a proud sort of national dilapidation.
Nowadays, however, one so rarely sees films about the early 1950s. The 60s gets all the glamour and archival reminiscence, not the brown, dour, austerity-hit 50s of milk bars and pinched pennies.
Yet, through the authenticity of its memories, Boorman’s film conjures up this lost period with admirable detail for the gradations of class among the army officers, showing a nation wrestling with its own soul, its past and future, after the tough victory of the War, leading into the young Queen’s Coronation, the coming of television and the still distant prospect of a youthquake.
Bill and his new mate Percy (played with grating tics and twitches by Caleb Landry Jones, like an overextended cameo by Kenneth Connor or Norman Wisdom) have to shake the tyranny of Sgt Major Bradley (an excellent David Thewlis) negotiate young love with, respectively, a haughtily elegant aristocrat (Tamsin Egerton) and a brassy nurse called Sophie, and also extricate themselves from a ridiculous subplot about a stolen clock.
So old-fashioned is that film that modern audiences might not know how to interpret it. But, even without the visual élan he brought to Point Blank, Excalibur or The General, this is John Boorman so attention and respect must be paid. And those few who recognise enough to intuit the era and its mutating mores through the film will undoubtedly do so fondly.