'Deliverance' Director Says Farewell With Heartwarming 'Queen & Country'
Fantasy and memory have always been powerful forces in director John Boorman's work. It's most adroitly used by him in his 1987 semi-autobiographical tale Hope And Glory, where a 9-year old Bill Rowan (a stand-in for Boorman) endures the horrors and tragedies of the London Blitz through childish escapism. Now almost thirty years since Hope And Glory, Boorman returns to Bill and his family in what the 82-year old director has said is his last film. Barring a brief recall to the ending of Hope And Glory—where one of Bill's classmates thanks Adolf Hitler for bombing their school—used to open the film, Queen And Country is set a decade later when the UK is embroiled a new war that doesn't reach the homefront this time. Bill is conscripted into serving the Royal Army, but is fortunate enough to never be shipped to Korea.Now a young man, Bill (Callum Turner) spends the last idyll days of adolescence on his family's island home, appropriately downstream from Shepperton Studios. He'll soon be serving at a boot camp, where he befriends two ne'er-do-wells (Caleb Landry Jones and Pat Shortt). Instead of going to war with the North Koreans in Queen And Country, it's a clash of societies and generational shifts as the young recruits butt heads with the camp's authority figures, the ones for which the Crown truly meant something. Boorman doesn't quite dismiss these older men as pathetic, patriarchal figures, but shows pity. For he too, especially at his age now, seems to show an understanding that the passage of time comes with a requisite sadness and longing. For Bill's commanding officer, a PTSD-addled Sergeant Major Bradley (the always brilliant David Thewlis) who fought in the two World Wars, this painful hanging onto the past and tradition is all that keeps him from teetering over into madness.
In Queen & Country only one cast member returns from Hope & Glory (David Hayman, who plays Bill's father), but it captures the same sense of joyful warmth even if it doesn't reach quite the same highs. Although the tragic figure of Bill's mother (Sinéad Cusack) has a diminished presence in Queen & Country, his older sister Dawn (Vanessa Kirby) remains the wild card presence, upsetting the order associated with the gentility of middle-class British families. Boorman's directing is not flashy and and rather conventional, but here he's a true actors' director, letting the film's small narrative flow through their performances.
Topping off a 50-year career of over 20 films with a modest and personal film is appropriate for a director of Boorman's stature. Although he's made many notable films throughout his career (including Point Blank, Deliverance in addition to Hope And Glory), his rarely gets mentioned within the pantheon of the greats. When he's finished, as he says he is, he doesn't go out with a bang. Instead, as one does at the end of Queen & Country, he simply just lets the camera stop shooting.
Queen & Country is now playing in Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco.