In Queen and Country, the veteran British director John Boorman opens at exactly the point his 1987 film Hope and Glory ended: the destruction of a school during the London Blitz. But we soon jump a few years in time to the moment when the hero, Bill Rohan (Callum Turner), is drafted into an army that’s now entering the heart of the Cold War.
One of the major hot parts of that war, between North Korea and South Korea, forms the background of the film. And one of the best lines in the movie happens when an older soldier explains to young Bill and his best mate Percy (Caleb Landry Jones) how to become an expert skiver (a soldier who works hard to do as little as possible): “Skiving is not a skill acquired overnight... Put it like this. Army training brainwashes you. When you are told to get out of a trench and walk toward a machine gun that’s shooting at you, you do it. A skiver will find a reason to stay in the trench. You got to be brave to be that cowardly.”
But the sections on army life turn out to be far less interesting than the sections concerning Bill’s life at his family’s home, which is on an island in the Thames. It is here that the film transitions from a comedy to one that is wonderfully charming (skinny-dipping in the moonlight, rowing a boat between island home and city street, tea in the summer garden) and has all of the warmth of mid-century middle-class life.
In the end, you may even like Queen and Country more than Hope and Glory, which is saying a lot.