I rather admire the turn that John Boorman’s career has taken as he settles into his eighth decade on the planet. If his previous feature The Tiger’s Tail and his latest venture Queen and Country are any indication, he’s subsisting on the copious amounts of goodwill he has earned after nearly 50 years in the movie industry and just doing whatever the hell he feels like. If that happens to be a sequel to an autobiographical film he made 27 years ago — which it does, this time — that’s what it’s going to be.
Queen and Country brings back Billy Rohan (Callum Turner), the main character of his much-beloved WWII-era film Hope and Glory, and finds him now mostly grown up and joining the British Army as they prepare to enter the Korean War. His concerns, though, relate less to the ensuing conflict than they do to both his burgeoning cinephilia and the relationship he is building with a lissome blonde. That, and trying to maintain his sanity on base as he and his best mate Percy (Caleb Landry Jones) agitate their superior officers and teach young recruits the ins and outs of typing.
It’s a threadbare plot, and one that — like Hope & Glory — is more concerned with pinpointing period details and capturing soft focus remembrances of Boorman’s past than with any of the concrete issues at play with war, manhood, or love. But that’s fine: isn’t it more fun to watch Percy and Bill have their first real fumblings with women and participate in ridiculous pranks than to quibble over the raw details of conflict? Although, there is a little more to the story, taking us back to Bill’s family home and reacquainting us with the rest of the Rohan clan. But that only serves as further nostalgia, as there’s very little tension in the subplot — just warmth, good humor, and lots of nice wool sweaters and Harris tweeds to smile over.
Some folks have been talking up Queen and Country as Boorman’s big comeback film, a return to form after 15 years in the wilderness of passion projects like The General and spy thrillers. In reality, this is just an established director working in his comfort zone and enjoying taking a convivial look back at a formative period of his life. He’s not challenging himself nor his audience, but that’s perfectly alright. After what he has accomplished over his long career in the arts, he can be forgiven a formless, nostalgic indulgence like this.
And in a way, it’s almost a relief to see a director playing to his strengths with little concern over making a prestige picture or cementing his legacy as a filmmaker who makes big statements like Clint Eastwood did last year. Trifles like this are often much more welcome than the hearty, roughage-filled fare that we spent three hours feteing at the Oscars recently. This won’t win Boorman any awards, but it will win him a warm place in the hearts of moviegoers.