To say that it’s been a while since legendary Brit-director John Boorman made himself known may be somewhat of an understatement. Over forty years have passed since his wilderness survival classic Deliverance took cinemas (and stomachs) by storm and in that time, his work has taken many a random turn. Now getting into his 80s, Boorman returns once again with another unpredictable twist. A quaint country-set romantic drama, from the man behind The Exorcist II? Well, he was always one for surprises.
Boorman’s first film in nearly ten years, Queen and Country charts the antics of young film lover Bill as he’s conscripted into the British military on the verge of the Korean war. With his and bunkmate Percy’s (Caleb Landry-Jones) academic talents recognised, the pair find themselves drafted into the army training program where they are stationed in the British countryside. It’s here that Bill catches the eye of local student Ophelia, and what ensues is a very charming, very English period-set comedy with precisely zero dark turns. What, is Boorman getting soft in his old age?
Although optimistically billed as a balls-out comedy, Queen and Country finds much of its content neatly divided between pleasant laughs and old-school romance. In fact, the divide becomes so clearly noticeable that for the most part, it feels almost as if Boorman has created two entirely different films and somehow stitched them together without noticing. The film’s sitcom-style comedy provides plenty of well-honed (if a little dated) laughs, whereas the romantic drama stands strong alone, but quite often finds itself playing second-fiddle to the other side’s rampant humour. Ultimately, this tonal war finds Boorman simply spreading himself too wide and begs the question: why not just make two separate films?
Relative newcomer Callum Turner sits well as Queen’s lead, bouncing joyously between the warring stories. On the comedic side, a barely recognisable David Thewlis is an indulgent delight, as is a quietly-devious Richard E. Grant, whilst Caleb Landry-Jones’ bizarre casting very much drives a thorn in the film’s side. Despite bringing plenty of energy and a number of well-handled laughs to his role, Jones’ flamboyant accent and blatant fakery often leaves one feelings as if he were auditioning to be a Batman villain. It’s a truly odd mix of over and under-stated performances that often seriously interrupts the film’s balance.
Overall, Queen and Country stands as an enjoyable and often humorous journey into the past, but one that’s indecisiveness costs it dearly. By no means a total misfire, Queen is a pleasant little treat and proof that John Boorman, ever the weirdo, is still very much alive and kicking.
Queen and Country, directed by John Boorman, is showing as part of the BFI London Film Festival on 9, 12 and 19 October. Tickets are available from whatson.bfi.org.uk. Watch the trailer below.