Given that it has been 8 years since he last made a film, and over decade since he last made a good one, John Boorman could be excused for wanting to try and reinvigorate the twilight years of his fading career. However, it’s far harder to forgive the way he has gone about it. With all the gravitas of a poorly funded televisual drama, he tries and fails to recapture the magic of his superb Hope & Glory with Queen And Country, his infuriatingly workmanlike and frankly unnecessary sequel.
Lacking the warmth, insight and nuanced poignancy of his late 80s ode to life in the London Blitz, Boorman turns his semi-autobiographical attentions on Britain’s brief flirtation with peacetime subscription. Bill Rowan (Callum Turner) has just been called up and soon finds himself taken away from his tranquil life on the Thames and locked behind the barbed barrack gates. Here he passes his days by causing mischief with his friend Percy (Caleb Landry Jones) and attempting to catch the eye of the mysterious Ophelia (Tamsin Egerton), all the while hoping to avoid the unceasing wrath of his commanding officers (David Thewlis & Richard E Grant).
It really is as an empty experience, that’s as mundane as it sounds. Boorman’s script lacks any sort of structure, energy, or depth integral to engaging the audience. Character development is cast aside almost entirely, but the void fails to be filled. The narrative merely plods along from one humdrum sequence to the next, generally in a gratuitously melodramatic haze thanks to Stephen McKeon’s banal score.
That the performances, particularly the two leads, are as poor as the Boorman’s writing doesn’t help matters. Callum Turner may look the part, but he’s a perpetually wooden presence who lacks the charm and charisma of Sebastian Rice-Edwards, while Caleb Landry Jones slurs and staggers his way through every scene in an apparent drunken stupor that’s seemingly meant to represent his character’s ever-growing anxiety. Indeed, it is only David Thewlis and Richard E. Grant that manage to make an impact, but even their best efforts are constantly belied by the script.
What’s grating throughout is that Boorman himself just doesn’t seem to care about all of these problems. Hope & Glory was infused with the love of a professional making his passion project, this just feels like a half-arsed attempt to make a quick buck. The production feels shoddy (just check out the wig David Hayman is given to wear), the jokes fail to sparkle (although some will raise a titter), and narrative lacks both drive and a destination. His career may have once been built on glory, but Queen and Country proves there isn’t much hope left for John Boorman.