CANNES, France: John Boorman’s sequel to his 1987 Oscar-nominated film “Hope and Glory” premiered at Cannes Tuesday. In another autobiographical installment of the veteran British filmmaker’s life, the story moves to the home front of a second war – this time the U.N. police action in Korea.
Exit schoolboy Bill Rohan jumping up and down for joy and shouting “thank you Adolf!” as he discovers his school has been destroyed by a stray Luftwaffe bomb in the first film’s closing scene.
Enter an older Bill, now an 18-year-old conscript completing his national service in a British army camp at the start of the Korean War.
Life in this particular backwater involves a lot of boot polishing, saluting and standing to attention but Bill soon finds his niche – lecturing other conscripts and teaching them to touch-type “like girls.”
Boorman milks the situation for comedy in “Queen and Country” with an array of peculiarly British characters each fighting the tedium of homefront life in their own way, from the work-shy Private Redmond who elevates skiving to an art form to Bill’s incorrigible prankster friend Percy.
Against this backdrop, a more serious plotline draws on Boorman’s real-life job of lecturing soldiers who were being sent to Korea, one of whom refuses to go after attending one of his lectures.
“When I read it up [before making the film], I was horrified to discover the blunders that resulted in that war,” the 81-year-old director said in production notes. “General MacArthur was in charge and wanted to drop atom bombs on the Chinese. President Truman fired him just in time.”
Boorman, whose film was shown in the Directors’ Fortnight on the sidelines of Cannes’ main competition, said he had largely depicted the major events as they happened.
“In the film, Percy steals the regimental clock and the camp is turned upside down in an attempt to find it,” he said. “The real Percy caused even more havoc by stealing several valuable items at two-week intervals.”
The film faithfully recreates the world of early 1950s Britain, with Morris Minor cars plying empty roads, wartime rationing still in place and families forking out for their first black-and-white televisions to watch the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.
Boorman said he particularly enjoyed recalling the spirit of those years and reproducing all the period detail, “whether it be the language, the mannerisms, the clothes, the furniture,” he said.
“England suffered a long hangover from the war in the early ’50s,” Boorman continued. “It was a bleak place. We were coming to terms with the end of empire [and] we, the young, rejected that past of class and privilege and yearned for a fairer more egalitarian country.”
The writer-director added that the act of writing the script stirred dormant memories, many of which had now seamlessly blended with what he put on the screen.
“As with ‘Hope and Glory,’ my memories of that time have been replaced by scenes from the two films,” he said.
“David Hayman, who plays my father in both films, now seems more like my father than my father was. Vanessa Kirby, who plays my sister, is so uncannily like her that I often felt in her scenes transported back to those days.”
Though positive, reviewers said “Queen and Country” did not reach the heights of Boorman’s first film. Britain’s Telegraph daily described it as a “gentle pleasure” while the Guardian described it as “entertaining if lightweight.”
The Cannes audience, however, gave it an enthusiastic welcome with some people seen wiping away tears of laughter.
“Hope and Glory” was a huge commercial and critical success and is frequently cited in polls as one of the best British films of recent decades. It received five nominations at the 1988 Academy Awards including for best director and best picture.