Callum Turner and Brían F. O’Byrne in ‘Queen and Country’
Experimental feature

Listen to this article

00:00
00:00
Experimental feature
or

Myth. How does a director get it on screen? Does he find myth or make it? Does he stalk it like a shy animal, mug it like a burglar invading his home — or manufacture it from scratch?

Britain’s John Boorman became a major director by making popular cinema — genre cinema — yield up its mythic DNA. His best two early films, Point Blank and Deliverance, a crime drama and a wilderness thriller, rejoiced in the mythic richness of quest, ordeal, mystery, redemption, enlightenment. His career faltered when he tried manufacturing his own myth-world, in the lunatic Zardoz, then flatlined with two honourably aimed movies grounded in universal legend and folklore: Excalibur (King Arthur) and The Emerald Forest (noble savagery and the sanctity of the jungle). Something had gone missing. These films were beautiful but obvious: open-cast myth mining. Where were the earlier films’ teasing tunnels, deceptive shafts and hocus-pocus tricks with art-versus-populism?

Then Boorman made his best film since Deliverance. Hope and Glory was a childhood memoir and much, much more. Narrating a boy’s growing up during the second world war, based on his own boyhood, the film sent search-party themes down every vein of its story. Into Englishness, war, city-versus-country; into family and growing up; into “hope” and “glory”. Now Boorman has made Queen and Country, the promised second part of his life story.

Sometimes it’s less than Hope and Glory: a little tamer. But at best it has the multi-layered mythic richness of good Boorman. His teenage alter ego Bill Rohan (Callum Turner) leaves home, serves in army boot camp, romances a girl (Tamsin Egerton), gets up to tricks with fellow squaddies, goes home on breaks and finally — without serving in Korea — for good.

It’s a string of little jewels masquerading as a story. The army-life japes and escapades, climaxing in the stealing of an officers’ mess clock, might seem picayune. But they form a cumulative glitter. This is the Arthurian story with a wink and a nod: the sword of a boy’s self-determination pulled from the stone of precedent and authoritarian protocol. Acts of prankishness become mini-heroic as “time” is literally stolen: the time it takes, thieved from hours of institutional regimentation, to become oneself.

For his play-the-devil companion, Turner’s protagonist has the hilarious, volatile Caleb Landry Jones — a Texan actor gorblimeying a kind of English accent — and for goofy-magisterial authority figures David Thewlis and Richard E. Grant. “Silliness” throughout disguises a sly but strong seriousness. This is how myths are born from day to day and year to year: sideways, a little skewily; especially those individual myths, the me-myths, that each of us aspires to create, if only for ourselves, in our lifetime.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
myFT

Follow the topics mentioned in this article

Follow the authors of this article