King and Country (1964)

September 26th, 2023
Author: Meredith Taylor

In 1963 Joseph Losey’s huge success with The Servant gave him carte blanche with his next project.

Since the following year marked the fiftieth anniversary of the start of the First World War – an occasion celebrated by a landmark TV series of interviews with survivors – Losey took the opportunity to interrogate his perennial fascination with the British class system which resulted in one of the most raw and powerful anti-war films since ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’.

To that end he enlisted Dirk Bogarde to represent the officers and Tom Courtney the common man who plays a sacrificial lamb akin to those in Kubrick’s Paths of Glory.

 During World War I, Courtenay is Hamp, a young soldier who deserts his post, attempting to escape the relentless guns and mud and walk home. Captain Hargreaves (Bogarde), an aristocratic British Army lawyer, must defend Hamp before the army tribunal, for whom the crime of desertion carries the threat of execution. Initially, Hargreaves approaches Hamp’s case with disdain; however, upon learning that Hamp volunteered for duty on a dare, that he is the sole survivor of his unit and that his wife has been unfaithful in his absence, his efforts on Hamp’s behalf become more impassioned and earnest. In the face of cold army bureaucracy, Hargreaves’s arguments fall on deaf ears as Hamp becomes a victim of morale-boosting on the eve of the troop’s deployment into an impending bloody battle.

Even by Losey’s standards King and Country is a relentless and harrowing experience. It proved to be his final black & white film and lost its entire tiny production costs. Losey career never completely recovered and in retrospect it can now be seen as the beginning of his decline. @RichardChatten

KING AND COUNTRY on Blu-Ray or DVD now.

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