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  King & Country Duty Bound
Year: 1964
Director: Joseph Losey
Stars: Dirk Bogarde, Tom Courtenay, Leo McKern, Barry Foster, Peter Copley, James Villiers, Jeremy Spenser, Barry Justice, Vivan Matalon, Keith Buckley, James Hunter, Jonah Seymour, Larry Taylor, David Cook, Richard Arthure, Raymond Brody, Terry Palmer
Genre: Drama, WarBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Private Arthur Hamp (Tom Courtenay) has been arrested and is currently in a cell awaiting trial. But the trial is a court-martial, since he is being charged with desertion from the British Army, and now faces the strong possibility he will be executed for the crime. It is the First World War, and such men as Hamp are seen as extremely damaging to morale, not least because they have rejected their duty to their country, therefore the ultimate punishment is the only consequences the military top brass regard as appropriate, but Hamp nevertheless must have his trial and Captain Hargreaves (Dirk Bogarde) is the officer assigned to defend him. He doesn't relish the job, but will carry it through to the best of his ability...

King & Country started life as a stage play by John Wilson, considered one of the most searching works of its era, and when director Joseph Losey brought it to the screen he saw it as a tale of hypocrisy and its harrowing results. Make no mistake: this was a miserable film to watch, though that was purely by design, yet it did mean the film completely flopped and won only critical acclaim since the public were by and large uninterested in being made dejected and reflective on the suffocating sense of duty that condemns Hamp to his court action. So what you had was a work that wanted to make you think, even if what you were thinking was "I don't want to think about that".

Should you give this a try, there were compensations in what would inevitably be compared with Stanley Kubrick's anti-war classic Paths of Glory, also set in the First World War, but somehow earning far more respect than Losey's endeavours did here. This was crafted on a considerably lower budget, but the deep discomfort of those cramped trenches, muddy and rat-infested, was conveyed on a handful of sets, with such details as an arm from a neglected corpse flopping out of the makeshift walls one of the grimmer examples of production design. As the rain pounds down, Hamp must face up to the fact that he has in effect condemned himself by the apparently simple action of attempting to walk the distance to his home in Islington, London, away from the heat of the conflict in Europe.

We are in little doubt that his actions were absurd, but also that they're not particularly amusing, what a man who was so beaten down by the war would do with barely a thought to his behaviour. He is the last survivor of his platoon, and comes across as if not simple, then uncomplicated, seeing nothing wrong in wanting to leave all the shells and bullets behind just to get away from it all, and the way this is presented you can well see his point: what sane person would want to stay in those circumstances when it was only that vague drive for doing your duty that kept you going? Well, that and the threat of being shot by your own side for not offering the enemy a chance to shoot you instead, again an almost farcical state of affairs that aren't funny in the slightest.

There were no laughs here whatsoever, to the point of overearnestness, though what saved it from being a lecture were two excellent performances. Bogarde was well into his run of Losey pictures by this point, an intriguing combination that saw the star turn serious and also turn his former matinee idol status on its head; it's what he dearly wanted to do with his career, and saw both actor and director find plenty of respect even if they were not always successful in their artistic aims. Courtenay was a face of the British New Wave of the sixties, here playing something of a naïve persona that could easily have been patronising, and to an extent that danger was never far away, yet he pushed it through to win the compassion of the audience. If there was another issue, it was this told us little new about the injustices of how the British Army treated deserters during that war, you would likely have made up your own mind and sympathised that there really should have been a better way. Still, as a reminder of a state of affairs worth remembering, it was valued. Harmonica music by Larry Adler.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Joseph Losey  (1909 - 1984)

Cerebral, at times pretentious, American director, from the theatre. His American career (The Boy with Green Hair, a remake of M, The Prowler) was short-lived due to the Hollywood anti-Communist blacklist, and Losey escaped to Britain.

Almost a decade of uninspiring work followed, but come the sixties he produced a series of challenging films: The Criminal, Eva, King and Country, Secret Ceremony, The Romantic Englishwoman and Mr. Klein, and Harold Pinter collaborations The Servant, Accident and The Go-Between. He even directed science fiction like The Damned and Modesty Blaise. Not always successful - he also has turkeys like Boom and The Assassination of Trotsky among his credits - but his best films have a cult following with a particularly European flavour.

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