John Boorman, one of the giants of British cinema, just turned 82. The director of “Deliverance,” “Excalibur” and “The General” has an announcement tucked into the finale of “Queen and Country,” just now opening in the United States.
“You may have noticed that the last shot of the film was a camera that stops,” he says. “That was my way of indicating that this is my last film.”
So even though “Eastwood is, what, three years older than me? And (Portuguese director) Manoel de Oliveira is, oh, 106,” it’s time.
But not before he finished “Country,” his long-planned sequel to the Oscar-nominated 1987 autobiographical dramedy “Hope and Glory.” That film recreated his experiences growing up in World War II Britain. “Queen and Country” catches up with his character (named William Rohan) as he serves in the early 1950s British Army, training on the home front, hoping not to be sent to Korea.
“My experience of the Army was that if you extract combat, if it’s an army just training for combat, you really emphasize the absurdity of it. ..The object of training in the Army is to brainwash the soldier… to crush any individualism, any independent thinking. Make your soldiers into automatons.”
And looking back on that, Boorman found it funny. So “Queen and Country” has service comedy hinjinx, as a pal named Percy steals an officer’s cherished Boer War era clock from the company mess. In real life– and “everything in this story really happened — there are consequences to that.
“The Percy character was court-martialed. And I took him in handcuffs to the military prison. I still have the receipt I was given. ‘Received from Sgt. Boorman, the live body of Private Bradshaw.'”
Boorman laughs. “Absurd.”
“Hope and Glory” was full of nostalgia in a child’s view of the “adventure” of war — school closed, when it is accidentally bombed, children shipped to the country where cantakerous Grandfather presides, teaches and amuses. Boorman was determined to do the sequel because it captures another turning point in British history.
“The older soldiers, the ones who’d been in ‘The War,’ and were training us, they still clung to the idea of Imperial Britain and the British Empire. The biggest empire ever had vanished within a handful of years. We, the younger generation, embraced the change and England became a very different place. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones and the art scene were transformed by about 1960. All the class rigidity that went along with ’empire,’ we younger people were glad to see that go.”
As the film suggests, Boorman was film crazy (“American movies seemed so glamorous to those of us growing up in a pretty bleak post-war Britain.”). He grew up near Shepperton Studios, got a job as a film editor for the BBC and worked his way toward directing movies. His career path mirrored that of the great editor-turned director David Lean (“Lawrence of Arabia,” “A Passage to India”), who became a friend and mentor. Lean died at 83, in 1991.
“I was with him just before he died, and he was trying to make ‘Nostromo’ and cancer felled him,” Boorman recalls. “He told me ‘I do hope I get well enough to make this film, because I feel I’m just beginning to get the hang of it.’
“That’s how I feel, that I’m just ‘getting the hang of it.’ But it’s time. It’s time.”