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Manoel de Oliveira
Luís Miguel Cintra
During World War One, the British troops are entrenched at Passchendaele, Belgium. Among the volunteers there is a young British soldier, Arthur Hamp, who is the sole survivor of his original company. Hamp spent three years in the trenches and this makes him a veteran. He has never been accused of cowardice but one day he simply decides to leave the war behind him and walk all the way home to Britain. In Calais, France, he is challenged by a Military Police patrol who promptly arrests him for leaving without permission. Hamp's commanding officers decide to convene a Court Martial and charge him with desertion. If found guilty, Hamp could be shot by a firing squad. Captain Hargreaves is assigned to be Hamp's defending attorney but he seems skeptical about his chances of acquittal for the deserter. During their first talk, Captain Hargreaves is impressed by his client's utter sincerity and naivete. He learns that his client volunteered on a dare by his friends back home, spent three ...Written by
Like the incessant rain King and Country mired in mud and military litigation is a non stop emotionally powerful film of human spirit crushed by mechanized war and the necessity to maintain order. It's a chaotic Paths of Glory closer to the front and just as unjust.
After repeated shellings and engagements with the enemy Pvt. Hamp (Tom Courtnay) is arrested trying to walk back to England from the battlefields of Europe. Put on trial for desertion he and his lawyer Captain Hargreaves (Dirk Borgarde) devise a plan to attempt to save him from the firing squad. With shelling in the distance court convenes.
A filmed play with much shot in close-up along with a smooth and unobtrusive camera movement within the claustrophobic confines of the trenches ( with some telling stills) King and Country is an unrelenting depiction of absurd sacrifice stopping only for a moment to exterminate one with those around him scheduled for the same per order to immediately move out.
Director Losey's anti war tract is one of the most sober and ultimately powerful of an era when anti-war films flourished with wild absurdities from King of Hearts to How I Won the War. His inquisitors drab bureaucrats instead of ogres his stage a rat infested quagmire instead of a chess board floor of a French Château the film resonates with a callous, hopeless and to add insult to injury clumsy rush to justice.
Bogarde's Hargreaves is measured and restrained, his pauses and glances masking incertitude brilliantly. Coutrtnay is outstanding as the born to lose Hamp. Both touching and frustrating he states his case with a warped benign logic. Leo Mc Kern's hostile doctor also register's in a gruff way.
King and Country may not match the scale of All Quiet on the Western Front or Paths of Glory but Losey's deft and tight handling within it's limited confine packs every bit as an emotional punch.
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