American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Auteurship, to paraphrase a familiar ad, has its privileges. In the standard Hollywood way of making movies, stories designed to galvanize millions (often derived from books or comic strips that have already done so) and stars that can “open” films are what get productions funded. In Europe, traditional home of the auteur, however, things are somewhat different: A movie like John Boorman’s “Queen and Country”—with no stars and a story based on the filmmaker’s own life—can attract financing because the auteur’s distinctive gifts are considered sufficient to guarantee it audiences and prestige.
Which is to say that Boorman’s latest is not for folks who’ve never heard of John Boorman. But for cinephiles who’ve followed this 82-year-old British filmmaker’s long and sometimes eccentric career with interest and admiration, “Queen and Country” will be a sure winner. A sequel to the similarly autobiographical “Hope and Glory,” one of Boorman’s most renowned films (it received five 1987 Oscar nominations including Picture, Director and Screenplay), the new work is obviously personal yet also entertaining, accessible and beautifully crafted.
It begins with a key comic moment from “Hope and Glory,” when the boy protagonist’s school is destroyed by a German bomb during a 1943 air raid. When the narrative jumps forward nine years, it finds Bill Rohan (Callum Turner), now 18, and his family still living at the home on a Thames island where they went to escape the Blitz. It is a lovely, idyllic place, and slightly surreal since moviemakers from nearby Shepperton Studios pop up to shoot scenes unexpectedly. But the idyll is not to last. Bill receives a notice to report for his two years of compulsory military service.
The first word in the film’s title says lots about the precise historical moment Boorman evokes. When Bill enters the army, Britain has a king. During his stint, Elizabeth II takes the throne, with all the symbolic resonance that entails (Boorman’s English films appreciate the monarchy’s mythic aura). The Korean War is on. Britain is poor, its empire is crumbling, and the Swinging Sixties are still far, far away.