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King & Country [Blu-ray]

4.4 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

In this stirring anti-war film set during WWI, a tough, no-nonsense British Army lawyer (Dick Bogarde) is assigned to defend a lowly private (Tom Courtenay) at his court martial. The private has been accused of desertion during battle. The lawyer, Captain Hargreaves is convinced this young man should be executed. However, as the trial progresses and the strain of three horrible years endured at the Allied front is revealed, the more he is compelled to spare the youth from a firing squad.

Product Details

  • Actors: Dirk Boarde, Tom Courtney, Leo McKern, Barry Foster
  • Directors: Joseph Losey
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, Closed-captioned, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region A/1 (Read more about DVD/Blu-ray formats.)
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    NR
    Not Rated
  • Studio: VCI Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: June 3, 2014
  • Run Time: 86 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00IXPQUBW
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #67,831 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD
The year prior to making King & Country, director Joseph Losey and actor Dirk Bogarde had made their break-through film The Servant and scored a major critical success, becoming one of the leading actor-director teams of the English-language art-house circuit of the 1960s. King & Country was their follow-up, and it was a worthy one. The film concerns a private (Tom Courtenay) who deserts and is court-martialed during WWI. Bogarde plays the officer who defends him -- reluctantly at first, more sympathetically as he gets to know the private and the stressful battle conditions that led to his desertion.

As an anti-war film, King & Country holds few surprises, but that's not the point. Losey had worked with the great dramatist Bertolt Brecht, who believed that the content of a story mattered less than the way you told it. That logic is on display here. Losey is primarily concerned with criticizing the bureaucratic nature of military thinking and with exploring the dynamic contrasts between the upper-class officers and working-class enlisted men, each of whom understand duty and fate in very different ways. The movie is deliberately paced, but the running time is quite short, and the performances of the ensemble cast are uniformly excellent. Losey also avoids inadvertantly glorifying war, as so many otherwise sincere anti-war films do when they give us the vicarious thrill of battle by aestheticizing military conflict (like Kubrick's Paths of Glory) or when they give us solace in the male cameraderie of soldiers (like Milestone's All Quiet on the Western Front). In that regard, King & Country is one of the more successful anti-war films because we never want to be with these characters even though we do sympathize with them.

VCI's DVD is pleasing but flawed.
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Format: DVD
Despite contentious subject matter - a World War One court martial for desertion - and the melodramatic weaknesses of the source material (John Wilson's radio play Hamp and J.L. Hodson's novel Return to the Wood), Joseph Losey's King and Country admirably avoids most of the clichés and preconceptions of its day in favor of something much more even-handed and unsensationalized, and consequently its matter-of-fact approach is much more powerful: indeed, the final moments almost unbearably so. Tom Courtney is the very simple soldier facing a court martial for desertion, carried out almost as an afterthought and certainly as an inconvenience to the officers who have to try him and would rather just forget the whole thing, with Dirk Bogarde the officer who draws the short straw of defending him in the brief proceedings. Nobody really wants him to be executed and no-one really expects he will be: most death sentences were revoked. It's just his bad luck that his court martial comes before an offensive when an example is needed "pour encourager les autres." The ending is, of course, inevitable - it has to be or there is no story - but it's no less powerful for that. If anything, it's more so.

For a filmed play it is ironically in many ways more overtly stark and cinematic than any of Losey's other films, especially for a production that never moves from the soundstage. And what a soundstage - Peter Mullins' sordid ramshackle behind-the-lines set is quite astonishing, making a real virtue of its limited resources, at once claustrophobic and economical but also practical for the intricate camera movements Losey adopts, Denys Coop's naturalistic black and white cinematography putting the artificiality of more recent films like The Trench to shame.
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Format: DVD Verified Purchase
I discovered this movie quite by accident. I was searching for films with Tom Courtenay as I consider him such a convincing actor in everything he does....when I stumbled upon this unknown gem. Although made as a film, it is really a theater piece about a deserter in World War I, a mere private, who is reluctantly defended by a Captain Hargreaves. The play was based on a novel by a World War I officer who failed to succeed in defending a real deserter.

The issue here is that Private Hamp, during a battle, quietly almost instinctively backed off, just walked away. It seems he did not even know what he was doing. After three years in the trenches, blood, rain, death, horror, he had a moment when he just had to stop hearing the guns. And he walked, and he walked, and found himself quite a bit away from the battalion that he was serving. When he was caught, it was believed it was an open and shut case for desertion.

Indeed this is how Officer Hargreaves first understands his duty to defend the officer in the court martial. But as he questions the 23 year old unsophisticated soldier, he starts to think about what it must mean to serve for so long patriotically and watch every single other man in your company die. One man was simply blown to bits right next to Pvt Hamp. (Today, tours of duty are usually 12 months...so a 36 month tour of duty would be prejuducial to the sanity of the soldiers under our enlightened standards)

The defense turns on the definition between cowardice and shell shock. If the solider can be shown to be suffering from shell shock, Pvt Hamp might receive leniency during the court martial. But the problem here is that the mental damage to the soldier is gradual, not immediate.
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