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King & Country
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In Joseph Losey's stirring anti-war film, 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 fry. 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. Winner of the British Academy Award for Best Picture of 1964. Courtenay won the Best Actor Award at the Venice Film Festival. Bonus Features: Scene Access| Cast Bios| Original Theatrical Trailer. Specs: DVD5; Dolby Digital Mono; 86 minutes; B&W; 1.33:1 Aspect Ratio; MPAA - NR; Year - 1964; SRP - $14.99.
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First World War. Soldier cracks under relentless pressure. Goes AWOL. Bogard as the officer appointed to defend him in the court martial. All the moral verities reviewed even while we know the inevitable outcome. Well worth watching to remind us what the moral champions of the past 50 years were banging on about. As we forget.
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. In a sense, the last battle was the straw that broke the camel's back.
The military doctor, played with gumption by Leo McKern, is pompous and utterly unsympathetic. He sees the solder as a man with cold feet, nothing more, and is not afraid to offer his small opinion on the matter.
Because it is not exactly a clear cut case of shell shock, the defense is no easy matter. Capt. Hargreaves reevaluates his opinion about the soldier, perhaps the WAR itself. One of the key dramatic moments is when the Court Senior Officers turn to Hargreaves and ask him "Will you now address the Court on the prisoners' behalf." Hargreaves responds. "No. I will not address the Court on his behalf. I will address the Court on its behalf."
Overall, everything about this picture forced me to think hard about war conditions for the soldiers - everything is filthy and damp - a metaphor for a bleeding wound. Even the courthouse - if you can call it that - is nothing but a makeshift blown out wooden shelter from the rain. There is nothing glamorous about the war in this film...it is one unending trial for the solders with certain death at both ends.
Dirt, disgusting mud, and dangerous rodents infest every part of the lives of these soldiers...and this part of the cinematography is very well done. They live in a hostile, cramped, and bleak world, a hell. No escape. The director brought in dirt and rats to make the movie during its 18 day shoot. He felt that by the end of the experience it was so nerve-wracking he thought he was himself in the trenches during World War I.
This is an IMPORTANT anti-war movie...one that is not as slick as Stanley Kubricks' "Paths of Glory", but one which is underneath far more powerful. The trial scene is very, very believable..and this opinion comes from a lawyer who has seen hundreds of trials.
And, from time to time, the director simply uses a "still shot" - a photograph of some event about the war. When the words "King and County" are uttered by the solider as a reason why he volunteered, the director inserts a still photograph of the German Kaiser and the British King (who look very similar) walking contentedly side by side. In reality they were nephew and uncle. Many have commentated on the royal family feud behind the death of millions in Europe.