Sword of Honour
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Thirty-five-year-old Englishman Guy Crouchback returns home from Italy at the start of the war determined to fight the good fight. Horrified by Nazi barbarism and emotionally shattered by a painful divorce, Crouchback eagerly accepts a post with the elite Royal Corps of Halberdiers. But nothing has prepared him for the absurd reality of life in the British army or the return of his alluring ex-wife.
Based on Evelyn Waughs semi-autobiographical World War II epic, Sword of Honour stars Daniel Craig (Casino Royale, Munich), Megan Dodds (Love in a Cold Climate), Richard Coyle (Coupling), and Leslie Phillips (Love on a Branch Line). "More powerful and moving by the minute" The Times (U.K.)
War is hell, but it can bring out the best in the unlikeliest of men. Sword of Honour, a splendid British miniseries, is based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Evelyn Waugh. Waugh's alter ego in the film, Guy Crouchback, played with gravitas, fortitude, and a wee bit of vulnerability by a pre-James Bond Daniel Craig, joins the World War II effort as an older soldier because he feels a pure calling to fight evil. And fight he does, though the realities of war and army life are ultimately revealed to him in all their venality and haphazardness. The film sweeps across Europe, from pre-war England--where life for the upper crust is all crisp linen, martinis, and a fierce denial of the notion that the British Empire is, in fact, doomed--to Capt. Crouchback's missions in Vichy France, an utterly destroyed Crete, Egypt, and more. All the while, Crouchback fights his own demons along with the Nazis; his alluring ex-wife, Virginia (played with sultry sensuality by the American actress Megan Dodds, so memorable in the British series MI-5), to whom Crouchback is undeniably still drawn. The action and production values are topnotch, as is the ensemble cast. But the key is Craig, whose world-weary demeanor only barely masks the needs of a soldier--and a man--who is all too human. His performance is soul-stirring, and even those who think they aren't war-film fans will be captivated by the layered storytelling here. Extras include cast filmographies and a biography of Waugh. --A.T. Hurley
- Evelyn Waugh biography
- Cast filmographies
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Some fans of the film may have bones to pick with this production but for those like me who have not read it the film plays beautifuly.
The locations are stunning and the film has immense sweep and drama. Comedy also plays a major role in this film so in the end it is bitter sweet and oh so satisfying. Epic in scope and yet intimate and touching a wonderful film that kept me glued to the tube.
better treatise on the futility of war has never been written
To its credit, despite the massive slashing, it does still remain true to the spirit of the book. The ending is changed but I'm not sure what a previous reviewer meant when he said that it was a "happy" ending. In the book, the story ends with Guy marrying Lady Plessington's daughter, Domenica, the good Catholic girl who cared for his dead wife's son in his absence. In the film, the Plessingtons are entirely eliminated. The film ends with the brief scene of Guy alone with his sister back in their ancestral estate. He tells her of how his Italian villa has been taken over by the murderous Ludovic and how he has come back to Broome to shepherd what is left of the once great Crouchback lands. From the book we know that most of it is actually gone. There is nothing particularly "happy" about this. In fact if you were to pause and reflect, you would realise that it was an intensely sad ending - not only has Guy lost most of his physical possessions, he has also seen the moral values he grew with cynically trampled underfoot; and in accepting Virginia's child as his own, he has given away all that remains of the Crouchback legacy to the son of a commoner and a bounder. For me that final shot where he embraces his dead wife's love-child as his own, shows more than anything, the immense goodness in his soul; that far from being diminished by all the liars, cheats, and traitors he has encountered and all the unfairness that life has thrown at him, he has kept intact his honour and the essential goodness which defines him as a man.
The story takes in all the places where Waugh himself saw action. So the film sweeps us along from England to Scotland, from Senegal to Egypt, from Crete to Croatia (Yugoslavia), and finally from Italy, back home to England. Some commentators have rightfully called it an anti-epic because despite the many hairy situations and exotic locations in which he finds himself, Guy never actually gets to fight in a major battle. The battles we see on screen, as in the book, are almost all farcical and point to the utter stupidity and futility of war. Guy finally realises the truth of this in his conversation with the Jewish woman Mme Kanyi who consoles him with the line, "Even good men thought that by going to war, they could win a kind of honour," to which he acknowledges tearfully, "God forgive me. I was one of them."
In this adaptation, the Sword of Honour is purely a metaphor. The actual physical Sword of Honour is never mentioned in the film. In the book, there is a physical Sword of Honour, embodied in the Sword of Stalingrad given by King George VI to Stalin in 1943 to seal the newly forged Anglo-Russian alliance. Crouchback like Waugh was aghast at this alliance with the Godless Communists and the apparent betrayal of all that he thought he had been fighting for - the defense of Christian civilisation. To him, the British alliance with Communist Russia and the betrayal of Catholic Poland and Croatia to Communism was simply trading one evil for another and this was the bitter irony that the physical Sword of Honour represented.
Daniel Craig (the latest James Bond), makes a fine Guy Crouchback. It's to his credit as an actor that he looks not the least bit like the suave secret agent he would later become. Here he is a naive, idealistic, earnest, slightly befuddled English gentleman; just a simple good man trying to do the right thing. Megan Dodds (Love in a Cold Climate) is absolutely gorgeous as Guy's fickle and materialistic wife Virginia. Richard Coyle (the clownish Jeff in Coupling) is engagingly funny as Trimmer/McTavish, the ex-hairdresser who becomes the unlikeliest hero and one of the many conquests of the faithless Virginia.
It's not perfect by any means. It will certainly infuriate many Waugh fans. But this highly abridged adaptation is very well done and a pleasure to watch. It doesn't deserve anything less than a 4-star rating. The DVD is in the original 1.78:1 AR (enhanced for widescreen TV). Picture quality is excellent. Audio is in the original 2.0 Dolby Surround but is rather boomy, with the dialogue less than crystal clear. Unfortunately, Acorn, as always, does not provide any subtitles. There are no extras whatsoever.