King & Country (1964)

King & Country (1964)

“I just started walking — walking away from the guns.”

A working class British soldier (Tom Courtenay) during World War I is defended by a compassionate lawyer (Dirk Bogarde) when he’s accused of desertion.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Courtroom Drama
  • Dirk Bogarde Films
  • Joseph Losey Films
  • Play Adaptation
  • Soldiers
  • Tom Courtenay Films
  • World War I

In between helming The Servant (1963) and Modesty Blaise (1966), Joseph Losey directed this adaptation of a 1955 novel by John Lansdale Hodson, which was turned into a play called Hamp. It’s a decidedly bleak tale all-around, with Courtenay posited as a sympathetic if slightly simple-minded young man who volunteered to serve in the Great War, then suffered from PTSD after losing all of his original company members and started wandering back home (i.e., deserting).

As Courtenay expains to Bogarde (assigned to defend him), “Well, I wasn’t really thinking about it, sir, one way or the other. I just couldn’t stand it anymore.” When asked to share more about the recurrent idea of deserting, he states:

“Well, the time this really started going in my head, I got blown into a shell hole. Two of the lads pulled me out with their rifles… I’d seen it happen to a bloke a couple of days before; he slipped off the duck boards into the hole [and drowned in the mud]… I thought it was my lot, see. I was going to drown in it, like he did, sucked into it, fighting it, drowning in it. Oh, after that I couldn’t stand it anymore.”

A central facet of the storyline is that Courtenay’s Private Hamp can’t “say it any different” to Bogarde or others; all he knows is that he needed to get away from “any place [he] could hear guns” though he “didn’t have a plan”, and he admits that his actual walk towards home was “like a dream” and he “didn’t know what was really happening.” Narrative tension is built from wondering how or if Bogarde will be able to help him — and if not, how his company mates will support him. Losey, cinematographer Denys N. Coop, production designer Richard Macdonald, and art director Peter Mullins do an admirable job helping audiences sense the muddy, bleak claustrophobia of the trenches, all through sets:

… and both Bogarde and Courtenay are excellent in their respective leading roles. This isn’t an easy film to watch by any means, but it’s worth a one-time look.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Dirk Bogarde as Captain Hargreaves
  • Tom Courtenay as Private Hamp
  • Atmospheric cinematography

Must See?
No, but it’s worth a look if you can stomach it.


One thought on “King & Country (1964)

  1. First viewing (12/12/21). A once-must, as a solid and engaging wartime-court drama.

    Simple, straightforward – an admirably economic script by Evan Jones, solid direction by Losey, atmospheric production design and fine performances by the entire cast. Very effective and memorable.

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