Movie Review – King and Country (1964)

Director: Joseph Losey

Stars: Dirk Bogarde, Tom Courtenay, Leo McKern, Barry Foster, Peter Copley

During WW1, Private Hamp (Courtenay) is accused of desertion with the penalty of death before a firing squad. Captain Hargreaves (Bogarde) is responsible for his defence and tries to prove that Hamp wasn’t in the right state of mind,, all the while shells and bombs are going off all around them as they’re in the trenches.

I do like war films and this combines with another of my favourite genres; courtroom dramas. The subject isn’t really anything new but it does make some good commentary on how the mind can be a fragile thing and simply saying, ‘Pull yourself together!’ is not valuable treatment. Courtenay was earnest in his role and always gave the air of someone who didn’t quite grasp the magnitude of his actions. Hargreaves is a more complicated character as he sympathises with Hamp but also displays a detestable attitude towards the man, and I was never quite sure if he believed what he was defending.

There were some good contrasts though, when Hamp thanked Hargreaves for defending him the officer responded by saying that he was doing his duty, and if Hamp had stuck to that they wouldn’t be in the mess they were in.

While the case is being heard, the rest of the men are having their own trial with a rat. The contrast with Hamp isn’t subtle but it is effective. There’s a strong anti-war sentiment here, and it has some scathing commentary on the officers in charge, especially when the verdict is revealed, and even more so when the reason for that verdict is given. The movie is also interspersed with actual photographs, which provides a harrowing reminder that this was a grim reality.

I can see why it has been overshadowed by other films but I really enjoyed it and the ending is powerful. It definitely deserves a bigger audience, so check out King and Country if you can.

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