Joseph Losey’s King and Country is without a doubt one of the most shattering war films ever made. Rather than focusing on the combat and the lives lost on the battlefield, the film focuses on Private Hamp (Tom Courtenay) – captured after “going for a walk” from Passchendaele, in attempted desertion. What follows is Hamp’s trial, where he is defended by Captain Hargreaves (Dirk Bogarde) who initially struggles to hide his contempt for Hamp but will ultimately become his best and most understanding ally.
The film is timeless in its portrayal of the brutality of all aspects of war, and the price paid by those who made any attempt to escape it and return home. A particularly chilling moment is when Hargreaves attempts to make the case that Hamp is suffering from shellshock, and Hamp is quickly labelled a “lunatic” with no regard for his basic humanity or the reasons for this possible shellshock. While a greater understanding of the mental toll of war has been made in the years since, it’s an upsetting and sobering reminder of a time when mental health issues were so disregarded.
Adapted from the play Hamp by John Wilson, King and Country does have a very theatrical feel – not just in the wonderful thespian performances, but also in the somewhat small locations and generally claustrophobic feel of the film. This feeling obviously ties into Hamp’s plight and feeling of being trapped, but it certainly makes it easy to see the story’s initial home on the stage.
StudioCanal’s new Blu-ray release is a revelation, bringing the film’s hauntingly stark black & white imagery to life like never before. King and Country looks dark and upsetting, complimenting the film’s harrowing subject. It’s a beautiful disc that will be appreciated by fans, while being a wonderful way for newcomers to experience the film after years of it being somewhat difficult to source.
Another must-own title in StudioCanal’s Vintage Classics series, King and Country is a raw, sobering film that has lost none of its power to shock.