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国王与国家

ThelasttimeBritainwasamajorforceinworldcinemawasinthe1960s;adocumentaryofafewyearsbackonthesubjectwasentitled’HollywoodUK’.ThiswastheeraoftheKitchenSink,socialrealism,angryyoungmen;aboveall,thetheatrical.Andyet,ironically,thebestBritishfilmsofthedecadeweremadebytwoAmericans,RichardLesterandJosephLosey,wholargelystayedclearoftheperiod’smoretypicalsubjectmatter,which,likeallattemptsatgreaterrealism,nowseemscuriouslyarchaic.’KingandCountry’,though,seemstobetheLoseyfilmthattriestobelongtoitsera.Like’LookBackinAnger’and’ATasteofHoney’,itisbasedonaplay,andoftenseemscumbersomelytheatrical.Like’Lonelinessofthelongdistancerunner’,itsheroisanexploited,reluctantlytransgressiveworkingclassladplayedbyTomCourtenay.Like(theadmittedlybrilliant)’ChargeoftheLightBrigade’,itisahorrified,near-farcical(thoughhumourless)lookatthehorrorsofwar,mostparticularlyitsgapingclassinjustices.PrivateHampisayoungvolunteersoldieratPachendaele,havingservedthreeyearsatthefront,whoiscourt-martialledfordesertion.Increasinglyterrorisedbytheinhumanpointlessnessoftrenchwarfare,thespeedy,grisly,violentdeathsofhiscomradesandthemedieval,rat-infestedconditionsofhistrench,heclaimstohaveemergeddazedfromonegruesomeattackanddecidedtowalkhome,toEngland.HeisdefendedbythearchetypalBritishofficer,CaptainHargreaves,whoprofessesdisdainfortheman’scowardice,butmustdohisduty.Heattemptstospinadefenceonthegroundsofmadness,buttheupper-crustofficershavehearditallbefore.Thisisaverynice,dulyhorrifying,liberal-handwringing,middle-classplay.ItpanderstoalltheclichesoftheGreatWar-thedisgracefulworking-classmassacre,whiletheofficerssupwhiskey(Haig!)-figuredinsomecharminglyobvioussymbolism:Hargreavesthrowingadyingcigaretteinthemud;Hamphystericallyplayingblindman’sbuff.Thesetsarepicturesquelygrim,medieval,amoderninferno,asthesemenlietrappedinanever-ending,subterraneanlabyrinth,litbyhellishfires,withratsforcompanyandtheconstantsoundofshellsandgunfireremindingthemoftheoutsideworld.Theplay,inaverymiddle-classway,isnotreallyabouttheworkingclassatall-Hampismoreofasymbol,anessence,lyinginthedark,desolatelyplayinghisharmonica,anoteofhumanityinascoreofinhumanity.Hedoesn’tdevelopasacharacter.TheplayisreallyaboutHargreaves,hisrealisationoftheshabbyinadequacyofnotionslikeduty.Hedevelops.Thisrealisationsendshimtodrink(tastierthandying!).Likehisprolesubordinates,hefallsinthemud,justasHampissaidtohavedone;heevensaystohissuperior’Weareallmurderers’.Thisisallveryeffective,ifnotmuchofadevelopmentofRCSherriff’screaky’Journey’sEnd’,filmedbyJamesWhalein1930.Itsearnestnessandverbositymayseemalittlestiltedintheageof’PathsofGlory’and’Dr.Strangelove’;wemayfeelthat’Blackaddergoesforth’isatruerrepresentationoftheGreatWar.ButwhatIhavedescribedisnotthefilmLoseyhasmade.Heistoosophisticatedandcannyanintellectualforthat.ThefilmopenswithalingeringpanoveroneofthosemonumentalWarmemorialsyouseealloverBritain(andpresumablyEurope),asiftosayLoseyisgoingtoquestionthereceivedideasofthisstatue,thehumancost.Butwhathe’sreallyquestioningisthisplay,anditswoefulinadequacytorepresentthemanifoldcomplexitiesoftheWar.ThisisBrechtianfilmmakingatitsmostsubtle.Weareconstantlymadeawareoftheartificeofthefilm,thetheatrical-thestilteddialogueisspokenwithdeliberatestiffness;theatricalritualsareemphasised(theinitialinterrogation;thecourtscene,whereactorsliterallytreadtheboards,enunciatingthepredictablespeeches;themirror-playputonbythehystericalsoldiersandtherats;thereligiousceremony;thehorriblefarceoftheexecution).Prosceniumarchesaremadeprominent,audiencesobserveevents.Thisisaplaythatwouldseektocontain,humanise,explaintheGreatWar.Thisisahopelesstask,asLosey’sprovisionalapparatusexplains,’real’photographsofharrowingdetritusfadingfromthescreenasifeventhesearenotenoughtoconveytheWar,nevermindawell-made,bourgeoisplay.Losey’svisionmaybeapocalyptic-itquestionsthepossibilityofrepresentationatall-thevarioustagsofpoetryquotedmakenoimpactonhardmenmenwhorattledthemoffwhenyoung;theShakespeareandualityof’noble’dramacommentedonby’low’comedy,effectsnotranscendence,nogreaterinsight.Losey’scameraworkandcompositionrepeatedlybreaksourinvolvementwiththedrama,anywishwemighthaveformanlysentimentality;inoneremarkablesceneanofficertakesanAubreyBeardsleybookfromthecameraman!Thisideaofthetheatricalevidentlymirrorstherigidclass’roles’playedbythemaincharacters(Hamp’sfatherandgrandfatherwerecobblerstoo;presumablyHargreaves’werealwaysSandhurstcadets).Loseyalsotakesasideswipeatthekitchensinkproject,byusingitstools-historyhasbornehimout.

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