Released in 1964 and directed by Joseph Losey, the film’s plot deals with a British soldier, Private Hamp, who is being charged with desertion. It is up to Captain Hargreaves to prevent a potential death sentence for him.
Both this movie and “Paths of Glory,” directed by Stanley Kubrick, share the same themes. These themes mainly deal with the issue of how brutal war can be. The two films show what dreadful consequences all the fighting can do to a man on a mental or psychological state. If one were to look at old photos or video of soldiers behaving strangely during the mid-1910s, that is mostly due to the WW1 having a serious impact on them.
I think this impact is done well for the character of Hamp. For the first time he is introduced, he has a blank and virtually expressionless face. You can tell that this man has seen terrible things, things that he does not want to participate in anymore. The performance he gives is also appropriate for a man of his condition. The way he speaks and his body language scream nervousness. He is truly scared at the horrors he witnessed while out on combat.
In terms of the atmosphere and setting, I will give this movie this, it is better than Paths of Glory in this department. This movie feels a bit darker in the way the lighting impacts the scenery, it almost feels like a noir film at times with the heavy contrast in light and heavy shadows.
The dark mood also extends in the cinematography, primarily in the beginning. I thought it was a nice intro in that it showed the muddy, wet terrain and an occasional dead soldier. So yes the dark atmosphere of this film I did appreciate, it definitely made it more gritty and a little more real than Paths of Glory. But at other times there are scenes that felt out of place. For example, there are a couple of shots of things relating to Private Hamp’s personal life and I feel the movie didn’t need to that. But then again the cinematography was good at foreshadowing or offer hidden themes.
During the court scene, it cuts to scenes of soldiers tormenting a rat. I think it’s good at foreshadowing the possible fate of Hamp. For he is the rat and soldiers are the generals. The scenes end with the rat being killed in water and the same goes for Hamp at the end. These scenes also illustrate the fact that soldiers too have the same condition of Hamp, which is “Shell Shock.” War turned them into something dangerous and it’s a fact that higher officials back then failed to see properly.
Now one of the big things that Paths of Glory had was following characters that you can feel sorry for and latch onto, I think this is something that King and Country, unfortunately, doesn’t deliver. This goes for the character of Hargreaves, who at one point collapses to the ground and his heart is devastated for not saving Hamp’s life. When I saw that, I felt pretty disconnected because of the fact this movie doesn’t offer an incite of who this character is and I didn’t feel like he truly cared for Hamp’s life at all.
Where in Paths of Glory, the main Colonel, played by Kirk Douglass, was actually with the three men who were executed toward the end, from the start. There was an actual connection and you wanted to see the Colonel save those men very badly. Then when they do get axed off, you feel very sad and are angry at the Generals in that movie for not seeing the big picture in studying a dangerous condition. I feel that’s the big thing going for King and Country, there wasn’t an emotional connection with Hargreaves and Hamp.
One didn’t feel the connection between the two and that resonates with Hamp himself. Like I said, his performance was good at showing a soldier who is mentally scarred. But him telling the reasons for his desertion, kind of loses some sympathy for the character. It would have been nice to actually see the moments of Hamp’s story play out visually rather than have him tell it to the audience.
The movie tends to drag, especially in the second act where it consists primarily of the court scene. On top of that, a large chunk of the characters are not interesting in the slightest and are not given enough screen time to make one gravitate towards on an emotional level.
King and Country, it is pretty average and mediocre anti- war movie that does better than Paths of Glory in terms of setting the gritty, realism of war. But not making interesting enough characters or having a sense of care for them loses it for me dearly.