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During World War One, the British troops are entrenched at Passchendaele, Belgium. Among the volunteers there is a young British soldier, Arthur Hamp, who is the sole survivor of his original company. Hamp spent three years in the trenches and this makes him a veteran. He has never been accused of cowardice but one day he simply decides to leave the war behind him and walk all the way home to Britain. In Calais, France, he is challenged by a Military Police patrol who promptly arrests him for leaving without permission. Hamp's commanding officers decide to convene a Court Martial and charge him with desertion. If found guilty, Hamp could be shot by a firing squad. Captain Hargreaves is assigned to be Hamp's defending attorney but he seems skeptical about his chances of acquittal for the deserter. During their first talk, Captain Hargreaves is impressed by his client's utter sincerity and naivete. He learns that his client volunteered on a dare by his friends back home, spent three ... Written by
The obvious comparison that can be made with King & Country is Paths Of Glory. Both are concerned with people being tried for desertion and cowardice in World War I. Both are outstanding films though I would give the edge to Paths Of Glory.
One important distinction must be made. Paths Of Glory is an American made film with a French setting about wholesale French desertion during a battle and three guys being courtmartialed and shot as examples. King & Country is a British film with an American director at the helm about the British experience in trench warfare encapsulated in the story of one poor English Tommy.
With the last American dough-boy dying this year, World War I is a memory now with no first hand account of what it was like in those trenches. I know the last French veteran also passed away, I'm not sure of the British forces including those in the Commonwealth. America entered in 1917 and our Expeditionary force saw its first action in Belleau Wood in the spring of 1918. By November 11 of that year it was over. We had six months or so, the Allies and the Central Powers had four years.
All fought for ground gain measured in yards. A stalemate of opposing trenches stretching from Belgium to the Swiss border of France. And both sides throwing everything including poison gas in attempt to break through and score the decisive knockout blow.
Tom Courtenay plays Private Hamp who just saw the slaughter of his entire battalion and just went into shell shock and walked out of the trench in the direction of the coast of France and Great Britain. When he was caught he became a symbol of resistance to the futility of war that the British Army could not tolerate.
Like Paths Of Glory the verdict is already fixed though his defense counsel Dirk Bogarde makes a gallant attempt to save Courtney who is a total innocent as to the forces around him. One particularly good supporting performance is that of Leo McKern who plays the officer bringing the charges. He's a complete fool and there were many like him in all the armies of World War I who had not the wit or imagination to just call a halt to the slaughter.
Unlike Paths Of Glory, Dirk Bogarde has a humiliating indignity that Kirk Douglas did not have placed on him. King & Country is a fine film showing if not the futility of war itself, the futility of that particular war that scarred the world for generations and is still scarring it yet.
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