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In 1983 Julian Mitchell wrote a play based on fact about a young man
(Guy Bennett) who, seeing the constraints of British society circa
1930, embraces his sexuality in a time when even the words were
criminal, sees through the sad folly of the British class and empire
system, and eventually abandons England to become a spy for Russia. The
played starred a young 21-year-old Rupert Everett and a 20-year-old
Kenneth Branagh as Guy's heterosexual roommate Tommy Judd, an obsessed
Marxist as ready to leap out of the norm of British society as Guy -
but for different reasons. Director Marek Kanievska adapted Mitchell's
challenging play for the screen, and in 1984 ANOTHER COUNTRY became a
sterling recreation of the play and a controversial film introducing
the extraordinarily talented and continuingly popular Rupert Everett
(who remains one of the few 'out' actors enjoying success in
Hollywood). Colin Firth assumed the role of Tommy and Cary Elwes became
the gay love interest for Everett's Guy Bennett. The film is one of the
finest examinations of the rigid, archaically proper British schools
for young men (Eton) where class is paramount in importance, rank
reigns, and medieval views of sexuality and out of line thought are
treated with public corporal punishment and (worst of all!) the
inability to rise in the ranks of the 'important' lads. Throughout the
film there is a powerful parallel between Guy's striving to become the
head of the class being thwarted by his pursuing is passion for his
love of men, and the 'religious zeal' approach of Tommy's absorption in
Marxism, seeing Communism as the only way to correct the 'vile
sickness' of current British politics and social strata. The
undercurrents of bigotry are brought into focus when a fine young lad
(Martineau) is caught in a sexual act with one of his classmates and is
shamed into hanging himself. And when Guy's sexual tryst with James
Harcourt is 'discovered', Guy is beaten in front of his compatriots,
prompting him to see (with Tommy in agreement) the dead-end of British
society and leave the remnants of a once glorious empire behind.
As a delightful Special Feature on this very well made DVD there is a scene from the stage production in the year prior to the film, and the dialogue between Rupert Everett and Kenneth Branagh is incisive and brilliant. This film is a masterpiece, not only in the screenplay, but also in the sensitive direction, the exquisite cinematography, and the amazingly superb acting of not only Everett and Firth, but of the entire large cast. An absolutely brilliant film.
I was living in France when this film was first released. I had seen the
stage play and thoroughly enjoyed it. The film was so good I actually saw
it twice over it's opening weekend.
The bulk of the action is set in an English boarding school in the 1930s. This is marvelously portrayed - school bullies, inter house rivalries, the cadet force, cricket - and there is some marvelous interaction between Rupert Everett and Colin Firth. The latter's impassioned defence of Stalin is understated comedy at its finest.
This is a film of great subtlety and beauty, well acted, and underpinned by a haunting soundtrack.
This film is both visually and dramatically impressive. From the outset,
are treated to lavish cinematography of Eton College and its grounds and
surrounding countryside. This is contrasted with the drab scenes of Moscow
from where Guy Bennet recounts his story. Everything is bathed in a golden
glow, backed up by the sound of boyish voices singing hymns (the title
itself comes from popular school hymn 'I vow to Thee my Country'; which
sung at the funeral of Princess Diana in 1997).
This contrasts starkly with the brutality of the school's disciplinary system, where one boy is so ashamed of being caught in a homosexual act that he hangs himself in the school chapel. Those who question the school's code become outcasts, such as Bennet and Judd, unless they are 'useful' in some way - ie when Judd is needed to prevent an unpopular boy becoming head of house.
One important fact I noticed is that you hardly ever see a master in the school, and you never see the boys in lessons: this shows Eton not as merely a school, but as a microcosm of society with its own specific hierarchy.
There is interesting character development: Bennett, initially a philanderer who takes nothing seriously, eventually realises that he is a confirmed homosexual and begins to understand Judd's vision of a perfect society possible through communism ('not heaven on earth, but earth on earth - a just earth')Similarly Judd realises that sometimes it is necessary to sacrifice one's principles for the greater good.
There is a lot about this film that is hackneyed - the bullying, sadistic prefects, the angelic boys with floppy fringes singing chapel anthems, the stock rebellious phrases etc, (and I won't even mention Guy Bennet's ludicrous old-man makeup)but overall it is a beautiful piece of cinematography with some good acting from the young Mr Everett and Mr Firth.
Another Country is a very telling portrait of life at one of England's
top private schools in the 1930s. On the surface, everything looks
perfect. Privileged youth frolics in a variety of beautiful locations,
whilst receiving the best education money could buy. It all looks
idyllic, but of course, there is a dark underbelly of violence and
prejudice that provokes a life changing decision for the main
character, Guy Bennett, played very elegantly by Rupert Everett. Colin
Firth's character provides a nice Communist commentary on the appalling
elitism of English society and he and Everett both turn in exceptional
performances. This movie clearly launched both of their careers.
Although the natural beauty of the locations would have made it hard for anyone to make an ugly picture, this film is so exquisitely shot and scored, that it is almost painful at times. Sure there are some bad moments (Rupert Everett's terrible make up for his scenes as the aged Bennett springs to mind and there is a certain clichéd quality to some of the scenes) but on the whole, the good far outweighs the bad.
I saw this movie again the other day and am impressed at how well it has held up. Though it's a little hard to follow the arcane hierarchies of 1930s British public school life, that is precisely the point-- these people are suffocating in the meaningless rituals of their class. Rupert Everett and Colin Firth give outstanding performances as the openly gay and communist members of their school, and the unfolding of the relationship between Everett and Cary Elwes is some of the most romantic footage I've ever seen. Though very few of us live in such a stratified social climate these days, we would do well to understand the webs of hierarchy and ritual that bind us all in one way or another.
Forget the prologue which preludes the long flashback which is the core
of the movie.First scene:in a room,two boys make love while,in the main
courtyard of the posh school (Eton?),a ceremony commemorates the dead
soldier of WW1,with pump and circumstance:the two bedrocks of the
family, Army and Religion taking in hand the third one:School.Behind
these walls,inside these venerable buildings,mortal hatred ,intolerance
and repression are looming.Outside,the splendid landscapes are
unchanging,particularly this quiet river which comes back as a
leitmotiv.And most of the students wants to keep the world as it
is,because they know they are part of the privileged few.Their studies
are a mere rehearsal of their life-to-be. Becoming a prefect,what a
feat! Being called "god" what a honor! Being able to push the others
out of your way,that makes you a man!
Two young men refuse the rules of the game:the first one ,Tommy (a good Colin Firth),the most loyal character of a rather obnoxious. gathering.He sticks to his ideals,and he will die for them.He believes in Marx and in Stalin(we're in the thirties ) ;he would never betray anybody,and the audience sides with him most of the time. The second one ,Guy,(Rupert Everett at his best)is a gay,in love with a younger pal.He,too,rebels against this rigid institutions,but he's more complex:actually he tries to become a prefect and then a god,because he has kept his ambitions and he would easily opt for a compromise solution.He could but he will not..Homosexuality,when it's secret is no problem for the bourgeois society.Guy's character will mute and finally he realizes that he cannot live in the shadow.That's his downfall.
No commies,no gays can be part of the crème de la crème.The posh school reputation,once the non-straight ones(in the general sense of the word)are eradicated,can sleep the sleep of the just.
Sometimes compared with Lindsay Anderson's "If"(1970),its atmosphere is drastically different though :there's no dreamlike sequences here,no madness.It rather recalls "der junge Torless" (Schloendorff,1966)and it might have influenced James Ivory's "Maurice" (1986). An overlooked important movie.
Another Country was one of those films that both captured the spirit of an era and helped define it - in the best possible sense. While one can easily lump all 80s pop music and fashion together as over-styled and kitschy, it is not possible to do so with the films of that decade, certainly not the British ones, not with Chariots of Fire, Educating Rita, My Beautiful Launderette and Another Country so vividly remembered. These were works of art, perfectly weaving style and substance together. Another Country presents a complex tale with - what was/is to some - unpalatable subject matter, and indecipherable detail (the life of the British upper class is, and always was, amusing, bizarre, implausible. Gilbert and Sullivan built careers on this fact). Yet, there is no sign of attempts to simplify, or strip out the seemingly unnecessarily intricate, or to moralize - either way - beyond the context of the story, the homosexuality depicted. The result is a film that is detailed, rich, compelling and (in a strange way, despite the historical facts upon which the story is based) apolitical.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Forget the premise that homosexuality was the reason Burgess became a
spy... a dubious conclusion. This movie is about ambition and how far
one is willing to sacrifice one's principles to achieve it. The premise
is explicitly stated in the opening frames with the voice-over from the
aged Guy Bennett (fictionalized Burgess): "You've no idea what life in
England in the 1930s was like. Treason and loyalty... they're all
relative, you know. Treason to what? Loyalty to whom? That's what
It is the 1930s in a famous public school in England. Rupert Everett is the star turn as homosexual Guy Bennett, who longs to become a "God" (head boy) as a senior; Colin Firth plays the supporting role of his best friend Tommy Judd, a devout Communist. It was the first film for each actor and they're both terrific right out of the box.
While Guy (RE) is self-consciously theatrical (he refers grandly to a "tumescent archway") the dialogue between the two roommates is simple and real. In one scene Guy puts a quick move on Tommy (CF). He comes up behind Tommy, puts one hand over his eyes to pull his head back and with the other rapidly starts unbuttoning Tommy's pajama shirt.
G: Alone at last! T: (bored/amused) Get OFF. G: I'll get you one day. T: No you won't. G: Yes I will. Everyone gives in, in the end. It's Bennett's Law. T: I won't give in. G: Well, you're not normal. (later) G: The reason everyone gives in in the end is they get lonely, doing it on their own. They long for company. T: Well, I don't. Not your sort, anyway. G: (insisting) That's why my mother is marrying this awful Colonel person. T: It couldn't just possibly be that she loves him? G: Out of the question. He's got one of those awful little mustaches. Ghastly. Almost as much of a loather as my father was. T: (amused) You mean even you would draw the line? G: Don't be revolting. He's a grownup. T: Of course. And it's all just a passing phase. G: Exactly. Just like you being a Communist. T: (sarcastic) Ha ha. G: (pause) Judd-- T: Hmm? G: You and your usherette -- T: What about her? G: Is it really so different? T: From what? G: BOYS. T: Well how would I know? I've only ever had a girl.
The whole scene takes place as the boys are changing the linens on their bunks, going down to the laundry room, folding sheets, getting new ones. It's a great, understated scene. Tommy Judd is calmly not threatened by Guy's flamboyance and homosexuality. What resonates throughout the movie is the feeling of genuineness and honesty between these two in a cavernous school where everything is about power, leverage, and bullying.
The struggles in the movie concern ambition vs. principles. Guy is determined to be a God. Will Tommy sacrifice his principles for his friend's ambition? Will he sacrifice them simply for his friend? Meanwhile will Guy sacrifice his boyfriend for his own ambition?
T: I can't do it. I just cannot be a prefect. G: Why not? T: I do have my reputation, you know. G: (snorts) Your what? T: I'm a school joke, I quite realize that. But I am, don't you think, a respected joke? I do at least stick to my principles. People appreciate that. I abandon them now --
and he winds himself up into a passionate speech about how people will think he's a fake, Communists are fake, and Stalin's a fake! He's almost in tears -- and then the head boy comes and he has to dive under a table (he and Guy are out of bed after hours)!
Finally: G: (speaking of the head boy): My God, that man is really cracking up. T: Liberals always do under pressure. G: You know, you're a really hard man, Tommy. T: I've no time for him. He just wants a nice easy life and a nice easy conscience. And he's got no right to either.
There are a lot more great exchanges. G: (sarcastically, about Communism) Heaven on Earth? T: (calmly) Earth on earth. A just earth.
The friendship between Guy Bennett and Tommy Judd seems far more touching and real -- far more the heart of the movie -- than the sketched-in affair between Guy and James Harcourt, the character played by Cary Elwes.
The whole production is filled with dewy, beautiful boys, starting with Everett, who at 24 is painfully gorgeous with his big eyes and ripe, petulant mouth. Firth at 23 has the sweetness of youth but otherwise is allowed to appear rather skinny and plain. (No eyebrows, hair standing on end, and 1930s round spectacles.) But his eyes glow with intensity and commitment. You totally believe his passion. Very tough to believe it was his first time in front of a camera.
The movie itself is far from perfect. Some might think it slow and rather precious. But the messages about ambition and loyalty are timeless, and the Everett/Firth scenes are wonderful.
Every actor in the movie is perfectly suited to their character, and you
can't day that about every movie you see.
Rupert is in love with a ray of sunshine in the human form of Cary Elwes, and Colin is screaming for the revolution to begin. The movie is about them, what living in England at the time would have been like, and what living in a boys school was like also.
The boys seem to accept Rupert because it is widely assumed that he will grow out of it. When he declares it as a way of life, his unhappiness begins. He is able to be friends with Colin Firth because they are both outcasts in their way ("The Commie and the queer" is how he describes them at one point").
The movie is very enjoyable and it is worth a look. You've spent ninety minutes doing stupider things than watching this.
A quintessentially English film, with a style close to Brideshead
Stunning privilege intertwined with acute suffering.
Haunting, trepid, futile, beautiful.
My favourite quote: Interviewer: Is there anything you miss about England? Guy: I miss the cricket.
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