During World War I, Army Private Arthur James Hamp is accused of desertion during battle. The officer assigned to defend him at his court-martial, Captain Hargreaves, finds out there is more to the case than meets the eye.
During World War I, the British troops are entrenched at Passchendaele, Belgium. Amongst the volunteers, there is a young British soldier, Private Arthur James Hamp (Sir Tom Courtenay), 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 (Sir Dirk Bogarde) is assigned to be Hamp's defending attorney, but he seems skeptical about the deserter's chances of acquittal. During their first talk, Captain Hargreaves is impressed by his client's utter sincerity and naivete. He learns that his client ...Written by
"King & Country" is a film about a man who deserted from his unit during WWI. After over three years of fighting, the naive young man had frankly had enough and began walking home from France. Considering he grew up in Britain, he seemed either a bit dumb or just so psychologically damaged that the impossibility of his task eluded him. In many ways, this film is reminiscent of the exceptional Stanley Kubrick film "Paths of Glory"--about an entire unit of French soldiers who simply refused to fight due to the utter stupidity and waste of life of this so-called 'Great War'. In fact, both would make an excellent double-feature.
The film begins with an officer (Dirk Bogarde) being asked to defend a deserter. It's obvious that he assumes the man is guilty and deserves to be executed and is doing this only out of obligation. As for the deserter (Tom Courtenay), he is an odd fellow. While he obviously was brave for volunteering and fighting in so many god-awful battles, his reaction to all this is a bit odd--like he doesn't fully appreciate the horrible predicament he's in at this time. He seems guileless and naive.
As far as the trial goes, you know that the court must find him guilty and execute him, lest they admit that the war was a horrible mistake--futile and an atrocity upon the people....and they certainly were not about to admit that. It is simply preordained and Bogarde seems to have little care about the doomed man--he is only doing it out of obligation--even after he gets to know the man and pleads his case. Only towards the very end of the story do we see Bogarde regard the man as anything other than a coward--and then the accumulated horror of the war and its stupidity is revealed. However, at the same time, the momentum of the film slows down to a crawl--and the film unfortunately ends with a bit of a fizzle. Overall, it's quite good in some ways but just barely misses the mark.
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