John Boorman's 1987 masterpiece "Hope and Glory" was autobiographical gold, a young boy's fevered view of the London Blitz: surviving Nazi bombs was fun, but a family on edge? Yikes.
Now comes the 82-year-old master's long-awaited sequel, "Queen & Country." It's 1952, and 18-year-old Billy Rowan (Callum Turner) is a newly conscripted soldier in a postwar army run by throwback martinets (David Thewlis, Richard E. Grant) who practically beg to be razzed by Billy and his troublemaking friend Percy (a deliriously jittery Caleb Landry Jones).
The first film's joyous view of British pluck has led to a more quietly breezy send-off to a declining empire, and a generation determined to usher in a less rigid England. There's plenty of funny barracks high jinks regarding arcane rules and a stolen clock, and delightful home scenes surrounding Queen Elizabeth II's televised coronation, with a tartly amusing turn by Vanessa Kirby as Billy's divorced, outspoken older sister.
But the protagonist's falling for a beautiful depressive (Tamsin Egerton) never takes hold, and there's less pure cinema on display from a filmmaker typically known for visual flair. Boorman's point of view and on-screen alter ego seemed stylistically in sync in the first film, but "Queen & Country" — though often charming — has a tendency to wander and strain, which might say enough about capturing '50s England.
A frisky final scene hints at the future director in Boorman and stirs hope for a dramatization of his early filmmaking days. But if Boorman's camera has run its last reel, as he's indicated with "Queen & Country," this grandmaster has at least left us with the desire for more.
"Queen & Country"
MPAA rating: None.
Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes.
Playing: Laemmle's Royal, West L.A.; Laemmle's Playhouse 7, Pasadena; Laemmle's Town Center 5, Encino.