Geoffrey Macnab speaks to the English film-maker about the sequel to his autobiographical feature Hope and Glory.
Queen And Country, John Boorman’s new feature, is a sequel to the director’s 1987 autobiographical feature Hope And Glory. Having made a film about his childhood experiences in London during the Blitz, Boorman has now made one set a decade or so later. In 1952, the now 18-year-old Bill Rohan is conscripted into the British army and faced with fighting in the Korean War.
Boorman had originally intended to carry on Bill’s story straight after Hope And Glory but “other things interceded”. He was also wary about making the new film when “a lot of the people involved were still around…the people that some of those characters are based on are no longer alive and so it makes it easier.”
It has been a few years since your last feature The Tiger’s Tail in 2006. Why the delay?
I spent two or three years preparing and scripting a big picture about the Emperor Hadrian. It never transpired. I’ve been writing and directing several radio plays. I’ve written a children’s book called The Honey Wars. I’ve been ferreting away there. I am 81 now and I’ve been taking it a little bit easier.
There was talk of you making an animated Wizard Of Oz.
That was another thing I did in those years. I wrote the script and I storyboarded it with a storyboard artist, every shot, and it is sitting there. If they get the money, they can make it!
Was Queen And Country easy to finance?
No film is - nothing I’ve ever been involved in has been straightforward. Jean Labadie of Le Pacte put up some money. We got a little bit from the BFI and from the Irish Film Board and borrowed a bit - and that is where it is. We hope in Cannes we can sell it.
Where did you shoot?
We shot three or four days on the Thames. After that, we shot in Romania for economic reasons. We had a lot of sets to build - streets, a camp. They [Romania] have very good crews.
Did you keep diaries in the period the film depicts?
I’ve kept journals since I was 16. I was able to go back and read back what I had written at the time. That was quite a help.
How did you cast Bill Rohan (the character based on yourself as a young man)?
I interviewed probably 40 or 50 boys around the age of 18 to 20. I found that Callum Turner had a wonderful quality, a certain way of looking at the world that corresponded perhaps to mine. He was very much an observer. This notion of sitting on the fence, being uncommitted, which I was, he had all those qualities. That’s why I chose him.
There’s that dissolve from the boy in Hope And Glory to the boy in Queen and Country. Callum looked very much like that boy would look when he grew up.
Was National Service as grim as you portray it here?
It’s much grimmer than I portrayed it. National Service was a sausage machine. They were turning out these conscripts, thousands and thousands of them. At that time, Britain had bases all over the world - Germany, Malaya, Malta, Cyprus and all over the world. They had to be manned. That was what it was about.
Is that period still fresh in your memory?
Yes, it was and I also read a lot about that period. We did our research. A lot of it, particularly the dialogue, came very easily. Expressions like “like a nine bob note” just came back to me very easily.
How do you look back on the early 50s now?
It was the hangover from the war. There was still rationing at that time. There were stirrings. It was a period when change was about to happen. The 60s were some way off, when things got brighter. We all believed that atomic war was inevitable. There was a feeling we were heading toward Armageddon. When the 60s came along, people stopped worrying about the bomb.
Is the character Ophelia quite fictionalised or were you really in love with an upper class woman like that?
Absolutely [she was real]. It demonstrates the class divide at the time. There was this girl that I fell for and she was from an aristocratic family and I suffered all the pains and pangs of unrequited love.
Would you like to make further autobiographical films?
There is perhaps one more I would like to do but I am getting too old! It’s quite a feat to make a film at 80 and it is probably time for me to toast my feet in front of the fire.
Would you say this is your last feature then?
I’ve told everyone that it is but no-one will believe me. I am being urged to continue.