Sunday, November 01, 2009

Screen Queens: Another Country

Hey, MattCanada here with this weeks queer cinema post. I finally got around to watching Another Country. It was not what I expected at all and this did affect how much I liked the film. My expectations going into the movie were of a spy thriller with a hefty dose of gay sex, not PG fondling. What I was confronted with was a drama which explores the British class system through the study of Guy Bennett's (fictionalised Guy Burgess) disenfranchisement from his class because of his homosexuality at an unnamed Boys Public School (read: super posh). The film is beautifully shot, wonderfully acted, and intelligently written - a Merchant Ivory film in everything but name.

Rupert Everett in his star-making role (first on stage, then on screen)

The lead actors are all strong, especially Rupert Everett's flamboyant toff Guy Bennett. Everett does not overplay him which is a surprise given the actor's subsequent career. For Bennett he finds the perfect balance of class and performative gayness. Though the routines and affected speech of all the schoolboys would have to be classified as dandy-ish, Everett's pushes Bennett to be a little more excessive. There are times, during the cricket games and the military role calls, where his flamboyance will not be contained by the masculine structures of the ceremony, and this is what is eventually so reviled by the prefects. That is to say, it is his indiscretion and public acknowledgement/celebration of his homosexuality which is contemptible, not the actual act of having sex with men. Most of the other boys engage with other men sexually in lieu of female company, but it is not talked about, made public, or acknowledged as enjoyable. Also great are Colin Firth (in his screen debut) as the idealistic Marxist Tommy Judd who veers between petulant and intrepid, and the fascistic Fowler played brilliantly by Tristan Oliver.

Cary Elwes in his film debut (unless you count a bit as "disco dancer")

The look of the film is beautiful, and I'm not just talking about the male leads (although Cary Elwes might be prettier here than the Art Direction). The boarding school, which has many similarities to Eton, is a perfect expression of the other country in which the privileged live. The lush cinematography (Peter Biziou was honored for this work at Cannes) and meticulate costume and set design construct a world that is totally foreign to the vast majority of spectators, and allows the audience to understand how Guy's alienation from this privilege, because of his homosexuality, is enough to turn him towards espionage and treason. When Judd says: "All problems solved, no commies and no queers", he is circumscribing what is unacceptable and what blocks these men from attaining the power they were born to posses, and expresses how alienation and oppression made them bedfellows.

Colin Firth (in his film debut) as "Judd" and Rupert Everett as "Bennett"

[photo src] Everett & Kenneth Branagh in the West End production, 82.
Guess who played the roles in 83? Daniel Day-Lewis (!) and Colin Firth

The script, adapted by Julian Mitchell from his own Laurence Olivier Award-winning play, is nuanced, intelligent, witty and provides a great closing line (featured in F&L a few weeks ago).

Despite everything positive I have to say about the film, and what a fine achievement I think Another Country is, I didn't love it. Maybe I did just want a sex filled spy thriller with double crosses. I'll have to watch it again to really appreciate all the complexities of the script, and beauty of the mise-en-scene. For now I will recommend it, but caution people against expecting a 1930s gay Bond.

Does it make me a bad movie lover for wanting a bit more sex, and some Ian Fleming-style intrigue?




I liked this movie a lot when I was younger but I wonder if it's not a bit too dry -- particularly the political stuff. Or maybe I was too young for it, to make all the commie/queer bedfellow stuff work out in my own mind.

But Cary Elwes in this movie (sigh)... his career sure turned out weird, huh?

It's crazy to think of someone as formidable as DANIEL DAY-LEWIS taking on this role after Rupert Everett because it's so Everett's role, historically speaking.

gabrieloak said...

The movie should be watched alongside Cambridge Spies which a little racier.

Another Country is a bit dry but it's still fun to watch all those British actors when they were so young.

I would have loved to have seen the stage production. Wasn't Kenneth Branagh in the stage play?


um... that was revealed in the post!

gabrieloak said...

Sorry bleary eyed from being on the internet too long.


we've all been there ;)

CanadaMatt said...

I do really want to see Cambridge Spies. I love BBC miniseries, 4 hours of something is almost always better than two.

Chris Na Taraja said...

I liked this movie years ago too. Remember when queer flicks didn't have any sex in them. it was just implied. We are kind of spoiled by HERE! nowadays. Maybe they will have to do a remake with over the top sex scenes. : )

I think i remember liking Maurice more though.

Anonymous said...

Found your blog while looking for the script of Another Country, a favourite film that I have been watching since the 1990s. Eminently quotable, and now I'm looking for the lines. Oh well, will just have to watch it again...