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"They're not empire-builders - that requires imagination; they're empire-rulers...",
This review is from: Another Country [DVD] (DVD)Finally...the long-awaited UK DVD release of this classic film - which inexplicably has already been available on DVD elsewhere for several years.
For people who have not caught the film previously, a brief synopsis: 'Another Country' opens in the USSR, 1983, with an elderly Englishman, Guy Bennett, giving an interview to a journalist on why he became a Russian spy. The bulk of the film then flashes back to his schooldays at Eton in the early 1930s, where the young Bennett (handsome Rupert Everett) has a crush on another pupil (the equally-handsome Cary Elwes). Meanwhile, Bennett's best friend, Tommy Judd (Colin Firth), consistently preaches revolution and Stalinism. The two main characters, the queer and the communist, are the outsiders in this look at the schooling of the future ruling class; each facing their own conflicts and the challenge of introspection.
Part coming-of-age, part social commentary, 'Another Country' could therefore be viewed as "Tom Brown's Schooldays" meets "Maurice" meets "Dead Poets' Society", with all the now-familiar boarding school fare (authoritarian prefects, a furtive fumbling scene between pupils, corporal punishment, youthful idealism). It is curiously bland in some respects (the sexual aspects are muted and tend to favour a spiritual/Uranian love over sensuality) and to some extent may appear dated.
Nevertheless, the film's relevance remains in its insight into anti-establishmentarianism. Indeed, the writer (Julian Mitchell) envisaged the work as being only incidentally concerned with boarding schools and homosexuality; the focus was intended rather to be on the 'psychology of the traitor', expounding his belief that the makings of the 'betrayal' are not simply ideological, but are sowed at an earlier stage. And to this extent is it necessary to note the background: this fictional story arose from the Burgess/McLain 'Cambridge spies' incidents; with the specific question of whether there was something identifiable in their early life that led those involved to 'betray' their class and country.
Prospective viewers should also take into account that 'Another Country' was originally a play - and consequently while the ending may seem abrupt and 'untidy', it was entirely suitable for its intended theatrical medium. Questions remain unanswered, nothing is resolved. Yet this remains, in part, one of the factors that ensures the film's enduring quality...it poses thoughtful inquiries that still deserve contemplation. This aside, 'Another Country' will be a treat for fans of Rupert Everett, Cary Elwes and Colin Firth (each of whom gives an exceptional performance) and it has certainly earned its place within the boarding-school/coming-of-age genre.