Another Country (1984)
★★★ / ★★★★
Guy Bennett (Rupert Everett) and Tommy Judd (Colin Firth) are students in a public school in 1930s England. Guy is known by his peers as openly homosexual and Tommy as a socialist intent on not participating in school traditions.
Based on Julian Mitchell’s play and screenplay, the story of Guy and Tommy is loosely based on the two Englishmen, Donald Duart Maclean and Guy Burgess, who were recruited by the U.S.S.R. to spy on their own country in the 1950s. Part of the beauty of the film, directed by Marek Kanievska, is the decision to veer from having to explain Guy and Tommy’s counterparts in a historical context. Hence, the picture works as an exploration of two smart but often marginalized students and the seeds that will later shape the kind of men they will become.
Being a part of an institution that values rules and maintaining a strict code of conduct, the boys are disillusioned that being different gives them a natural advantage. Guy strives to be one of the “gods,” a master prefect with a recognized level of power. We do not know what, if he achieved such a status, he intends to do with it. Nor do we need to. What matters is his blind determination to attain the position.
The picture shows that Guy treats politics and romance like games that simply have to be conquered. We learn a lot about him through his behavior but the film astutely keeps us at arm’s length by not really putting us inside his head. The camera’s attention is consistently on what the character is doing such as who he chooses to interact with to gain advantage for his next move. Because his intentions are not always clear, the character has a certain uneasy level of danger about him. We grow curious of his endgame.
I liked the way the duo’s resentment of the system is established very slowly but not for one second are we allowed to forget that the sentiment is always there. When Martineau (Philip Dupuy) is caught by one of the instructors sexually experimenting with another boy, the two are expelled. Martineau later hungs himself at a place where he knows everyone will get a chance to glance at his corpse.
The act fuels controversy from outside the school’s walls. In order to prevent a suicide from happening again, those in charge instruct the prefects to report similar activities, specifically those of homosexual nature, to the authorities for a proper beating. The way the picture shows Guy’s seething anger toward the hypocrisy—given that everyone knew, including the old men in charge, that sexual experimentation with other boys in all-boys school is a common practice—with great control and patience. There is no narration to explain Guy’s feelings or thoughts. There is only his actions. The screenplay assumes we are intelligent and sympathetic viewers.
While Guy and Tommy share myriads of similarities, the screenplay also allows us to observe their important distinctions. For example, unlike Guy, Tommy likes to spend time alone with his nose deeply embedded in books, functioning as a symbol that Tommy is more about ideas than practice. One can argue that Guy and Tommy’s differences are the glue that hold their relationship.
“Another Country” is full of imagery of orderliness. As we are forced to look more closely amongst the student body and how they interact with one another, we realize that the many proprieties on the outside merely mask the oppression and unhappiness brewing within.