Wednesday, September 11, 2013
"Another Country": British boarding school drama, set in 1930's, sets up the "old chestnut" about homosexuality, communism and security
“Another Country”, a 1983 BBC-Goldcrest film set mostly in a British boarding school in the 1930’s, and based a play by Julian Mitchell and directed by Marek Kanievska. Most of the film is told as a flashback from an old Guy Bennett, loosely adapted from the Soviet spy Guy Burgess. The play somewhat sets the stage for previously common ideas about homosexuality, communism, and security, old chestnuts that plagued me when I was growing up.
At boarding school, Guy (Rupert Everett) is a somewhat charismatic figure even if he fails his military inspections. Amazingly, he aspires to become a house “God”. He and Tommy Judd (Colin Firth), claiming he is a communist, are questioned as to why they are “different” and put others in their future ruling class at risk. There have been some covert gay scandals involving other students, and Guy has started covertly dating Harcourt (Cary Elwes). The ensuing scandal leads to Guy’s getting “caned” (spanked) and disgraced.
There is a scene where Guy challenges Tom, with “You think some people are better than other people because of the way they make love” – as if that contradicts communist ideology. But Guy would become a notorious spy, as documented in the 2-DVD BBC set “Cambridge Spies”, offered as a preview on the DVD. Guy actually came to believe that homosexuality would be Ok in Russia. The current "anti-gay" law involving pro-gay speech in Russia (and the upcoming Winter Olympics) does seem like a troubling irony now to anyone watching the film.
The idea of becoming a “God” (one of the two top perfects) is certainly a curious one, as if someone could become an idol. That’s always sounded like a contradiction to me in traditional Christianity: you aren’t supposed to worship idols or people as idols, but only God – yet you are supposed to be able to give up everything and follow “Him”, a bit of a contradiction.
The paddling (or "spanking") scene reminded of other hazing that used to go on. At William and Mary in the fall of 1961, freshmen (who didn't skip out on the initiations) were taken to a dorm basement where "they" shaved the boys' legs, on the theory that for one unfortunate soul, it would never grow back. You didn't even have to be rushing for a fraternity to get scraped. I skipped it, and wound up getting thrown out of school for admitting "latent homosexuality" to the Dean of Men two months later.
Later, Kenneth Branagh and Everett also starred in the stage play in London.
The DVD and Instant Replay are available from Warner Brothers (essentially “Warner Independent Pictures”) and Netflix.
For today’s short film, look at John Wooley’s “The Internet Must Go” (30 min.), on my Network Neutrality blog, today.