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Another Country (1984)

Courtesy of Goldcrest Films International Ltd

Main image of Another Country (1984)
35mm, colour, 90 mins
DirectorMarek Kanievska
Production CompaniesCastlezone Productions, Goldcrest Films and Television
ProducerAlan Marshall
ScreenplayJulian Mitchell
PhotographyPeter Biziou

Cast: Rupert Everett (Guy Bennett), Colin Firth (Tommy Judd), Michael Jenn (Barclay), Robert Addie (Delahay), Anna Massey (Imogen Bennett), Betsy Brantley (Julie Schofield)

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The house prefects at an upper-class school betray and beat fellow student Guy Bennett because of his homosexuality. The incident plants the seed that will eventually lead Bennett to betray his country by becoming a spy for another.

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The prologue to Another Country (d. Marek Kanievska, 1984) rather grandly sets out its intention to explain why an Englishman would choose to defect to the Soviet Union. It may not achieve this aim, but the film succeeds on other levels.

Writer Julian Mitchell adapted Another Country from his successful stage play. Its main character, Guy Bennett (Rupert Everett), is loosely based on real-life traitor Guy Burgess, while Bennett's friend Tommy Judd (Colin Firth) resembles other members of the Cambridge 'ring of five' spies.

Homosexuality, honesty and hypocrisy are the main themes in this coming-of-age film. Bennett's journey of discovery shows him what it means to be gay in an environment where sexual encounters are tolerated, but love is not. The film is set during the 1930s, at an unnamed school, a thinly disguised version of Eton. Its hierarchy is a microcosm of the outside world, with the autocratic 'gods' (house leaders) at the top and the slavish juniors at the bottom.

Though the film's homophobia, bullying and brutality are fictional, they resonate with truth. Despite its violent subject matter (one boy commits suicide, Bennett is savagely caned), the film is aesthetically beautiful; dutifully acknowledging that in such a world, appearance is everything. Yet a palpable sense of grief and foreboding hangs over the film. Michael Story's sinking score and hymns performed by the Trinity Boys' Choir increase the desolate mood.

Bennett's lover, Harcourt (Cary Elwes), was only hinted at but never actually appeared in the play. But the film's portrayal of their relationship was criticised for being overly twee. The couple are shown lying in each other's arms, but they never kiss; director Kanievska deemed sex scenes 'superfluous' to the audience's understanding of the boys' relationship. But as one critic noted, "Do kissing and petting in heterosexual love stories add anything to the understanding?"

Though the 'plight' of homosexuals is treated with respect, Bennett is not a particularly likeable character, and audiences may find it hard to sympathise with the cast of 'poor little rich boys'. Like other heritage films, Another Country devotes much screentime to the dress (top hats and tails, military uniforms, cricket flannels), ceremonies (remembrance services, military inspections) and pastimes (punting on the river, cricket) of the upper-classes - offering the audience a satisfaction which may not arise from the characters.

Vanessa McQuarrie

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Video Clips
1. Pull yourself together (1:30)
2. A matter of class (1:18)
3. Act of disclosure (1:00)
4. Intimacy (1:40)
5. Gloomy expectations (4:00)
Production stills
Englishman Abroad, An (1983)
Everett, Rupert (1959-)
Firth, Colin (1960-)
Hambling, Gerry (1926-)
Massey, Anna (1937-2011)