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Tumbledown (1988)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

An idyllic summer's day in rural England. Robert Lawrence and his best friend Hugh Mackessal arrive at a country house to see their friend Louise Stubbs. They're surprised to be told by Louise's parents, George and Helen, that Louise is away - in reality, however, Louise is hiding upstairs, unwilling to meet them.

Robert and Hugh stay for lunch. They are veterans of the recent conflict in the Falklands, where Robert was almost killed. As they eat, Robert tells his story.

1982. The Argentinians have taken control of the Falkland Islands, and the British task force is setting sail. Robert, a Lieutenant in the Scots Guards, is agitated and irritable as he watches TV pictures of the Royal Marines and the Parachute Regiment receiving a heroes' send-off. Unlike the laid-back Hugh, Robert sees himself as a 'real' soldier, and he wants a war.

When he gets orders to prepare for deployment to the South Atlantic, Robert is ecstatic. He throws himself into readying his men for battle. On the night before embarkation, he finds time to bed a girl called Sophie, who he has pursued for some time.

Some time later. Robert is in the Falklands, getting ready for an assault on Argentinian positions on Two Sisters and Tumbledown, key peaks overlooking Port Stanley.

Some time later. Robert is in a field hospital, receiving emergency surgery to patch up his skull. He regains consciousness aboard the hospital-ship Uganda, where he is informed that a cease-fire has been declared. The Uganda sails back towards Britain; part of the way through the journey Robert is transferred onto a plane and flown into RAF Brize Norton, where he is met by his parents John and Jean. Robert spends some time in the hospital at the base, and is visited there by Sophie.

His condition eventually stabilises sufficiently for him to be admitted to an NHS hospital for an operation to reconstruct his head. The operation is a partial success, but Robert is told that he will remain paralysed down his left side for the rest of his life. He begins physiotherapy, and is transferred back to military hospital. He makes an escape from the hospital, going to London to try and see Sophie - but finds she is not at home. A humiliated Robert is driven back to the hospital by his father.

Robert later attends a memorial service for those killed in the Falklands. To his disgust, he finds himself seated at the back, out of the view of the TV cameras, forced to follow the service on a monitor. He leaves before the end.

Robert finally does see Sophie, who sleeps with him - but then tells him it was the last time. It becomes clear she has a new boyfriend.

To make matters worse, Robert is judged well enough to be transferred to a desolate barracks for the remainder of his rehabilitation. There, he tells an army psychologist about his experiences of combat, particularly his bayoneting of an Argentine soldier on the approach to Tumbledown.

Robert pays a visit to his old barracks to see the Scots Guards return from their tour of duty in the Falklands, and sees Hugh for the first time since being wounded.

The present. George and Helen Stubbs watch Hugh and Robert drive off. They were secretly horrified by their guests - they see Hugh and Robert as nothing more than killers.

1982: the crucial assault on Tumbledown. Robert's unit attack and take an Argentinian machine-gun emplacement, and head up along a ridge towards the peak. On the ridge, Robert finds an Argentinian soldier playing dead. He stabs him with his bayonet. The soldier begs for mercy, but Robert carries on, killing him in cold blood. Resuming his advance, Robert leads his platoon to the top of Mount Tumbledown. He stands on the peak and jubilantly shouts out "Isn't this fun!" - at which point he is shot by an Argentinian sniper.

The present. Robert, in his Panama hat and blazer, welcomes his comrades back from the Falklands.