Friday, August 21, 2009

Revisiting a Classic - "Another Country"

Sometimes I just love Tivo. Its little DVR brain looks at my Wishlists and what I’ve been watching and decides to record things that it thinks I will like. In the wee hours of the morning yesterday Tivo decided to record a movie that I haven’t seen in probably 15 years, Another Country, starring a trio of breathtakingly beautiful (and YOUNG) actors Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, and Cary Elwes; long before any of them were stars. Watching this late last night I was transported back to my teen years.

In the mid-80s, I, the daughter of a self-proclaimed anglophile, was in the midst of a wonderful 2nd British Invasion; with all of the glorious music that was around (Style Council, Smiths, Echo & The Bunnymen, The Specials, English Beat etc) and all of the great films/mini-series coming out at that time including: Chariots of Fire, Brideshead Revisited, My Beautiful Laundrette, A Room With A View, and 1984’s Another Country. I was obsessed with anything and everything British, and of course I loved cute boys, so Another Country was right up my alley; when it came out my mother and I saw it in the theater its opening weekend. I didn’t totally "get" it back then, but I pretended that I did and added it to my collection of things that I loved. I even had the huge movie poster (see above left) on my bedroom wall that I recall getting from the gay bookstore in Dupont Circle about a month after the movie came out.
Another Country has really held up well, and besides the horrible old man make-up they have on Everett at the opening/ending of the film, this beautifully shot and acted film is a treat that I would highly recommend. I defy you to listen to Colin Firth’s character Tommy utter the phrase “contemptuous sycophant” and not swoon and/or smile.

Some background on the basis for the film - In the 1930s, four young men of rank and privilege met at Cambridge University, went on to earn positions of authority within British intelligence, and then decided to systematically betray their country and their class by spying for the Soviet Union, offering state secrets to the KGB. The notorious Cambridge Spies escaped detection for decades; Kim Philby, Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess were exposed in the 50s and defected to Russia, and Anthony Blunt escaped public exposure until 1979. The fact that a traitor like Blunt could have ascended so high in society shocked Britain to its core and was all over the news. It inspired playwright Julian Mitchell in1980 to write a fictionalized account of what might make a member of the elite like Guy Burgess break with his class as a young adult and betray his country.

In the movie Rupert Everett plays the Burgess-like Guy Bennett reprising his character from the original stage play. The film begins in 1983, with a reporter arriving in Moscow to interview an unrepentant Bennett, who recalls his days at an “Eton like” public school. Told in flashback, the movie concentrates on Bennett's alienation from his peers at the boarding school because of his homosexuality; his friendship with fellow alienated peer Tommy Judd played by Firth, who’s a Marxist, Stalin-loving “commie” who openly scorns and shuns the school’s rules and traditions; and Bennett’s transforming love and romance with a student played by Elwes.

The movie surmises that even if you're destined to be on top of the class system hierarchy, it is suffocating and cruel and can lead one to rebel in the worse ways. Eh, the movie never does that good a job of linking Bennett's struggles in school with why he decided to become a spy. But I'm not sure it's supposed to, or has to. It really serves as a window into a time and place that is so completely foreign it's like another planet. One filled with gorgeous angelic boys with awesome accents. Does this make me shallow? So be it. Go out and rent this or catch it on cable.

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