Monday, September 4, 2017
Marek Kanievsky | Another Country
by Douglas Messerli
Julian Mitchell (writer), Marek Kanievsky (director) Another Country / 1984
It’s a bit hard to comprehend what director Marek Kanievska or the original playwright, Julian Mitchell, are actually trying to say in Another Country. It appears, at least from the opening scene, that in telling his story about his Eton years in the 1930s, British-born Russian spy Guy Burgess—in the film called Guy Bennett—is somehow explaining why he became the notorious spy he has become. But despite all appearances, it seems fairly ridiculous to blame it all of Bennett’s inability to become one of the head prefects, called “Gods,” at his institution, as the reason he has turned against democracy.
Certainly, conditions in the wealthy school were not truly democratic. Kanievska goes out of his way to show us a repressive and snobbish school society that, at moments, looks very much like the Soviet Kremlin-controlled world. The youngest of the schoolboys are forced to polish lamps, shine boots, and do the most menial of jobs. But even the older schoolboys, played by actors who are far too old to really be called schoolboys, are subject to the whims of the “Gods” and intrusions of their teachers. And this schoolboy nightmare world, like Bennett’s home, is obviously “another country.”
Guy Bennett (Rupert Everett) is most definitely gay, and has evidently had sex with nearly all of his peers except his best friend, Tommy Judd (Colin Firth), who, as a Marxist, is apparently more interested in politics that sex; that does not mean that Bennett does not try get him into bed. Everett plays Bennett with great panache, and Kanievska’s beautiful scenes of him and other beautiful boys, particularly the somewhat younger, James Harcourt (Cary Elwes) give the film, at moments, the quality of a James Ivory movie, a pretty-to-look-at box of historical accuracy.
Bennett’s behavior is so “out there,” that it is no surprise that, after the young masturbator’s death, the “Gods” are out to punish him. He escapes the cane by threatening to tell that nearly every one of them has enjoyed his company. Only when the young Harcourt might be “outed” does he accept his punishment.
How he went from his desire to “rule” the other boys to become a diplomatic spy is never explained, only intimated to the above. The Marxist, meanwhile, so we are told in the epilogue, has gone on to die in Spain, fighting for Spanish democratic cause, suggesting, perhaps, that they both went in different directors than what seemed to be their natural courses.
If nothing else, we recognize that a dictatorial education surely leads to desire for just such a world as an adult. But then, Robert Musil, had shown us that, far better, in his 1906 novel, The Confessions of Young Törless.
Los Angeles, September 4, 2017