An American director, born 1909 in Wisconsin. Became a theatre critic and stage director in New York in the 1930s. During World War II 1940-43 he was the director of War Relief Shows in major cities across America. In 1943-44 he made radio shows at NBC and CBS called "Worlds at War." In spite of patriotic work during the war he was blacklisted for left-wing sympathies during McCarthy period in 1950s. JL decided to relocate to London where he worked as a stage and theatre director. In 1963 he begins his close collaboration with playright Harold Pinter and actor Dirk Bogarde. By late 1970s making films of operas, e.g. Don Giovanni (1979).

A feature of JL's work is his close collaboration with the author (Pinter or Brecht). He emphasises human interactions and the complexity of interior thought and emotion. Concentrates on detailed character studies not "action." "K&C" is typical. There is a staginess to the film and little "happens." But we are given great insight into the thoughts and emotions of the central characters. One of the themes of JL's work is that of class conflict, "The Lawless" (1950) and "The Servant" (1963). Uses film for social criticism. Influence of Brecht - attempt at realism without being documentary.

Other films: "The Accident" (1967); "The Assassination of Trotsky" (1972); "A Doll's House" (1973); "Mr Klein" (1976).


The Play

Based on a play, Hamp, written by a defense lawyer (John Wilson) who was troubled that he had not been able to get the soldier acquitted of the charge of desertion in a court martial.


Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) July-Nov 1917. French Gen Nivelle planned grand offensive against Germans in April 1917 but early failures resulted in French mutinies involving sodliers from 54 divisisons. Brit Field Marshall Haig planned attacks in Ypres region to turn tide of war (seize German submarine bases in Belgium, distract Germans from exploiting French mutinies). After week of artillery bombardment attack began 31 July 1917 and lasted until 4 August (heavy rain, 2 miles territory seized for 32,000 casualties). Battle continued on and off until November hampered by rain. Final halt ordered at village of Passchendaele 10 November - 250,000 casualties on each side.


Meaning of the Title

Title refers to the traditional reason private Hamp gave for enlisting in the army: to fight and die for one's "King and Country."


  • Dirk Bogarde - Cpt Charles Hargreaves
  • Tom Courtenay - Private Arthur Hamp
  • Leo McKern - Dr. O'Sullivan
  • Barry Foster, James Villiers, Peter Copley
  • Score composed by harmonica virtuoso Larry Adler

Three main characters - the officer Charles Hargreaves (Dirk Bogarde) who is of the upper middle class and is a defence lawyer, private Arthur Hamp (Tom Courtney) who is a working class soldier, and the doctor O'Sullivan (Leo McKern) who refuses to diagnose "shell shock." The events of the film take place in October 1917 during the battle of Ypres/Passchendaele and Hamp, after 3 years in the trenches, a "Dear John letter" from his wife, the loss of most of his friends (he is the last one alive of his enlistment), and the experience of a recent bombardment at Passchendaele when a friend standing next to him was blown away by a shell, decides to "walk away from the guns" home to England. He is arrested by MPs near Calais, charged with desertion, tried and shot "pour encourager les autres" (in order to encourage the others) in the next offensive. Coup de grâce adminstered by Hargreaves.

JL makes a point of emphasising class differences between officers and enlisted men. Hamp left shool at 12 to enter family boot making business. Volunteered to join up after being dared to do so by mother-in-law and wife. Contrast his accent with Hargreaves'. JL drew upon the direct experience of war of Bogarde, who helped write some of the scenes. Bogarde had been an officer in the British Army in WW2 and members of his family had been "very much involved" in the 1914-18 war (Conversations with Losey, p. 242).


1. The opening scene of Wellington's Arch at Hyde Park Corner in London. A contemporary London Guide book describes it as follows:

On an island in the middle of the traffic is the Wellington Arch surmounted by Adrian Jones's huge bronze group, The Quadriga. The Arch was designed by Burton in 1828 and was originally crowned by M.C. Wyatt's gigantic equestrian statue of the Iron Duke, mercifully removed to Aldershot in 1883. Jones's group replaced it in 1912. It represents Peace descending from heaven into the chariot of War, causing the horses which draw the fell vehicle to rear up to a standstill... Sharing the island with the Arch are ... (the) Royal Artillery Memorial, ... (the) Machine Gun Corps Memorial, and the Duke of Wellington's monument... The Machine Gun Corps Memorial is a graceful naked bronze figure, representing David. He leans on Goliath's sword; on the pedestal is the grisly text (I Samuel, xviii, 7): "Saul hath slain his thousands, but David his tens of thousands." The Artillery Memorial is a work of extraordinary power and intensity; it consists of an enormous block of Portland stone surmounted by a stone representation of a 9.2 howitzer. Around the base, in low relief, are carved scenes of the Artillery in action, and at each side is a large bronze figure, a subaltern, an ammunition carrier, a cloaked driver, and, lying prostrate, a dead gunner, his body covered with a cloak.

JL used to ride a bus every day past the monument and describes it as "this horrendous heroic monument which is such a joke in the light of what one knows about the war" and condemns "the idiocy of this sentimental monument to people who just died the most miserable dog's deaths." (Conversations, p. 244).

2. The problem of what is madness and what is sanity in war. Is it mad or sane to fight when you are the last one left, or to walk away from the killing? Similar problem raised in Joseph Heller's Catch 22.

3. The parallel court martial and "execution" of the rat by the enlisted men. Hamp's friends play "Blind Man's Bluff" with him on eve of execution.

4. The distinction between "justice" and the letter of the law. In his final speech of summation Hargreaves says "if justice is not done for one man, then others are dying for nothing."

5. The attempt to make the sets look realistic by making them muddy, filthy, dark and wet. Another "wet" movie is "Platoon." Compare with lack of realism in John Wayne's movie about Vietnam "The Green Berets."

6. The question of the problem of "shell shock" or battle fatigue and the reluctance to admit this as a medical/psychological condition by the upper class doctors. The doctor (Mackern) prefers to see it as "funk" or cowardice.

7. The real reason for executing Hamp, "pour encourager les autres" (compare with Kubrick's "Paths of Glory"). In the seventh revised edition of the Manual of Military Law (1929) (the first revision made after WW1) it states the following concerning courts-martial:

78. In deliberating on their sentence a court-martial should remember that the object of awarding punishment is the maintenance of discipline, and should bear in mind the considerations to which their attention is directed by the King's Regulations.

The proper amount of punishment to be inflicted is the least amount by which discipline can be efficiently maintained. Occasionally the exigencies of discipline, apart from the circumstances of a particular case, may render a severe sentence necessary; but in all cases the whole force should be in a position to realise that the punishment awarded to any individual is not more than is necessary in the interests of the force itself and for the maintenance of that discipline without which all bodies of troops become irresponsible mobs and useless for the purpose for which they exist. (p. 60)

8. The role of religion in sanctioning what is done. The Chaplain absolves Hamp of his sins, offers him holy communion, after which Hamp vomits. Hamp overindulges in alcohol and is given injection (another drug like religion) so he will face his death quietly.

9. The use of photos: contemporary photos from WW1, pictures of dead horses, photos of Hamp's childhood. JL's use of sepia tint in the black and white film in order to suggest old photographs from the period.

11. The quotation from a poem about facts and dates?


Anthony Babington, For the Sake of Example: Capital Courts Martial 1914-1920 (London: Paladin, 1986).

Manual of MIlitary Law (Seventh Edition, 1929, London: His Majesty's Stationery Office).