All the King's Men (1999)

 

 

Director:     Julian Jarrold

Starring:     David Jason (Capt. Frank Beck),  Maggie Smith (Queen Alexandra),  William Ash (Sgt. Ted Grimes),  Sonya Walger (Lady Frances),  Stuart Bunce (2nd Lt. Frederick Radley),  James Murray (Pvt. Will Needham),  Ed Waters (Cpl. Herbert Batterbee),  Tom Burke (Pvt. Chad Batterbee),  Ben Crompton (Pvt. Davy Croft),  Eamon Boland (Arthur Beck),  Jo Stone-Fewings (Lt. Alec Beck),  James Hillier (2nd Lt. Evelyn Beck),  David Troughton (King George V),  Emma Cunniffe (Peggy Batterbee),  Adam Kotz (Oswald Yeoman).

From Masterpiece Theatre. 

a military company from the estate of the mother of King George V just seems to disappear

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.

Introduction.  The British military men were very innocent at the beginning of World War I.  The war was the opener of a century of incredibly barbaric warfare that saw human slaughter on an industrial scale.  In the Dardanelles Campaign (or Gallilopi) in Turkey on a foggy day, an entire company disappeared.  You will meet two royals in the film:  King George V who reigned throughout World War I and up to the 1930s and Queen Alexandra, widow of the philandering Edward VII. 

During World War I, Frank Beck raised a company of soldiers from the royal estate at Sandringham.  Their story has become legend. 

The Sandringham company stop at the top of a hill.  Captain Baker heads down the hill.  In a little while shots ring out. 

Flashback.  Section 1 reporting, Captain Beck, says Sgt. Ted Grimes.  Beck tells the sergeant to take section 1 and help out the other two sections:  "The strong assist the weak for the good of the company."  The men shout hurrah as an airplane flies low over their heads.  Two young boys on their bikes watch the men.  They are fascinated by the war and soldiers.  (One of them, George, is only 12 years old.)

Queen mother Alexandra with Lady Frances stop to speak with Captain Beck.  The soldiers are actually the workers on the Queen's Sandringham estate and Mr. Beck was the estate's land agent.  They have taken a break from their military training to work on the estate for awhile.  The Queen asks the Captain if the break has hurt the men's military training.  Mr. Beck says no it hasn't.  (Mr. Beck's brother Arthur Beck has been filling in for Captain Beck as the land agent.)  The Queen invites him and Mrs. Beck do dine with her and the King. 

2nd Lt. Radley arrives on horse back.  He has recently joined the unit.  He is also the fiancÚ of Lady Frances. 

Capt. Beck marches the men to the workers' houses and dismisses them. 

Mr. and Mrs. Beck attend the dinner with the King and his mother the Queen.  Downstairs Ted Grimes speaks with the maid Peggy.  (Two of her brothers are in the company.)  He asks her to meet him at Huntsdale.  She replies:  "I don't know, Ted."  She seems awfully busy. 

King George V speaking with some of his guests says that his mother adores the house and so he gives her the run of the place. He lives elsewhere.  He adds:  "I rather enjoy the simple life."  Capt. Beck speaks of fighting alongside his unit, but the King just says to him:  "You're too old to fight, Beck!"  Inside the house 2nd Lt. Radley quotes from the Iliad about the fight on the plains of Troy.  Lady Frances seems to like the company doctor a great deal.  He tells Frances that his wife Alice has left him.  He then asks Lady Frances when will she marry.  She says only after the war.  Capt. Beck expresses his unhappiness about not accompanying his company into war.  The King gets exasperated with him.  Lady Frances asks Radley if they might marry before the company leaves for war.  Radley answers:  "I won't risk you being a widow." 

Back at home Mrs. Baker wants her husband to relax and accept that he will be staying behind with her.  She tells him that he even told her that the men may be back in just a few months, so what's the point in going?  Beck's wife asks him not to brood about the matter. 

Sgt. Grimes and Peggy meet down at the beach.  The very proud young boy George tells his friend that he will be a message deliverer for the local military company.  Grimes proposes marriage to Peggy.  She answers:  "I do love you."  They kiss.  Capt. Beck gets mad at the enlisted men from his company engaging in horseplay in the water.   Beck goes to the local pub where he meets the badly brain damaged military veteran son of a man Beck has known for a long time.  Later Ted and Peggy speak with Beck.  Peggy asks him that since her father has passed, would he please give her away in marriage to Ted.  Beck agrees happily. 

Ted and Peggy marry and have a reception with a lot of dancing.  At the reception Arthur Beck gets drunk.  Cpt. Beck (the uncle) scolds Arthur's younger brother Alec blaming him for his older brother getting drunk.   

Radley speaks to one of the enlisted men, Pvt. Will Needham.  The fiancÚ seems a bit worried about how he will perform in combat.  Pvt. Needham tells him that he needs to relax and take things as they come.  The Private then shows the 2nd Lt. how to dance so he can dance at the reception.  The young fellow George comes to the reception dressed up in his new military uniform.  He is now officially with the unit.  Capt. Beck gets angry about George being accepted into the unit by the men because George is just too young.  But the men really want George to go with them and so Capt. Beck relents. 

On their first night as newlyweds Ted is not so sure he can perform sexually since he is so worried about his unit moving out tomorrow or the next day.  Peggy just says:  "We'll manage."

The next day the Queen speaks to the company.  She honors Capt. Beck for his 30 years of service, his loyalty and his never neglecting his duty.  She then gives him a gold watch with a nice inscription on the back.  Beck speaks to the assembled throng.  He says that he and the company are now members of the 5th Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment.  The King is upset.  (He wanted Beck to stay behind.)  The King shoots a nasty look at the Queen mother (who went behind the King's back to get Beck what he wanted).  The Queen only mentions the hurrahing of the troops:  "Listen to them, George.  Listen to them." 

Capt. Beck speaks to his men.  He mentions that he had a son once.  But now he has many sons.  And:  "God willing, I'll bring you all back."  The men head out to war. 

Gallipoli.  2nd Lt. Radley and Pvt. Needham complain about the terrible conditions aboard ship and the terrible supply problems.  The two men hatch a plot to get the necessary supplies for their company. 

The company gets ashore where there are a lot of men piled up.  At fairly regular intervals an enemy artillery shell explodes on the beach.  The preacher from back home Pierrepoint Edwards welcomes Capt. Beck to Gallipoli.  He confirms Beck's impression that things are pretty much a mess on the beach.  The officer in charge of the beachhead says that they don't really know where the Turkish troops are placed.  Capt. Beck says that from the sound of the artillery they are only about a half-mile away.  He suggests that they knock out the artillery shelling the beach.  The superior officer patronizes Capt. Beck by saying that the Captain may be famous for his energy, but that won't help here.  The superior officer adds that despite the German advisors to the Turks, the Turks are essentially barbarians. 

Capt. Beck and his company move up off the beach.  They climb into the hill territory.  The place is rocky ground and desert-like complete with cacti.  The men have to walk by the bodies of dead Allied troops. 

Back at home Peggy knocks on the door of what appears to be a wounded veteran.  She tells him that the Queen would like to honor him with a few things from the kitchen.  The man seems very shy.  He accepts the food, but insists:  ". . . there must be no more."  Peggy is a bit bewildered by his reaction. 

Capt. Beck has his company raise their tents.  Some of the soldiers get sick on the canned beef they eat.  Lt. Radley is coming with a little convoy with much needed supplies.  He reports to Beck that "It's a free-for-all down there."  Instead of receiving praise, Beck scolds him for just taking the supplies; there are rules that must be obeyed.  L:t. Radley asks permission to return the transport and Beck grants permission. 

Radley informs Captain Beck that the supplied maps are a joke.  Nothing appears to be measured properly.  He already knows that the flat top hill in the east is actually two miles to the south.  Radley also informs the Captain that he has heard that the Turks are actually very cunning soldiers.  There is more bad news.  The unit is low on supplies.  They need more blankets for the cold nights and they are low on water. 

Shots are heard.  A group of men go out with Capt. Beck to check it out.  They find poor young George with a very nasty head wound.  The Captain is able to kill the sniper that shot George.  Back at the military hospital the doctor takes care of the crying George.  Later the doctor tells the Captain that he is very upset about how the conduct of the war is going.  Beck just warns him not to say this in front of any of the men.  Alone, Beck appears a bit shaken.  He touches the blood on his shoes, probably from the dead Turk he shot, and looks at it intently.  

Sergeant Grimes reports to the Captain that one of the Turkish soldiers walked near the unit wearing a pig's head.  So Beck decides to send 2nd Lt. Radley on a reconnaissance mission.  He is to check for snipers. 

Back home a crowd of villagers scream and throw rocks at the house of the man to whom Peggy delivered a food basket.  She learns that the man is a pacifist.  The villagers tell Peggy that the man was one of those who tried to stop the war.  Peggy tells the men and women to go home.  When everyone leaves, the pacifist comes out to thank her for what she did.  She just tells him that she cannot be seen with him and leaves.  When Peggy tells the Queen about the incident with the pacifist, the royal says how unfortunate and implies that Peggy should not have intervened.

Peggy tells the Queen that she was hoping to be pregnant.  the Queen says that she is not sorry.  She would hate to lose Peggy. 

Word arrives to the Queen mother that the fight will start tomorrow in the late afternoon.  The King says that Lord Kitchener is confidant of victory.  The Queen says she hopes it costs less in Turkey than it has cost in France. 

Two men go out on the night-time reconnaissance mission with Radley.  One is Sgt. Grimes and the other is Pvt. Needham.  Pvt. Needham signals to Radley that he sees nothing and then he is immediately bayoneted by a Turkish soldier.  Radley is absolutely shocked.  Grimes is attacked, but he is able to subdue his enemy.  It's at this time that he finds out that the enemy is a woman.  He starts to rape her, but she screams so much that he decides to take her captive instead.  But when he stands up he is shot twice and goes down.  Radley carries Needham back.  The men rush out to see Needham.  Radley tells Beck:  "There's no chance."  He then says that Sgt. Grimes is dead and gone.

The men prepare for battle.  Beck asks out loud:  "They can't mean for us to walk to our deaths."  At the funeral for Pvt. Needham, 2nd Lt. Radley recites a poem.  The men start walking, then start running into battle.  Several men suddenly step on mines and are put out of commission.  The men are then engulfed by a fog. 

At home a train comes into the station.  Peggy and George's friend start asking the returning troops if they know Sgt. Ted Grimes or her two brothers.  One soldier tells her that the men under Beck just went into the mist.  The King tells the Queen mother that out of 100 missing, only 7 are prisoners of war.  (The Turks are not taking prisoners.  Rather they execute the enemy that surrenders.)   No Sandringham men are among the 7.  The King comments that his heart breaks at the losses and not just for the Allies. 

A soldier directs Peggy to a unit who were near the Sandringham unit at the time of their disappearance.  The soldiers say that those is charge cannot or won't tell what happened to the units.  They can't own up to 25,000 dead soldiers.  They mention that there was a terrible slaughter at Marne, " . . . the same as for us."  The mist then came down and took the Sandringham men.  The soldiers say that they admired Capt. Beck, saying he led the best in the land.  Beck was heading for a woodland when the mist came down.  They were all gone; never seen again. 

The Queen speaks to Mrs. Beck and others.  Her visitors say that the Sandringham unit is the talk of the town; there are rumors everywhere.  Peggy shouts that the rumors are not true.  They are just the tales of drunken soldiers.  Mrs. Beck thinks that the mist may have spared the unit.  The Queen says she will make other inquiries.  Then Peggy starts to go crazy.  She scolds the Queen for saying that the war is a disgrace.  She runs out.  Mrs. Beck apologizes to the Queen on Peggy's behalf.  The Queen is especially upset about the disappearance of Mr. Beck because it was she who got him the permission to go to war.  Mrs. Beck tells the Queen that her husband wouldn't have been the same man if had not gone. 

Peggy runs down the dirt road to the house of the pacifist.  He answers the door.  She tells him that she has seen the way he looks at her.  They kiss.  He starts opening her blouse.  He suddenly says:  "You want this?"  She answers:  "I don't care."  He has sex with her up against one of the walls of his house.

A German hospital.  Sgt. Grimes is alive, although very badly scarred on the left side of his face.  The German doctor tells him that he has to have another operation, but right now there's a backlog so it will be awhile. 

After the war, Rev. Pierrepoint Edwards is at Gallipoli with a representative from Turkey investigating what happened to the Sandringham unit.  The Reverend says it was lunacy, the whole campaign.  They start to leave; and to leave the miracle intact.  But then a huge Turkish soldier shows the Reverend Captain Beck's gold watch given to him by the Queen. 

Flashback.  Beck tells his soldiers to head for the piece of woodland and then take the village if they can.  He tells his troops that he was wrong.  He is not their father.  But he is their brother.  A littler later he gives the men the two-sentences long Soldier's Prayer

Back to the present.  Back at home Reverend Pierrepoint Edwards makes a report to the Queen and King.  The King remarks that Beck is immortalized now.  Just at this time Grimes returns home.  The Queen says:  "Grimes has come back to us."

Flashback.  Beck's soldiers start stepping on mine after mine.  The unit's doctor kills himself with his pistol after a mine explosion takes his legs.  Beck has his men push on.  Soon they are actually behind the Turkish lines.  They head for some of the village buildings.  As they reach the buildings they run into a lot of Turkish soldiers and it is face-to-face combat.  Some of Beck's men are shot, others are bayoneted and those who surrender are immediately executed.  Beck himself surrenders.  He watches as the Turks execute a number of British captives all at once.  As Beck is on his knees crying over the dead, he in turn is executed with a bullet to the head at point-blank range. 

Back to the present.  Rev. Edwards finds the piled up skeletons of the group killed all in one place.  He also finds their battle flag. 

Back at home, Grimes tells his story to the Queen and King.  Grimes tells them that they left him for dead.  He answers a question by saying that he knows of no other prisoners from the Sandringham unit.  He is satisfied with the legend of the mist. And now he wants to find his wife.  The Queen tells him that she no longer lives at Sandringham.  Grimes says that he has heard from his own mother that his wife has done some not very nice things, but he doesn't care.  He wants to see her.  In the meantime, the Queen wants to hear the truth from Rev. Edwards.  But, in step with the King's wish not to hear the truth, the Reverend says:  "I have nothing to add."  He then gives Beck's gold watch to the Queen.  The Queen tells Grimes to tells Mrs. Grimes that she is welcome at Sandringham.  The King asks the Reverend if he thinks they can go ahead and build their memorials to the soldiers.  The Reverend answers in the affirmative. 

No official explanation was ever given about what happened to the Sandringham company. 

Over a million British and Commonwealth men were killed in World War I. 

Half of these have no known grave. 

 

Good film.  David Jason was terrific as Captain Frank Beck.  The Captain was great as a land agent but he sure was a naive military man.  He said his men would be changed the the war, but he would come back to Sandringham the same man.  Then he gets to the war to find that there seems to be no plan of real military action, maps that are virtually useless and a terrible lack of supplies (especially water) combined with a messed up delivery system.  And then they send him and his men across an open plain, through mine fields and to Turkish troops on a high ridge.  It seems they were virtually doomed before they got started. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 


Historical Background:

See Gallipoli (1981).

 

 

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