Plot: Pvt. Brigg (Hywel Bennett) is a fresh soldier in the British military, stationed in Malaya alongside numerous other young, inexperienced soldiers. The lack of experience isn’t just on the battlefield either, as some of the young men are still virgins, including Brigg, who is eager to lose that status. Like most of his brothers in arms, Brigg has a crush on the beautiful Phillipa (Lynn Redgrave), but she is more or less off limits, or at least a risky date. This is because she happens to be the daughter of the base’s commanding officer, so anyone who tries to romance her is likely to face the wrath of the man in charge. But the flirtations and attempts to score are often pushed to the side as the real dangers of war loom and survival is not assured. Will Brigg be able to make it through these dangerous times and pursue his interest in Phillipa, or will he be yet another young soldier struck down in the conflict?
Entertainment Value: The Virgin Soldiers is not the typical war movie, as it has a dark sense of humor that permeates the material, even as the narrative explores some brutal, but grounded elements. The movie has some strong story threads, but seems content to also just allow characters to push the flow of the narrative and let us soak in what life was like at the base for these characters. Brigg is our lead and his story is one driven by a coming of age development, but that extends to most of his fellow soldiers as well, most of whom have unique situations that we explore. These side threads add a lot to The Virgin Soldiers and seeing the life that pulses through the characters makes the threat of war’s ravages all the more imposing. The way of life at the base feels natural and always believable, in lighter times or more intense moments, which again makes it easy to connect with the characters and overall experience. The tonal shifts might throw some viewers off, but it makes to me, as the soldiers are trying to enjoy life between bouts with potential death, which is quite a scope of emotion. I will say the movie is less of a straight forward comedy than some of the books it was based on, but overall, I think The Virgin Soldiers is a solid movie and is well worth a look.
One aspect of the movie that really stands out is the cast, a talented ensemble that really delivers some terrific performances. This kind of character driven material needs those kind of efforts, so The Virgin Soldiers benefits greatly from such a gifted lineup, most of whom rise to the occasion. Hywel Bennett is our lead and anchors the movie well, with perhaps the strongest overall performance, as he is able to convey the emotional beats needed. The youthful enthusiasm, awkwardness, and a little not realizing how bleak his surroundings might be are all conveyed so well by Bennett, who also has some great chemistry with Lynn Redgrave. Redgrave has an interesting role as one of few women in the male dominated base, but being the daughter of a powerful officer, that sets up some fun threads. The smaller roles are still given some solid screen time, so we have memorable turns from Nigel Davenport and Nigel Patrick, as well as a host of more minor, but still enjoyable performers. The rest of the cast includes Tsai Chin, Rachel Kempson, Geoffrey Hughes, and in a very small role, David Bowie.
The Disc: The Virgin Soldiers is on Blu-ray from Twilight Time, who deliver a rock solid visual treatment. The image looks clean and fairly sharp, with above average detail levels evident and no real issues to mention. The colors come through in natural fashion and contrast is even, so no problems there. Perhaps not an eye popping visual presence, but fans should be satisfied here. The extras include the isolated music track, as well as the film’s trailer.