Private Briggs (Hywel Bennett), known as Briggsy to his friends, was stationed in Singapore and Malaya during the early fifties, but for much of the time he was relegated to a job as a clerk in the offices there. At night he and his fellow soldiers would frequent the nightclubs in the hope that they would get lucky with the local women, but as the kind of woman who visited that sort of place was a prostitute, the men were guaranteed some action if they could meet their price. But Briggs was a virgin, and when he went back to the home of Lucy (Tsai Chin), he could not go through with it...
Based on Leslie Thomas's autobiographical book, The Virgin Soldiers showed that Britain was getting in on the sex and violence act that Hollywood was becoming adept at, what with the loosening of censorship allowing more adult material to enter the cinemas. Of course, that's about all it had in common with the likes of Easy Rider as here the establishment concerns which had influenced British films for decades were still very much to the fore, and how much more establishment could you get for subject matter than the Army? This had more to do with Carry On Sergeant than it might have admitted.
Filming on location in Singapore and Malaya helped quite a bit for that authentic atmosphere, and much of the script, which had input from Ian La Frenais, rang true as convincing experiences from the era it depicted. The soldiers of the title were all boys really, with their first taste of life in the adult world courtesy of being forced into National Service, something few of them have any thoughts about challenging as "it's the law". We see life on the base through the eyes of Briggs, but this is bolstered by another character who doesn't want to be there.
She is officer's daughter Philippa Raskin (Lynn Redgrave, very good but not quite glamorous enough), who all the privates want to get together with, but never get the chance to as she is always in the officer's compound or teaching the little children on the base. Briggs takes a chance and waits for her one afternoon, then asks her if she wants to go for a walk, an offer she accepts, but to her he is simply another example of why life here is "rotten". There's a dance held there which Phillippa attends with her parents because her father has told her everyone thinks she is a lesbian, and a ghastly occasion it is too, neatly encapsulating the gulf between doing your duty and what you really want to be getting on with.
Briggs doesn't lose his virginity to Philippa as you might expect, and neither does she to him because she mistakes Sergeant Driscoll for him and they spend the night together. Driscoll is played by Nigel Davenport in one of his masterclasses of how to essay the role of the military man, a tough but fair type who sees clearly where the other characters have gone wrong and veers between bemusement and disgust at their antics. As the situation in Malaya deteriorates, the clerks are pressed into service and the story ends with a battle on a train where the laughs that you may have been enjoying dry up pretty sharpish. The Virgin Soldiers captures the camaraderie, but also the fear of the circumstances the likes of Briggs found himself in, and is very effective for what it sets out to do even if it doesn't look as daring as it once did. Music by Peter Greenwell.