In 1940 little Johnnie Boorman might have been squatting in a dank bomb shelter with his Mum and sisters, waiting out an air raid alert. Writer-director Boorman's personal memory of the working class Brit Blitz is warm & fuzzy affectionate and frequently hilarious, with a keen eye toward slightly bawdy family humor.
John Boorman is hardly a sentimentalist yet his 1987 Hope and Glory came as a big audience-pleasing surprise. A part-autobiographical account of growing up in wartime London, the picture has everything generally thought to be missing in 1980s pictures -- warmth, good humor and an appreciation for things past.
The reasonably calm and secure Rohan family adjusts to the coming of war, which begins with a long period of time where nothing seems to happen ... the 'sitzkrieg,' I believe. Although a veteran of The Great War, father Clive (David Hayman) signs up, much to the consternation of his hardworking wife Grace (Sarah Miles). Clive goes through officer training but ages out of eligibility and is instead fights the war as a clerk typist. He's billeted five hours away and can only visit home intermittently. When the blitz begins the family must rush down to bomb shelters at odd hours. Grace has the opportunity of sending her two smaller children to Australia, but cannot bear to let them go. Son Bill (Sebastian Rice Edwards) joins a gang of bored kids that roam the bomb ruins, collecting shrapnel, swiping anything of value and smashing up everything else. They also collect unexploded ammunition. Little sister Sue (Geraldine Muir) doesn't understand when neighbor kids lose their parents. Older sister Dawn (Sammi Davis) is sixteen, and is soon sneaking out to cavort with soldiers, including the Canadian Corporal Bruce (Jean-Marc Barr). He wants to marry her and take her to Toronto, but Dawn just wants the fun and the sex, not love. Grace considers being unfaithful with an old beau, whose wife has run off. There are trips to the beach, an afternoon watching a runaway barrage balloon, and Dawn's various romantic upheavals. Circumstances force the family to move in with Grace's parents, who live on an idyllic stream just twenty minutes from London. The kids have a marvelous summer, while their troublemaking cranky Grandfather George (Ian Bannen) gripes and grouses about his four daughters (the other three are Faith, Hope and Charity).
Made of memories and tall tales, Boorman's account of his war years shapes up as a stack of manageable inconveniences and occasional terror. Several houses are blown away on the Rohan's street, but the survivors feel a sense of unity. Everybody's life changes -- people go to the cinema (some nice recreations of vintage movies, there) and attend concerts; Dawn goes boy-crazy and paints lines on her legs to imitate stocking before sneaking out to jitterbug dance and get it on with her fun-time soldier. Grace actually likes the freedom away from the domestic norm when her husband is home. When she and her friend visit a clothing-sharing exchange, she remarks that she likes it when everybody is basically poor and she doesn't have to scrimp to keep up false appearances. Anything that fits, is good.
In funny faux-film dream sequences little Bill fantasizes that he's fighting the war. The neighborhood gang is a near-feral pack of rude bandits. To join Bill must say curse words in a ritual: "Bugger off you bloody sod!" The kids roam through the ruins (happily not encountering unexploded bombs) and bribe the neighbor girl Pauline to let them look in her pants. The fallback gang activity is smashing things up, a natural activity for over-excited kids who know there's a war on and have seen aerial dogfights in the sky above their houses. A German flyer parachutes into a vacant lot and is nervously taken into custody; Dawn's judgment is such that she locks flirtatious eyes as he's led away.
The movie generates a great sense of family. Dad gets to come home for Christmas, and all gather to listen to the King's holiday address (he's stuttering less this year, don't you think?). Grace's catty sisters irk Bill to no end, pinching his cheeks and hugging him. As she does every year, Grandmother angrily leaves the room when Grandfather does his yearly drunken toast to all the girlfriends and lovers he had when he was young. Bill helps Grandpa remember names he's forgotten.
The summer in the verdant neighborhood sees Bill learning to pole a boat (is that punting?). He perfects his game of cricket and searches for eggs and fish with his little sister. Dawn's love life takes an unexpected turn, that happily does not become a disaster. The movie ends on a note of unexpected harmony. I won't spoil the hilarious last laugh line, even though Columbia's trailer gives it away.
It's a curious thing, that people of my age grew up when the events of WW2 just ten or twenty years in the past. We realized that our parents' lives were so fundamentally formed by the experience, so movies and docus about the war became important to us as well: the fighting, the home fronts, the screwed-up world that resulted. Does it even matter today? People in general are the same as they ever were, living in the present tense knowing and caring little about the past. WW2 is now over seventy years removed from the present. Back in 1960, how much did we know or care about 1890? If movies like Hope and Glory can find an audience, there's hope for the future.
American audiences may only be familiar with actress Sarah Miles of Ryan's Daughter and Blow-Up, and the great Ian Bannen, of The Hill and The Flight of the Phoenix. Bannen consistently lifts anything he's in to a higher circle of quality; his cantankerous Grandfather is a wonderment. The balance of the cast is delightful. Boorman directs his child actors extremely well, which is a reminder not to pigeonhole filmmakers as 'genre specialists.' Boorman's pint-sized alter ego Bill is enraptured by a Hopalong Cassidy matinee. A summer or two later he shows momentary interest in a film crew he passes on a country lane.
Olive Films' Blu-ray of Hope and Glory is a fine transfer of this great show, and certainly a lot better than the fuzzy VHS tape I first saw ages ago. The colors are stunning; I don't believe that Boorman uses dissolves, so only the title sequences are second-generation opticals. I thought that much of the barrage balloon sequence was done with miniatures, and learned only afterwards that they're all full-scale. The enormous exterior sets fool us completely -- the production built an entire neighborhood of row houses.
Olive attaches no extras. The director usually has fine things to say about his work and this is one of his top titles. This one would have made a good 'Olive Signature' entry. There is a trailer, that has problematic audio -- the music & effects track is twice as loud as the dialogue, so much of the talk is indistinguishable. Perhaps a stereo mix was folded down incorrectly somewhere along the line, cancelling out the center dialogue track.
I wonder if this is one of those Brit productions where care was taken to make the dialogue clear for non-Brit English speakers. Nothing's more frustrating than watching an otherwise immaculate Mike Leigh film sans subs, and not understanding 80% of what's being said. The English subs are a big help, not for understandability but for Brit jargon. References such as 'on the fiddle' and 'a Ford Eight' may need some research.
Hope and Glory
Text (C) Copyright 2018 Glenn Erickson