Wednesday 20 June 2012

Movie Review: Hope And Glory (1987)

A child's view of World War Two, Hope And Glory has an innocent tenderness that is impossible not to like. John Boorman's childhood memories of the London Blitz are translated to a film where young spirits thrive while the terror of war grips a nation.

In a London suburb, 10 year old Bill (Sebastian Rice-Edwards) hears the adults talk of impending war. His older sister Dawn (Sammi Davis) is discovering boys and sex, while his father Clive (David Hayman) is eager to join the war effort despite his advancing years. When the shooting starts, it is left to the mother of the family Grace (Sarah Miles) to look after Bill, Dawn and their younger sister Sue.

Grace tries but cannot bring herself to ship her children to relatives in Australia, so the family buckles down to survive the aerial assault on London. As the neighbourhood is gradually destroyed by unrelenting waves  of German bombing, homes are lost and neighbours die, but Billy and his friends discover a world of freedom to do as they please, rampaging through the rubble to discover new adventures and create their own wars. In the meantime Dawn falls in love with a Canadian soldier, and the conditions of war just heighten the strain between her and Grace.

Structured more as vignettes from a life disrupted by war than a traditional narrative, Hope And Glory highlights the natural resiliency of children to make the best out of every situation. With an existential war raging around him, Billy still finds the opportunities to observe and learn, question and debate, and scrap his way into the neighbourhood gaggle of boys enjoying the rule vacuum created by the war. The older Dawn is already tugging at the edges of rebellion before the shooting starts. The war accelerates her journey from child to woman, with experiences that are both exhilarating and embarrassing.

Boorman captures the air of surreal optimism that ensures survival in the face of daily brushes with death.  Hope And Glory is true to its name, both hope and glory thriving on the home front while the grim business of war churns away. Boorman coaxes a winning performance out of a young Rice-Edwards, a non-actor helped by his lack of pretensions, easily slipping into the role of a child more amazed than scared by the world suddenly crumbling around him. Miles nails the frazzled mother having to look after her brood during a prolonged crisis, and Davis adds a measure of unpredictable wildness to the family, more worried about her love life than the irritating detail of a world at war.

Late in the movie a crusty Ian Bannen makes an appearance as the animated Grandfather, as Grace takes the family to the countryside for a belated reprieve from the fires of a burning London. Hope And Glory increases the comic dose as Bannen effortlessly swallows the scenery, and embroils himself in an epic confrontation with a rat. Meanwhile, an errant German bomber still chases Billy to the country, unknowingly exposing him to new and highly economical fishing techniques.

In Hope And Glory, as the adults fret about the war the children simply go about the business of growing up, discovering new playgrounds and amidst the suspension of all the rules, building everlasting memories.

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