Hope and Glory
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When you consider that the most famous scene he's ever filmed involves Ned Beatty being brutally violated by a toothless mountain man, it's a bit surprising that John Boorman is the writer-director behind Hope and Glory (1987), an utterly charming examination of civilian life during wartime. Boorman based the film's screenplay on his own experiences in and around London during the blitz. Just a boy at the time, Boorman found himself regularly bedazzled by the action unfolding around him, whether it involved nighttime buzz-bomb attacks, captured German pilots, or his sisters' escapades with assorted Allied soldiers. Although Hope and Glory was nominated for a handful of Oscars® and made a bit of money when it was originally released, it remains one of the more unjustly under-appreciated films of the 1980s. It's inviting from beginning to end - the polar opposite of the psychic pounding you get from Deliverance (1972).
Boorman's charming protagonist is 9-year-old Bill Rohan (Sebastian Rice-Edwards), a content little kid whose family is suddenly forced to deal with the fact that Britain is under nightly attack by the Nazis. The war has turned his life into a chaotic series of incidents that range from the humorous to the horrifying. His father (David Hayman), volunteers for service, even though he isn't legally required to do so, leaving Bill and his blossoming teenage sister, Dawn (Sammi Davis), in the sole care of their emotional mother (Sarah Miles).
This leads to a series of winning episodes that eventually coalesce into an emotionally charged narrative. Bill grows up considerably during the adventure, but the same could be said of every member of his family. His sister finds love, and his mother re-visits an old flame. Even his ornery grandfather (Ian Bannen) comes out of it a changed man.
It takes a while to get used to the idea that Hope and Glory isn't going to be a straight-forward tragedy. The story contains moments of sadness and death, just as one would expect of a war-based movie. But Boorman is far more interested in recreating the sense of adventure that he felt while cavorting through the bombed-out ruins of his neighborhood.
A great deal of time and energy went into re-creating the street that Boorman grew up on as a child. For lack of a fitting stand-in, Rosehill Avenue was constructed virtually from scratch, but in a rather unique manner. Anthony Pratt, Boorman's head of production design, created an ingenious set that relied a great deal on optical illusions. The houses that stand closest to the camera when Billy is out in the street, are facades built on scaffoldings. The houses that fade into the distance down the way are actually painted in perspective to suggest a long road; some of the "houses" were only a few feet high. There was also a cut-out of the London skyline in the distance, as well as a moveable St. Paul's Cathedral. Nowadays, vaguely unconvincing digital effects would surely trump the possibility of such brilliant handiwork. Here, the effect is seamless.
Boorman, as you might suspect while watching Hope and Glory, based many of the characters on his real-life relatives. He wasn't too sure how his aged mother would react when she saw herself portrayed in a motion picture, and, as Boorman wrote in his autobiography, it didn't go quite as well as he had hoped: "As the crowd poured out from the premiere, press and television surrounded my mother, demanding to know how she felt about seeing her life on the screen. ‘It was quite good in its way,' was her faint praise, ‘but personally I prefer a good thriller.'" Boorman suspected that the film had stirred up long dormant, conflicted feelings in his mother. "She enjoyed the attention," he wrote, "but...felt I had stolen something from her. She never said as much, but I knew it was so."
Producer: John Boorman, Michael Dryhurst
Directed by: John Boorman
Screenplay: John Boorman
Cinematography: Philippe Rousselot, John Harris
Editor: Ian Crafford
Music: Peter Martin
Production Design: Anthony Pratt
Art Design: Don Dossett
Special Effects: Rodney Fuller, Michael Collins, Phil Stokes
Set Design: Joan Woollard
Costume Design: Shirley Russell
Makeup: Anna Dryhurst
Cast: Sebastian Rice-Edwards (Bill Rohan), Geraldine Muir (Sue Rohan), Sarah Miles (Grace Rohan), David Hayman (Clive Rohan), Sammi Davis (Dawn Rohan), Derrick O'Connor (Mac), Susan Wooldridge (Molly), Jean-Marc Barr (Cpl. Bruce Carey), Ian Bannen (George), Annie Leon (Bill's Grandmother), Jill Baker (Faith), Amelda Brown (Hope), Katrine Boorman (Charity), Gerald James (Headmaster), Barbara Pierson (Teacher), Charley Boorman (Luftwaffe Pilot).
by Paul Tatara