1987 / Best Director / Best Picture

Film #350: Hope and Glory (1987)

War films have long been a staple of the Best Picture category with World War II in particular forming the basis of a lot of the nominees. But the phrase war film conjures up images of men in helmets being shot at and learning things about themselves while in the trenches. With the possible exception of Since You Went Away, no films have really focused on those left behind while the men are away fighting in the war. Hope and Glory differs from Since You Went Away primarily because it is quintessentially British.

Based on the real-life experiences of director John Boorman, who grew up during the Blitz, the hero of the piece is ten year old Billy Rowan. The film begins with the start of the war and sees Billy’s father join up for active service even though his age eventually means that he is forced to take a desk job rather than fight on the front line. Meanwhile his mother Grace is left to single-handedly care for Billy and his two sisters, flirty teenager Grace and cute little Sue. Initially Grace wants to send Billy and Sue away to Australia but quickly realises that she can’t be separated from her children meaning that Billy gets to witness the war first hand. Billy’s war involves he and his friends setting up a den in one of the houses that the bomb has destroyed and essentially running wild. Billy’s life during the Blitz is a combination of swearing, pilfering and smashing stuff up whilst he also has childish dreams about what it would be like if he fought in the war. The real drama is provided by his family members as Grace thinks about lost opportunities and what her life would’ve been liked had she married another. Meanwhile, Dawn starts a romance with a Canadian soldier which soon results in her becoming pregnant at the age of sixteen. After a fire at their home, the Rowans are forced to move to the country home of Grace’s parents where they enjoy a healthy diet of cricket and rowing. It is here that Billy bonds with his curmudgeonly Grandfather George who really doesn’t like any of his daughters or the men that they’ve married.

I personally really enjoyed Hope and Glory during its first two thirds when we were given a child’s eye view of the blitz. Young actor Sebastian Rice-Edwards has the perfect range of facial expressions to convey both the wonderment and horror that the war has brought. Philippe Rousselot’s camera stays at Rice-Edward’s height during the majority the film allowing us to see the world through his eyes. Billy’s world is one of shrapnel-hunting and smashing things up but at the same time it’s clear that he’s missing his father. I did find Boorman’s script to be slightly uneven and felt that the final third, set almost exclusively on the River Thames, to be a bit of a comedown after the excitement of war-torn London. In addition the final scene, in which his school is destroyed by a stray bomb, feels slightly anticlimactic and made the film feel flat as a result. But I can forgive Boorman these sins mainly as Hope and Glory is a film that is extremely personal to him and most of Billy’s experiences are those first felt by Boorman during the Blitz. Hope and Glory is billed as a comedy however I would describe it more as a drama with comedic elements. One of the funniest parts of the film is when Billy’s father brings back some German jam and the family are unsure whether or not to eat it. Similarly Dawn’s wedding to her Canadian soldier has a lot of humour to it especially when you consider the ultimate fate of the bridegroom. Whilst Hope and Glory is, for the most part, a sedate film about what it means to be a family and missed opportunities that doesn’t mean it wasn’t enjoyable. It’s crazy to think that this film is directed by the same man who brought us the extremely violent Deliverance as the two movies couldn’t be more different. More than anything else this is a very British film, down to its patriotic title, and I have to say I’m more than a little surprised that the American academy nominated it for Best Picture in the first place.


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