US Release Date: 11-01-1987
Directed by: John Boorman
- Sebastian Rice-Edwards, as
- Bill Rohan
- Sarah Miles, as
- Grace Rohan
- David Hayman, as
- Clive Rohan
- Sammi Davis, as
- Dawn Rohan
- Geraldine Muir, as
- Sue Rohan
- Derrick O'Connor, as
- Susan Wooldridge, as
- Jean-Marc Barr, as
- Cpl. Bruce Carrey
- Ian Bannen, as
- Grandfather George
- Annie Leon, as
- Jill Baker, as
- Amelda Brown, as
- Katrine Boorman, as
- Gerald James, as
- Barbara Pierson, as
- Nicky Taylor as
Sebastian Rice-Edwards and Geraldine Muir in Hope and Glory.
Hope and Glory reminded me of Woody Allen's Radio Days, also released in 1987. Both films revolve around a young boy and his extended family around the time of the start of World War II, with the story told from the boy's perspective. And both films cast the period in a nostalgic glow. Although this film isn't as outright a comedy as Radio Days, and the family is in more direct danger than the family in Radio Days, it does use levity to great effect to show the humorous side of life even in wartime.
There isn't so much a plot to the film as there is a period of time in young Bill Rohan's life. He's around 10 years old when the film and the war begins. His father, despite being past conscription age, joins the army and Bill is left at home with his mother, along with his older and younger sister. His mother, Grace, decides to keep her children with her rather than send them away as many English parents did during the war. Bill witnesses the Blitz as homes in his area are bombed to rubble. Although he is often in danger, the situation is more of an adventure for him than a tragedy. He joins a gang of boys who explore the ruins and collect items they find, along with pieces of shrapnel and he develops his first crush on a neighbor girl.
For the older members of Bill's family, things are more serious, but we see their situation through Bill's eyes. He overhears conversations that he doesn't fully understand, but the audience does. His mother, before she was married, was in love with a man Bill thinks of as an uncle, and there are obviously still feelings there. His older sister has an affair with a Canadian soldier and becomes pregnant. While these events upset the family, in many ways it also strengthens it as the boundaries of polite convention are destroyed by the war.
Later in the story, Bill and his family move in with his grandparents. His grandfather, played by a scene stealing Ian Bannen, is grumpy and eccentric, seeing nothing wrong with shooting at rats with a shotgun during breakfast.
The cast is universally excellent. Surprisingly, this is Sebastian Rice-Edwards' only movie appearance. He does a great job as Bill, handling the comedy and light drama equally well. Sarah Miles is particularly good as Bill's mother as is Sammi Davis as his wild sister.
Many of the events in the film were inspired by writer/director John Boorman's own childhood experiences during the war. It's obviously a period in his life that he remembers with great fondness. Churchill called the early years of the war, when the United Kingdom stood alone against the Nazis, England's "Finest Hour" and it seems Boorman might agree with him. The title of the film comes from the patriotic English song by Elgar, "Land of Hope and Glory." It's Boorman's ability to wend humor through the dark days of the Blitz that makes this movie so special.
Although the story is similar to a coming of age tale, it's not fully one because Bill is still a child by the film's end, as evidenced by his joy at the conclusion where one of every child's fantasies comes true when his school is bombed. However, to hijack the Churchill quote that is featured in the film near its climax, "Now this is not the end of Bill's childhood. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."
Last year, Boorman announced he was making a sequel, to be called Queen and Country, that will likewise be autobiographical, covering his time in the Korean War. If he can bring the same heart and humor to it as its predecessor, I'll be one of the first in line to see it.
Sebastian Rice-Edwards in Hope and Glory.
The main difference between Hope and Glory and Radio Days is that the family here is actually living in a war zone, whereas Americans living stateside never had to worry about bombs being dropped on their homes. Both are quite sentimental stories about a young boy's life during WWII, so they do have much in common. John Boorman is more sentimental and nostalgic than Woody Allen. Take the last lines in the movie after Bill's school has been bombed by the Germans. He says in voice over, “In all my life nothing ever quite matched the perfect joy of that moment. My school lay in ruins. The river beckoned with the promise of stolen days...”
Like Scott I thoroughly enjoyed Hope and Glory. It really captures the time period and the feeling of what it must have been like to be a child during the Blitz. The Rohan's are extremely likable; every member of the family is memorable in one way or another. The father is an aging sprite with a twinkle in his eye and always a kind word for his children. The mother is gentle and nurturing without being overbearing. All of the normal growing pains that children go through are complicated and exacerbated by the war. Just what is normal or socially acceptable and what isn't doesn't matter so much in wartime; different rules apply.
The scene where their house burns down exemplifies this point. The family naturally assumes that the fire was caused by a bomb, as several of their neighbor's houses have been destroyed this way, but it turns out to be just a typical house fire. As the policeman tells their mother, “These things happen in wartime too.” Boorman keeps the mood surprisingly light, even in the scenes dealing with death there is a feeling of adventure rather than an atmosphere of despair. There are even a few laugh out loud moments such as the, "Thank you, Adolf." line so politely and sincerely spoken by the young actor playing one of Bill's classmates. Boorman also manages to include raw human emotion like the scene where Bill's father goes off to war and Bill doesn't want him to leave. It is deftly handled by the two actors and one of the great father/son heart-tugging moments in film. Sebastian Rice-Edwards gives a remarkable debut performance.
I also agree with Scott that Ian Bannen steals his scenes as the cantankerous cricket-loving grandfather. Although it would have been nice to see Trevor Howard in the role, Bannen (who replaced Howard) does a terrific job. He gets the movie's best line during a family cricket match. Earlier in the movie Bill's father teaches Bill how to do a “googly” which is basically the equivalent of pitching a curveball or a slider in baseball. Near the end of the movie Bill uses this trick on his father who exclaims, “That was a googly... I taught him how, and now he turns it against me!” The grandfather chuckles knowingly and responds with, “The law of life, cruel isn't it?”
Like my brother I am looking forward to seeing Boorman's sequel, Queen and Country. It will be nice to revisit Bill Rohan as an adult and to see what changes the intervening years have wrought for him and his family.
The Rohan family and all of their many growing pains.
Another difference between the family in Radio Days and Hope and Glory is that this British family is far more flawed than their American counterparts. I would call Joe’s family eccentric or quirky while Bill’s family shows their warts for all to see. Both families are very likable but the portrayal of Joe’s family is lighter hearted than Bill’s.
As Scott wrote, Bill sees life around him from a child’s perspective. He collects fallen shrapnel and likes playing Cricket with his father. Much of what else he witnesses here are beyond his full comprehension. He is curious when watching his mother and sister fight or when staring at girls in lingerie. He and his younger sister do not act appropriately polite when they talk out loud about a girl’s mother who just died in a bombing in front of the girl, but that is how small children act. He also is confused when he sees his mother and a man she still has feelings for look longingly at each other. It also provides joy such as in the scene Patrick mentioned about the bombed school. Bill never even thinks to be concerned about whether or not anyone was hurt.
This childhood wonder also provides some humorous moments. One of the best is when Bill and his younger sister spy on their older sister, through a key hole, having sex with her Canadian boyfriend . The younger sister comments that they must not know how to do it right as they keep changing positions. She defends her opinion by noting that they are not doing it like their parents, who obviously have it down pat, because dad does all the moving and mom just lays there. How she knows any of that is a bit disturbing.
Bill is close to his father and with his absence his world becomes dominated by women. If he learns anything during this time period it is lessons on the opposite sex. Bill is there when his mother confesses to a friend that she never got used to sleeping in the same bed as his father. He learns that his mother pines over another man. He learns from his older sister that women enjoy and want sex. He learns from a neighbor girl that some women can be bought. It all becomes overwhelming when his sister goes into labor.
This life lesson is emphasized by his grandfather, who offers Bill such sage advice as, “They're (women) a different species.” And “Love them but don’t try to understand them. That road leads to ruin.” I have to say, some of the women in this film are a bit frustrating, especially Bill’s older sister. She tells her mother she is not having sex with the soldier because of love, but then falls in love with him. She turns down her boyfriend’s proposal and then feels guilty over it and how she acted towards him. She pretends like she does not want to see him when he shows up but of course truly does. All of these irrational actions can be attributed to her age but her joking about her wanting Bill to give her a miscarriage is a bit dark.
Grandpa is out right mean sometimes, yelling at his grandchildren or telling his daughters that all of them married horrible men. In front of the entire family he asks one daughter, “You look frustrated, Faithy. That husband of yours still can't rise to the occasion?” Although as ornery and rude as he can be, he somehow still comes across as likable. Bill’s mother also walks a thin line. She comes dangerously close to having an affair but ultimately chooses her family over all else.
Scott wrote that war sets new moral standards but a child does not recognize such unwritten rules. Bill just knows that his life and the people around him are changing. Things are going on that he does not fully understand but that happens to all children as they grow up. Bill’s experiences are just more exciting as they are happening during war time. Bill’s family is not a perfect lot but that makes them all the more real, relatable and enjoyable to spend time with.
Hope and Glory is a victorious demonstration of the frustrating magnificence of family.
Photos © Copyright Columbia Pictures (1987)