Hope And Glory Review

John Boorman is one of cinema's greatest mythmakers, a director of vision whose films are wonderful to watch even while the dialogue makes you want to scream with laughter. Hope And Glory, a film about growing up during the second world war, is one of his finest achievements since it matches stunning visual flair with a strong narrative and a witty script that is just realistic enough to be convincing while also engaging in some inspired flights of fancy. This is a genuinely magical film which achieves the difficult balancing act of making war exciting, even joyous, without soft-pedalling the violence and death.

The hero of the film is nine year old Billy - a superb performance from Sebastian Rice-Edwards - who lives in suburban London with his parents and two sisters. At the start of the war he feels somehow let down that the most exciting things that happen are his dad signing up and his classes being interrupted by air raid warnings. His mother intends to have him evacuated to Australia - leading to Billy's complaint that "I'm going to miss the war and it's all your fault" - but relents at the last moment. Soon, the phoney war ends and the Blitz begins, but for Billy it's the chance of a lifetime to go wild, smashing up derelict houses, discovering the realities of sex and death and generally chasing around the increasing number of bombsites provided by the Luftwaffe.

The narrative develops as a series of familiar cliches of home front movies but given a twist by the freshness of perspective provided by Billy. Everything is seen through his eyes and this allows Boorman to play some variations on familiar tunes. The scenes of bombing are terrifyingly realistic, notably the moment when the glass blows in on the family, and there's a sense of immediacy to the devastation which has the ring of truth - householders mutely staggering around what is left of their homes, children facing the loss of a parent, ARP wardens trying to offer useless words of consolation. There's also a slightly absurdist humour on display which renews cliched concepts such as Billy's older sister losing her virginity to a Canadian GI and his mum having a rather ambiguous affair with his Uncle Mac. It's this off the wall humour which blossoms in the second half of the film when the family move to live with grandparents in the country and Billy adapts to a rural existence. Full of love and affection for the time and place, this is the most relaxed and charming work Boorman has ever done and he allows Ian Bannen to steal the whole film as the Grandfather most of us wish we'd had; gruff, taciturn, sentimentally generous and totally mischievous.

Most of the performances are just right. David Hayman is ideal as the annoyingly ineffectual father, Sammi Davies is fresh and inventive as the older sister Dawn and little Geraldine Muir has some great moments as Billy's little sister who tags along with him. Her description of sex is a wonderful moment. Sarah Miles does well as the mother, although she also has a slightly irritating 'fake' quality which is out of place. The film is held together by the newcomer Sebastian Rice-Edwards though, who is quite superb in a performance which promised big things for the future that never seemed to materialise.

The visual style of the film is sumptuous, as one expects from Boorman, with Phillipe Rousselot providing a nice range of looks for the different parts of the story. The first half, largely urban, is grey and overcast until the bombs fall when it's bright and almost magical in its range of light and colour, while the second half, rural idyll that it is, is nostalgic and spacious, with the lush greens of the riverside coming through beautifully. The joy of the film is in the way it turns war into a great big party to which Billy has received a special invitation and the visuals have a slightly dreamy quality - experience recalled in tranquility I suppose, but with a surprisingly sharp edge. Boorman has made better films, but he has rarely made one which is more purely pleasurable.

The Disc

This is a review of the Danish On Air Video Region 2 release of the film which is a cheap and easily available alternative to the R1 release.

The picture quality is average to good. The film is presented in non-anamorphic 1.85:1. This looks alright, although the US DVD is 1.66:1. There are some obvious artifacts in the darker scenes and a certain amount of grain but the level of detail is pretty pleasing and most scenes are crisp and clear. The second half is noticably better than the first in terms of image quality. Excellent colours throughout.

The sound replicates the mono soundtrack of the original release. Generally fine although lacking range and the music score occasionally drowns out everything else.

The only notable extra is the original theatrical trailer presented in 4:3 format. We also get some brief but well written biographies which look like they have come from a reference book. There are 20 chapter stops and static menus.

Such a personal movie as this really needs some extra input from the filmmaker on the DVD - a Boorman commentary would have been extremely welcome. But the disc is adequate and certainly worth picking up for seven quid.

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Last updated: 19/04/2018 20:28:23

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