Monday, June 2, 2014

Home Front

Film: Hope and Glory
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I’ve said before that of all of the many possible topics covered in film, nothing has been done more than war. It’s not difficult to find a film on pretty much any war topic you can think of, and for a war like World War II, you can find all of those areas of the war you can think of and more. There are prison movies, movies that concentrate on Europe, Africa, the Pacific, the air war, the war on and under the waves, invasions, defenses against invasions, sieges, concentration camps, and just about anything else. One of the most interesting aspects of the war to me is the home front. I’m interested in the desert war, too, but the home front is fascinating to me. So I was pleased when Hope and Glory showed up.

What makes Hope and Glory interesting to me is that it comes from the perspective of a child. Billy Roman (Sebastian Rice-Edwards, in his only film role) is about 10 when the war starts and his father (David Hayman) joins up. His mother (Sarah Miles) attempts to send him and his younger sister Sue (Geraldine Muir) to Australia, but relents at the last minute and keeps him home along with young Sue and older sister Dawn (Sammi Davis).

What becomes evident is something that I think many of us have always kind of expected: while terrible and filled with privation and the crippling fear of air raids, bombs, and fires, living in London during the Blitz was something of an adventure. I’m not suggesting that this is something I’d want to live through or experience, but for a child, there would be a sense of the magical in such an environment. There are certainly elements of that here, as the war seems to pass over Billy almost as something occurring in the background, as if he has nothing personally at stake beyond the night time bombing raids during the blitz.

And really, this is the film. There is a sort of romance between Billy’s mother Grace and family friend Mac (Derrick O’Connor), and it eventually comes out that Grace regrets her marriage to her husband in some respects. For Clive Rowan’s part, he is disappointed in his part in the war. After going through officer training, he learns that he is too old for the position and is turned into a clerk, “typing for Britain” as he puts it. But this keeps him close to home and out of the shooting war, which is disappointing to him, a relief to his family, and it seems mildly disappointing to Billy as well.

For Dawn’s part, despite being only 15 when the war starts, she determines to “do her part” by “befriending” as many soldiers and airmen as she can, and finds a Canadian soldier named Bruce (Jean-Marc Barr) to befriend in particular, at least until he is posted and sent off. Naturally, Dawn gets pregnant, which adds to the strain of the family. What also adds to the strain is the house catching on fire and burning to the ground, forcing the Rowans to move in with Grace’s curmudgeonly and mildly insane father out in the country.

Really, that’s all there is here. This isn’t so much a film with a plot but a roughly year-long slice out of the lives of these people living out the Blitz as best they can, made interesting by coming from the perspective of a young boy who sees it all as something magic. Even the bombing raids are something akin to fireworks, and the next day, he and his friends raid the bombed houses smashing anything not destroyed in the bomb blasts. Why? Because it’s something for them to do, and because there are things there to be smashed. There’s no recognition of danger or of the life threatening conditions. It merely is the world that Billy now lives in.

I’m torn on Hope and Glory because I genuinely want to like it, and I kind of do. I just wish there were more to it. I’d like something more than Dawn’s pregnancy and her relationship with Bruce as a plot, because it’s really the closest thing we have to a plot. It’s beautifully filmed and in general I like the characters. It also does a magnificent job of really giving Billy’s perspective on the entire process of the war.

But as good as this is, and as much as I enjoyed watching it, Hope and Glory comes across like a confection. Sweet on the tongue, maybe a touch of substance, and then gone, melted away into nothing. I’m not sure I’ll recall much of this a month from now except for that lingering sensation of pure adventure that can only happen in youth. Maybe that’s enough.

Why to watch Hope and Glory: A very different perspective on war.
Why not to watch: How many perspectives on war do you need?

7 comments:

  1. I love the part where the school gets bombed and the children yell "Thank you, Hitler!".

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    1. Yeah. It's a fun moment, and a very real one. I can imagine little kids doing exactly that.

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  2. I think I've seen most John Boorman films, but except for Excalibur, I don't believe I revisit very much. I remember liking this when it came out, but that was the last time I encountered it. A confection is good once in a while. I'll keep my eyes open for a chance to see it again. Thanks.

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  3. So I watched this film last night and you pretty much summed up my feelings in two lines:

    “This isn’t so much a film with a plot but a roughly year-long slice out of the lives of these people living out the Blitz as best they can, made interesting by coming from the perspective of a young boy who sees it all as something magic.”

    and

    “I’m torn on Hope and Glory because I genuinely want to like it, and I kind of do. I just wish there were more to it.”

    I can honestly say that this was not the film I thought it would be going…which is a good thing I guess... I enjoyed many elements of the film, including the cheeky humour and a few of the coming-of-age moments, but was left feeling very conflicted by end. Part of this may also be due to the fact that the film never really settles on one particular tone. The humour is good but not good enough to sustain the running time. While the dramatic moments do not resonate the way I hoped they would. Plus, as you pointed out, there is very little substance to the plot. I was simply observing their life without ever truly being invested.

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    1. @Richard--Boorman has some films worth revisiting. Point Blank, for instance, is a hell of a good revenge film and one that I really enjoy. Of course, he's also responsible for The Exorcist II, so your mileage may vary.

      @Courtney--I still really want to like this. I want to like it a lot more than I actually like it. I think you've got it right--it never really settles on what it wants to be, so it's hard to figure out exactly how to approach it. Is it a comedy? Kinda. Is it a drama? Kinda. But it's not really a blend of the two. Instead, it's just comedic or dramatic moments. It's frustrating because it's so hard to verbalize.

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  4. I liked this one because it had more humor than I was expecting. In fact, I hadn't been expecting any at all, so when I found myself laughing it was a welcome relief from some of the darker parts.

    On a related note, this film has something in it that has left me a little frustrated over all these years. Before I ever discovered IMDB in 1997 I used to see people in movies and KNOW I knew them from somewhere, but not be able to place them. I watched this film a second time at some point a couple years after Kate Moss became famous. When I did I swore that the young teenage girl, the one the boys pay to look in her knickers, was a young Kate Moss. She would have been the same age at the time and the face looked identical.

    Fast forward more years and I used IMDB to look up the character, and it's an actress of another name. But...she only ever had this one movie credit, and since it was before Kate Moss became famous it's conceivable she used a stage name first. And people aren't as anal as I am about "correcting" a minor IMDB credit in a film not much remembered anymore.

    I'm 90% sure it's not Kate Moss just because I figure SOMEONE would have mentioned it by now, but a small part of me still wonders...

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    1. I remember you mentioning this film in the past. I'm pretty sure you like it more than I do, or that you at least got more out of it than I did. I went into it expecting to love it, and I simply didn't.

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