The world is at war and a child is having the adventure of a lifetime.
That’s the idea behind the 1987 best picture nominee, Hope and Glory. Taking place at the start of World War II, Hope and Glory shows us the Blitz through the eyes of ten year-old Billy Rowan (Sebastian Rice-Edwards). The world around Billy is on that is full of destruction, death, and often surreal imagery. It’s a world where school children wear gas masks and the nights are full of explosions and shaking walls. In the morning, everyone steps outside to see whose house has been destroyed.
Billy’s father, Clive (David Hayman), joins the army, leaving his wife Grace (Sarah Miles) to look after the Billy, Susie (Gerladine Muir), and their rebellious older sister, Dawn (Sammi Davis). While Dawn falls in love with a Canadian soldier (Jean-Marc Barr) and Grace is tempted to have an affair with her husband’s best friend, Mac (Derrick O’Connor), Billy spends his days exploring the ruins of London and collecting scrap metal. He and his friends loot bombed-out houses for all that they can find. When they hear that Pauline’s (Sara Langton) mother was killed in the bombing, they blithely ask her if it’s true. And while Billy eventually comes to better appreciate the reality of what’s happening around him, the rest of his friends remain cheerfully unconcerned. “Thank you, Adolf!” one yells to the sky after learning that their school has been bombed.
Hope and Glory is a comedy but it has a very serious core. Even while we’re watching Billy having his adventures, we’re very aware of what’s happening in the background. For that matter, so is Billy, even if he doesn’t always immediately understand what he’s seeing or hearing. Billy may be confused as to why Grace and Dawn have such a strained relationship but, for the observant viewer, the clues are there in every tense line of dialogue, awkward silence, and sidelong glance. One of the film’s best scenes features Billy pretending to be asleep while listening to Grace and Mac talking about their past together. As they speak, it becomes obvious that Grace may have married Clive but she’s always loved Mac. Marrying Clive allowed her to have a family and a home, both of which now seem as if they could all just instantly disappear depending on where the bombs randomly land. It’s a sweet but rather sad scene, one that’s perfectly played by both Sarah Miles and Derrick O’Connor.
I cried a lot while watching Hope and Glory. I cried when Clive told his family that he was leaving. I cried when Billy was forced to confront the reality of war. I even teared up when Billy, while cheerfully exploring the ruins of a house, caught sight of the house’s former inhabitant watching him with a shell-shocked expression on her face. But it’s also a very funny film. About halfway through, Billy’s grandfather (Ian Bannen) shows up and he’s a wonderfully cantankerous and proudly contrary character. It was also hard not to like little Roger (Nicky Taylor), the pint-sized leader of the gang who swaggers like a mini-James Cagney and delivers his lines with a rat-a-tat combination of innocence and jerkiness.
Not surprisingly, Hope and Glory was autobiographical. Director John Boorman based this film on his childhood and Hope and Glory is sweetly touching in the way that only a story that comes from the heart can be. This deeply moving and very funny film was nominated for best picture but it lost to The Last Emperor.