After finding over a decade of success in Hollywood directing a variety of action films, (from the Lee Marvin crime film Point Blank, the Oscar nominated Deliverance, to the cult sci-fi Zardoz),then the misfortune of The Exorcist II-The Heretic, John Boorman returned to his native Great Britain in the 1980s to rediscover his creative energy. His 1987 hidden gem Hope and Glory presented a nostalgic look at the home front war years of London suburbanites during World War II blitz, as seen through the wondrous eyes of a seven year old boy Billy Rowan. This causally structured tale, which Boorman wrote and produced, is a heartwarming, semi-autobiographical account of the resilience of those who stayed behind and defended their homes and neighborhoods as the Nazi air force and rockets bombarded them night and day.
While Boorman begins his film with almost a clichéd war film remembrance, as a tabletop radio plays the Glen Miller Band’s “In the Mood” and a series of newsreels detailing the menace of Adolf Hitler and the reluctance of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to deal with this force of evil, he quickly focuses on a very personal tale of the Rowan family. The year is 1939, Billy and his younger sister, Susan and a dozen or so friends, innocently see the beginning of the war as an adventure—from the childish fascination of nighttime explosions while air raid sirens are wailing, to collecting bits of shrapnel in the streets, to watching in amazement a grounded monitor balloon–the horrible war offered the young ones a strange new way of looking at the world. Soon fathers were off to war, mothers and aunts were busy keeping things in order the best they could, and older sisters off to dances and dating odd Canadian soldiers.
Newcomer Sebastian Rice-Edwards is simply marvelous as the wide eyed Billy and Geraldine Muir is completely adorable as his sister Susie. Sarah Miles stars as Grace Rowan, the sturdy, always faithful war time mom. David Hayman is Clive, the dad who enlists, but spends the war as a simple clerk. Ian Bannen is amusing as Grace’s eccentric father who allows the family to live in their country home one summer during the most intense city blitz.
Cinematographer Philippe Rousselot’s camera captured many of the night scenes with rich intensity with delicately lit vistas of destruction. And while some were critical of the film’s slice of life, non-structured narrative plot, this film nevertheless was a huge hit in Great Britain, where many had vivid memories of those times. Although this exceptional film was nominated for six Academy Awards, including best picture, director, cinematography and screenplay, it is nearly unknown to most modern audiences.