Hope and Glory (1987): Boorman’s Oscar Nominated Nostalgia of Growing Up in WWII

A warmly nostalgic, heartfelt personal film from John Boorman, a director better known until then for the tough an stylish noir crimer (the 1967 cult film “Point Blank”) and epic-adventures like “Deliverance” (1972) and “The Emerald Forrest” (1985).

The title of the feature derives from the traditional British patriotic song “Land of Hope and Glory.” old boy.

At the center of the story is Rowan family, headed by parents Grace and Clive, raising their three children, Bill and his two sisters in a suburb of London. When Clive joins the army, leaving Grace alone to watch over the children.

Seen through the eyes of the 10-year-old Bill Rohan (Sebastian Rice-Edwards), the “fireworks” caused by the Blitz are more exciting than terrifying.  Bill thanks Hitler, when school classes are cancelled due to the brutal attacks.  His family does not see things the same, but their will to survive during the bombing brings them closer together.

The nightly raids are not the only drama.  In the course of the tale, older sister Dawn falls for a Canadian soldier and gets pregnant, which turns her life upside down. The family eventually moves to the Thames-side home of Grace’s parents when their house burns down, ironically not in an air raid, but in an ordinary fire. This incident allows Bill to spend more time with his curmudgeonly grandfather.

Boorman recreated his old neighborhood and went out of his way, as writer and director, to avoid visual or thematic cliches.  The “newsreel” shown in the local cinema is from the 1969 film “Battle of Britain.”  The main set was built on the runway at the former Wisley Airfield in Surrey.

This picture, which won Best Picture from the National Society of Film Critics and received Oscar nominations in major categories (see below), is everything that William Wyler’s 1942 Oscar-winner “Mrs. Miniver,” also set during the Blitz, was not: Candid, realistic, charming, and authentic.

Boorman looked at his life and at his family with an innocent yet humorous and satirical eye, even depicting the secret love that his mother harbored for the best friend of his father.

By nature, the narrative is fractured and episodicit unfolds as a series of enchanting vignettes. The tone is decidedly comedic, and for some just the notion of a comedy about war horrors like the Blitz was anathema.

Using his own family as a microcosm of the society at large, Boorman shows how one rigid and placid middle-class clan goes into chaos and upheaval during the War, depicting how children (and adults) benefited from the temporary relaxation of stuffy codes and norms of behaviorin other words, the positive, humanistic, liberating sides of a chaotic and messy situation like war.

Initially, no U.S. studio was interested in financing this period piece, and some backing came from Europe. Then, David Puttnam, fresh from his success with the Oscar-winning “The Killing Fields” (1984) and now top exec of Columbia, provided finishing funds for Boorman’s modestly budgeted (around $10 million) feature. More importantly, he offered American distribution and made sure that crucial critics would see the film in advance screenings.

“Hope and Glory” premiered at the New York Film Festival, where it created a buzz. When the movie opened theatrically, it received glowing reviews, but Coca-Cola, then the owner of Columbia, ousted Puttnam and his marketing and advertising campaign for the picture never materialized.

Sequel

In 2012, Boorman announced that a sequel, titled Queen and Country, is in the works, telling the story of an older soldier during the Korean War.

 Cast:

Bill Rohan (Sebastian Rice-Edwards)
Sue Rohan (Geraldine Muir)
Grace Rohan (Sarah Miles)
Clive Rohan (David Hayman)
Dan Rohan (Sammi Davis)
Mac (Derrick O’Connor)
Molly (Susan Wooldridge)
Chaplain Bruce Carey (Jean-Marc Barr)
George (Ian Bannen)
Bill’s Grandmother (Annie Leon)

Oscar Nominations: 5

Picture, produced by John Boorman and Michael Dryhurst.
Director: John Boorman.
Screenplay (Original): John Boorman.
Cinematography: Philippe Rousselot.
Art Direction-Set Decoration: Anthony Pratt; Joan Woollard.

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context

Bernardo Bertolucci’s historical epic “The Last Emperor” swept most (nine) of the 1987 Oscars, and it’s one of the few films in the Academy’s history to have won in each and every nominated category. The four other Best Picture nominees were: James L. Brooks’ “Broadcast News,” Adrian Lyne’s “Fatal Attraction,” and John Boorman’s “Hope and Glory.”