A Boyhood Blitz
In 1987 Christian Bale starred as a young boy dealing with war in "Empire of the Sun", that same year saw Sebastian Rice-Edwards starred as young boy dealing with war in "Hope and Glory". Whilst Christian Bale has gone on to be a huge star Sebastian Rice-Edwards performance is a key reason why "Hope and Glory" is one of director John Boorman's best movies as he gets across what it was like being a boy, playing in bombed out buildings, having adventures at his grandparents and dealing with loss. It is also because John Boorman, who also wrote "Hope and Glory", has done a brilliant job of giving us what it was like with a level of visual authenticity combined with observational humour so that whilst one moment you will be confronted with an issue of war the next there will be some humour, but never forced humour.
So "Hope and Glory" basically gives us this snapshot of WWII through the eyes of young Bill Rowan (Sebastian Rice-Edwards) who is a nine year-old boy as Britain goes to war with Germany, the first of many authentic and moving scenes as we witness the world stop as the announcement is broadcast over the radio. What follows is basically a series of events from Bill's dad building an air raid shelter in the garden which floods when it rains to his father enlisting, his sister carrying on with a Canadian soldier and Bill joining a gang of boys who scour bomb sites for shrapnel, bullets and trophies of war. But at the same time we see the difficulties faced from houses being bombed, hearts being broken and with loved ones away that sense of loneliness which starts to encroach on day to day life.
That is just a brief glimpse of what goes on in "Hope and Glory" and there is a whole lot more as every minute of this movie is rich in detail. It is credit to John Boorman for creating such a content dense movie without it feeling heavy and disjointed as he manages to make the events flow so that they all become part of a timeline despite the fact there is little which fills in the gaps between events. It is also credit to Boorman that "Hope and Glory" is also visually rich, firstly with a wonderful sense of authenticity which you can connect with but also in every scene he uses the full depth of the vision to tell the story. The scene early on where young Bill, his father and mother stop as war is announced on the wireless is a prime example because in the background his little sister is playing in the garden, oblivious to what this all means.
And to sound like a broken record it is again credit to John Boorman that "Hope and Glory" ends up being both informative and amusing. Somehow he manages to deliver things such as a young girl's mother being killed when a house is bombed but then through the child eye innocence shows us a moment of unexpected but not unnatural humour as a young girl ask her if she wants to play. It is so clever and this happens throughout the movie where an element of war is brought to life, such as when Bill has to return to school after staying with his grandparents only to discover that the school has been bombed which gives us the hysterical line "thank you Adolf". I could carry on because "Hope and Glory" is 113 minutes and I would say almost every minute mixes this factual yet humorous account of WWII from Bill's youthful eyes.
As for the performances well Sebastian Rice-Edwards as Bill is perfect for the simple reason he is ordinary, he plays the part as if he is just being a boy who gets into scraps and has adventures in the ruins. It's not just Sebastian Rice-Edwards who makes "Hope and Glory" so good as all the performances are a joy to watch from Sarah Miles as his mother Grace to the hilarious Ian Bannen as his eccentric Grandfather. But it is Sammi Davis as Bill's older sister Dawn who ends up grabbing your attention more as she has the most eventful storyline thanks to her relationship with a Canadian soldier.
What this all boils down to is that "Hope and Glory" is a triumph from start to finish and for me probably John Boorman's best movie. He has done such a magnificent job of recreating what WWII was like for a young boy but in looking back also delivers the humour of what a child experienced. Plus visually he transports us back in time and the street where all this drama takes place could have been the street I grew up in.