At this point in the blog, I’ve seen so many WWII movies they all start to run together. Soldiers, sailors. American perspective, Japanese perspective. Normandy, Iwo Jima. Lovers torn apart, families reunited. Join the navy, war is hell. They’ve filmed it, I’ve seen it. But Hope and Glory finally feels like something I haven’t seen ten times already. It’s the semi-autobiographical tale of John Boorman’s childhood in London during the blitz. The film’s director looks back on his nine year old perspective of the war as he saw it in his own neighborhood.
In the film, Bill Rowan (Sebastian Rice-Edwards), is at the height of childhood and in the middle of his family. Once war is declared, his father signs up for the army, leaving Bill home with his mother, older sister Dawn (Sammi Davis) and younger sister Sue. While the ideas of bombings are a source of mortal fear to his mother and fuel Dawn’s teenage hormones, young Bill is absolutely thrilled by the idea of war finally happening. So far, it has been all the adults talk about, yet Bill has been disappointed to not see any action.
When the blitz begins, we see that Bill’s neighborhood is right in the line of fire. After the sirens go off, the family seeks shelter under the stairs and the children count as they hear the bombs dropping closer. It reminded me of the way we used to count between the sound of thunder and the sight of lightning to tell how close the storm was. Only when they count, it’s to tell if the next bomb will hit their house or their neighbor’s. As the sounds of explosions begin to wane, Dawn and Bill run outside to see the damage. Just down the street is a house destroyed, blazing in flames and Bill pulls his first piece of hot shrapnel from the fence.
Any parent today afraid to let their kids play outside alone may not believe that the neighborhood boys turn the newly bombed houses into their own playgrounds. They rummage through the rubble, break stuff for fun and take pride in the shrapnel and old ammunition they find. When Bill first becomes part of the gang, one of the boys threatens him with a live bullet he found. The boy even puts it in a vice and threatens to hammer the end unless Bill can say a swear word. And some parents are afraid of what their kids could find while playing in a sandbox.
Hope and Glory is a wonderful and fascinating film with an unusual perspective of WWII. What nine year old boy wouldn’t be captivated by a dogfight happening right over his neighborhood? He’s a witness to the war fueling his parents with fear and uncertainly and his older sister’s teenage rebellion, while showing us the childhood fascination with war and a slow loss of innocence he won’t realize for years to come. If you’re tired of the soldier’s perspective or that of the American home front, I highly recommend Hope and Glory. It’s also got the best ending a kid could ever dream of.
“I’m going to miss the war and it’s all your fault!”