It may be difficult to imagine because we ourselves have never felt the horrors of war and b. media coverage makes us believe differently, but for some children the Second World War was a very pleasant time. The British filmmaker John Boorman, who was born in 1933, for example, known for ‘Point Blank’ (1967), ‘Deliverance’ (1972) and ‘Excalibur’ (1981), remembers his childhood as a big party. As unfortunate as that may sound, if you look at “Hope and Glory” (1987), which he largely based on that period in his own life, you immediately understand that.
“Hope and Glory” is about nine-year-old Billy Rohan (Sebastian Rice-Edwards). He remembers the moment when the war was announced well. The radio that his parents (David Hayman and Sarah Miles) listened to was just loud enough to disturb him in his garden play. Immediately Billy falls to younger sister Sue (Geraldine Muir), to clearly show that he is old enough to understand what is going on, but in fact he is far from being able to oversee the consequences.
The Second World War is actually a welcome change for Billy and his peers. It’s great to watch the bombing farther away, fireworks on a weeknight! And looking for grenade splinters is also a wonderful activity, Billy’s collection is growing steadily. But what is especially memorable is the absolute sense of freedom that the children have. No adult who cares about them, they are allowed to fiddle around in the destroyed houses in the neighborhood, sometimes they find something of value or see things that they are actually too young for. That people actually die is, of course, very serious, but it is also very cool to be the first to know about it. In a scene, the children shout to each other that the mother of a girl in the neighborhood, Pauline, who is just grieving, died yesterday.
Yet the war is not trivialized. Something is actually at stake, also for the Rohan family. But because “Hope and Glory” shows everything from the perspective of young Billy, you feel like a child again and you notice how difficult it is sometimes to grow up.
The loss of innocence, however, transcends generations. The adults, who initially think that the war will be over by Christmas, also make hasty decisions, such as Billy’s mother, who wants to send her children to her sister in Australia and will come back to it. Other characters, such as Billy’s fifteen-year-old sister Dawn (Sammi Davis), get into a relationship with a Canadian soldier, or break their marriage to run off with a Polish pilot.
The entire cast plays at the top of their abilities. Together they portray a realistic image of a working-class family in a London suburb in World War II. “Hope and Glory” is a warm, loving film in which Boorman has found the perfect balance between drama and comedy, joy and sorrow, fear and carelessness. The film was nominated for five Oscars, including that of best film and best director.