JOHN BOORMAN's childhood and the London Blitz happened to coincide. Which is great for the movie "Hope and Glory," because he turns both events into exquisite myth. During England's last patriotic bonding -- when it fought for (and felt good about) itself -- a young wisp called Billy Rohan (Sebastian Rice-Edwards) comes of age. And, in this film, Billy, his family and his country all bloom in the face of adversity.
"Hope's" plot is simple enough. People duck from bombs; afterward, they duck from more bombs. But the music of it all is the power and glory: Boorman's film is a symphonious sweep over Albion, sounding themes, weaving in new ones, returning to earlier ones . . . and there's never a dull movement.
A Canadian soldier marries a pregnant English bride (the oldest Rohan daughter) only to be whisked off by military police for being AWOL. A group of schoolchildren is forced to recite their multiplication tables in gas masks. A handsome young German flier falls from the sky, landing before a gathering of curious, slightly embarrassed Brits. Grace Rohan (Sarah Miles), the mother, wonders if a can of German jam is poisoned. "They know we're mad on jam," she says.
Billy's father (David Hayman), gone to war (only to land in a desk job), has left his son with two things: a houseful of women and a tricky bowling move for cricket games called a "googlie" -- not the most comforting legacy for a world war. But Billy valiantly abides the women (who, it seems to him, either fall in love, make catty comments or just cry). And he saves the googlie for the proper time, meanwhile foraging daily in the rubble for pieces of shrapnel.
While ferreting about (and joining a group of fellow juvenile diggers), he'll also witness teen-age sex, kiddie gang-power dynamics and death. And later, he'll find himself defending hearth and home from the same gang of boys.
The days pass in a movie-England that never looked sunnier. Older sis Dawn (Sammi Davis) is falling in love with the aforesaid Canadian. Grace, waiting nobly for her husband's return, thinks wistfully of the lover she missed out on. The bombings come -- in the middle of a movie, late at night. Mum, two sisters and Billy regularly huddle in the cellar. While the girls gush, Billy, man of the house, listens to the bombs.
When the family is forced to move in with their cantankerous grandfather by the Thames (Ian Bannen, with some inspired gallery-playing), it's something of a pastoral rebirth. The women find as much peace as is possible. And Billy gets to learn fishing and punting -- and to bamboozle Grampa with the googlie.
HOPE AND GLORY (PG-13) -- At the MacArthur.