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Pennies from Heaven (1978 British Miniseries)

36 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Pennies From Heaven (Miniseries) (DVD)

Dennis Potter's astonishing six-part miniseries remains one of the edgiest, most audacious things ever conceived for television. The story tells of one Arthur Parker (Bob Hoskins), a sheet-music salesman in 1930s England. Beaten down by economic hard times and the sexual indifference of his proper wife (Gemma Craven), Arthur cannot understand why his life can't be like the beautiful songs he loves. On a sales trip through the Forest of Dean, he meets a virginal rural woman (Cheryl Campbell) he suspects may be his ideal. Ruination follows. Punctuating virtually every scene is a vintage pop song--lip-synched and sometimes danced out by the characters. This startling innovation makes the contrast between Arthur's brutish life and his bourgeois dreams even more dramatic.

Potter's dark vision digs into British stoicism, sexual repression, the class system, and even the coming of fascism in Europe. But it is especially poignant on the subject of the divide between art and reality. Piers Haggard directs the long piece with deft transitions between songs and story. (It was shot partly on multi-camera video, partly on film.) The cast is fine, especially the extraordinary Cheryl Campbell, who imbues her character with keen intelligence and no small measure of perversity. Bob Hoskins triumphs in his star-making part, bringing a demonic energy to his small-time Cockney, nearly bursting his button-down vests with frustration and appetite. Pennies from Heaven was remade in 1981 for the big screen (with Steve Martin), an interesting, Potter-scripted adaptation; it's one of the reasons the original has been unavailable on home video for so long. --Robert Horton

Special Features

  • Six episodes on three discs
  • Photo gallery

Product Details

  • Actors: Bob Hoskins, Cheryl Campbell, Gemma Craven, Kenneth Colley, Jenny Logan
  • Directors: Piers Haggard
  • Writers: Dennis Potter
  • Format: Box set, Color, Full Screen, NTSC, Original recording remastered, Subtitled, Miniseries
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 3
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: BBC Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: August 22, 2006
  • Run Time: 450 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0001Z4P6O
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #39,896 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Pennies from Heaven (1978 British Miniseries)" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

97 of 98 people found the following review helpful By Gavin Wilson on June 6, 2004
Format: DVD
Late 1970s Britain was not particularly accustomed to campaigning graffiti, but in 1978, there was an explosion of slogans on railway bridges etc declaring that 'George Davies is Innocent!' It says something for the power of this TV series that a few wags wrote 'The Accordion Man is innocent!' in public places.
(For those unaware of the plot, the accordion man is a key character in this six-episode series. When a blind girl is raped and murdered on the road to Gloucester -- the plot was conceived long before the Fred West crimes, by the way -- the accordion man is the principal suspect. Another suspect is the music salesman Arthur Parker, who we know to be a liar, cheat and two-timer with slightly unusual fetishes.)
If you haven't seen this series before, you'll be startled by the lip-synching. On several occasions each episode, at the end of a dramatic piece of dialogue, the lighting will suddenly change, and the characters will start to mime and dance to a piece of 1920s/1930s music. When the song is finished, the characters return to precisely where they were before the musical interruption. It's a strange device -- quite different from conventional musicals or operas -- but extremely powerful in showing how music transports people to another world. Tolkien uses a ring to transport Frodo to another world, Pullman uses the Subtle Knife to transport Lyra, and Dennis Potter uses song. There is a very powerful speech in episode #2 where Bob Hoskins, playing Arthur, describes the impact of love and song as "pennies from heaven", very much as a religious experience.
For me, this is Potter's masterpiece. It's less polished than the Singing Detective, but I think that this helps to frame the principal issues of love, sex, death, music and spirituality more starkly.
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50 of 50 people found the following review helpful By HenryC on September 16, 2004
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
Viewers who compare "The Singing Detective" to "Pennies from Heaven" are missing a point: "Pennies" is much earlier, written at a time when Potter was turning from conventional stage plays to the experimental, multi-part and mixed-genre mode that others came to call "Telly Novels." He invents this form in "Pennies" and refines it further in "The Singing Detective," which is undeniably his masterpiece. Viewing "Pennies" is like reading an early Dickens novel, before you tackle "Bleak House."

The choice of a story that has a tragi-comic arc to it is appropriate, considering the fact that it's about the Depression, which hit the UK even harder than it did the USA. Arthur is the eternal dreamer, and note that much of his cheesy idealism stems from his affection for American, Tin-Pan Alley, schmaltzy music. I mean, his favorite song is "Roll On, Prairie Moon," and folks, there are no prairies in England! So we have to consider that American consumerism and pop culture are part of the satiric target here, as they should be.

I don't understand the compaints about Bob Hoskins or Cheryl Campbell; in my view they are well-cast and very talented throughout. It could be that their features and body-types don't appeal to American viewers used to seeing surgically-perfected faces and physiques; but to me they were absolutely right in appearance, manner, and performing style.

The other element in "Pennies" that is so interesting to a Potter fan is his use of autobiographical reference: The Forest of Dean, on the border between England and Wales, is where he grew up; and several of the characters are renditions of people he knew, sources that complement his story-telling method, to develop several threads of action/character and then cut between then, very much like a novel.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Peter Bailey on January 10, 2005
Format: DVD
Comparing Bob Hoskins to Steve Martin as Arthur in 'Pennies From Heaven' is like comparing Champagne to Lemonade or Caviar to Cod's Roe. This production is atmospheric accuracy compared to Hollywood hyperbole. It is the original version of Dennis Potters masterpiece and everything about it soars miles above any television drama I've seen for years in terms of production values and pure entertainment. The casting, the acting, the choreography, the photography, the lighting, the dubbing, the editing and above all the directing of Piers Haggard represent a rare coming together of absolutely pure professionalism. It is a shining example of that elusive quality which helped to make the BBC the envy of the world in the 1970's.

It is long but you don't have to watch it all at one sitting. Treat yourself to a seven-course feast over a few days or weeks while Potter serves up this glorious vintage wine!
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Muriel Elaine Wood on February 2, 2007
Format: DVD
This decidedly different 'musical' ain't gonna be to all tastes--but if you appreciate a genuinely offbeat concept superbly realised by a first-rate cast, this is for you.

The principals, Bob Hoskins (as the loutish, megalomaniac Arthur Parker), Cheryl Crawford (as the at first winsome, then increasingly hard-boiled Eileen) and Gemma Craven (the hapless and resentful Joan) couldn't be better cast. The bizaare stylisations of the lip-synched musical numbers look positively effortless as handled by them. One can hardly imagine American actors being able to handle this kind of material with their level of ease and versatility.

For me, the real test of this type of production isn't simply how well the leads carry it off--the secondary actors have to be equally good, or the whole thing comes apart. In this respect, especially, "Pennies" excels. Among the most notable of the supporting cast are two British character actors whose work I've admired for years, and who are sadly largely unknown to most audiences in this country. Hywel Bennett as Tom, a sleazy, yet oddly attractive pimp, brings the perfect aura of guttersnipe sexiness and low-bred self assurance to the part. He also, without ever once doing or saying anything overt, convinces the viewer that his character is a menacingly nasty bit of work--it's not at all hard to believe that Eileen would take it on the lam with Arthur rather than risk facing Tom once she's reneged on her deal with him. But for me, the most touching performance comes from the marvelous Freddie Jones, as the headmaster of the school where Eileen teaches.
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