Pennies from Heaven (1978 British Miniseries)
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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
- Six episodes on three discs
- Photo gallery
Top Customer Reviews
(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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
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!
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
The Amazon review in the Amazon Product Description gives a good overview of the plot and the nature of the program, so rather than repeat those here, I'll just add that this is... Read morePublished 6 months ago by Jon Corelis
I always loved this original British series. It is better than the Hollowood copy.Published 16 months ago by FIT
Much like Steambath (previously reviewed) Pennies from Heaven with Bob Hoskins is like running into another old friend. Read morePublished 20 months ago by Henry Magoo
i didnt see the film but heard its a classic , so all i can say it arrived on time and I would use this service to shop again .Published 22 months ago by drew -Droid
This is one of the best series ever on TV. British, BBC, 1978. Much better than the author's subsequent adaptation for the U.S. Read morePublished 23 months ago by Adam Block
........ I like Mr. Potter's work. And, in my humble opinion, this rendition is far better surpasses the version made starring Steve Martin. Don't get me wrong. Read morePublished 23 months ago by Mr. John
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