Movie Reviews

Movie Review: Hanover Street – There Are Better Ways To Spend Two Hours and There Are Worse

Written by Peter Hyams
Directed by Peter Hyams

Released just before Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark, Harrison Ford had yet to achieve the superstardom and high acclaim which would propel him to a series of great roles throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, when he starred int he World War II romance movie. Immediately after viewing it, I thought of Top Gun as a good comparison. Top Gun was a movie of little substance that relied on the name recognition of lead actor Tom Cruise to make you forget the weak plot while watching some good air conflicts and listening to the fine soundtrack. Hanover Street had a sappy, implausible story and two lead actors who weren’t household names. It’s the strength of the acting, mostly by Ford, that saves the film from mediocrity. Just as anyone else in Tom Cruise’s role would probably have crashed and burned.

London 1943
Harrison Ford is David Halloran, an American bomber pilot stationed in England during the Second World War. One day he’s in the city and meets a beautiful woman named Margaret (portrayed by Lesley-Ann Down) just as an air-raid strikes. He protects her during the raid and asks her to meet him again. She says she can’t. Still, she shows up a bit late on the appointed date, and their love affair begins.

The problem is that Margaret is married to a British Intelligence Officer, Paul Sellinger (portrayed by Christopher Plummer). The two have a daughter, Sarah (portrayed by a young Patsy Kensit) who adores her father to no end if he is emotionally distant and aloof with Magaret. Some of the distractions are that Paul is dealing with a possible leak high-up in British Intelligence after two agents were found dead shortly after being assigned behind enemy lines. The overall impression, however, is that Margaret has been very lonely in her marriage for years.

David is highly regarded as a pilot and gets away with things others wouldn’t. After he shies away from a mission where his replacement is killed, his commander worries about him and assigns him on a mission with British Intelligence. This puts him and his lover’s husband together, although they don’t know who the other person is. After their plane is struck by enemy fire, they find themselves behind enemy lines, fighting to survive.

The best moments of the film come between Ford and Plummer when behind enemy lines. The script feels contrived and forced, but the two men manage to make their journey convincing as they elude the Nazis pursuing them. There’s no great revelation between them – no moment when Paul realizes who David is. Of course, the opposite is true and David eventually realizes who Paul is. There are moments of crisis for this character as it would be easy for him to stay just in line with the mission he was given and walk away from Paul, leaving him to almost certain death. Wouldn’t that make things easy when he got back to London?

Ford has some moments here where he really shines and shows indications of the great acting he will become known for. There’s one scene where David’s plane gets hit and he copes with the death of his buddies. This was likely a difficult scene to get through and emote, and Ford manages to be more realistic in the role than the pilots we often see who manage to put on bravado and go through like it hasn’t affected them at all to save the mission. David looked vacant like he couldn’t accept what he was seeing. At the same time, he didn’t quite convince me about what was happening. This early in his career he still had a ways to go.

This is a fantastic love triangle as David believes all Margaret tells him about her life. When confronted with the reality of what her husband is like, he sees it from a different perspective and must struggle to reconcile the two. It’s not easy, and to do this all the while helping Paul to complete the mission he set out on is difficult. there are no moments where David has a lightbulb go off, but rather I saw him grow and change throughout his time with Paul.

It does take a lot of time, and the one major complaint I would have is the pace of the film. It seems to take an awfully long time by today’s standards where films are getting shorter and shorter. This is just ten minutes shy of two hours, and while there are some good chase scenes, much of the film is focused on romance.

Plummer is great as the husband who isn’t enough for his wife, knows it, and doesn’t know how to get to a place where he will be all that she wants. He gives Paul the right amount of dignity that he gained my sympathy, while earlier it felt like I was supposed to root for the romance between David and Margaret.

Lesley-Ann Down is someone I have always thought either gives absolutely terrific performances or mediocre. Here she waffles between the two. Her moments when she is home with her husband and daughter, feeling like an outsider between the two of them, are wonderful. While I can believe she would fall for the dashing young pilot in a moment of crisis, she didn’t convince me that there were any long-term emotional bonds between the two of them. Perhaps that was what wartime romances were all about, though.

The costuming and setting are all marvelous. Fans of movies in this era will really appreciate the details in the dress and hairstyles. On DVD, the movie is not quite as clean as it could be, although I saw no interference or snow. it just struck me that it wasn’t quite as crisp a picture as I have seen in other films.

Hanover Street is worth watching if you come across it. There is something for just about everyone, although the romance gets drawn out and may turn off those looking exclusively for the dogfights and chases. Still, it was an enjoyable movie that at least left me feeling like I didn’t waste the time I spent watching it, even if I can’t put it up there with the best films I’ve ever seen.


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3 replies »

  1. Yep. This is a slightly above-average WWII romance-drama that is, in essence, a 1940s movie with a few 1970s touches (like that one semi-nude scene Lesley-Anne did) added in for “modern audiences” of the time. It’s not the best Harrison Ford movie, but you can see there is a straight line from Hanover Street to 1985’s Witness, which I think is Ford’s best effort as a romantic film lead.

    Nice review, my friend.