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Pennies from Heaven [DVD] 
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Arthur, a sheet music salesman, has an ear for the hit tunes, but nobody will trust it. And his imagination often bursts into full song, building musical numbers around the greatest frustrations in his life. He meets an innocent young school teacher, Eileen, who seems to hear the same music, but when Eileen learns that he's married, and that she's pregnant with his child, she runs away. Arthur gives up everything to find and protect her, but fate and the music haven't finished with Arthur Parker.
Dennis Potter's astonishing six-part miniseries Pennies from Heaven 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), in an interesting, Potter-scripted adaptation; it's one of the reasons the original has been unavailable on home video for so long. --Robert Horton
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Top Customer Reviews
Previous reviewers have really said it all - and this DVD allows us to enjoy again and again what happens when fine writing, acting and production all magically come together. Outstanding central performances from the cast, with wonderful support from the likes of Freddie Jones and Hywel Bennett - and even a very youthful Nigel Havers! DVD extras are kept to a minimum - but this 3 disc set allows the beauty and craft of the story to come through strongly, proving the point that less can be more.
First of all my memory contains a black-and-white version and this one is in colour, so whether our TV at that time was B&W or PBS showed it that way, I'm not sure. Secondly it stands so far apart from anything I've watched on TV in the two decades since I first saw it that it shocks like an ice-shower. "An outstanding example of how television can be a distinctive art form," says the snippet from John O'Connor of the New York Times on the box. Agreed whole heartedly, but who has followed that example? "Pennies from Heaven" throws a harsh light on the banalities we accept as entertainment from today's TV. It is tough, uncompromising and scathingly honest about us and the world we live in, in ways that Hollywood and the major TV producers cannot begin to imitate. Even some of the acclaimed BBC imports of recent times, Zhivago, Lost Prince, pale alongside it and as disturbing a film as American Beauty (which I like) feels manipulative and lacking in conviction by comparison.
The performance of Hoskins is as outstanding as I had recalled. But I had forgotten how good the rest of the cast is: Gemma Craven strangely evoking the corseted girlfriend in Billy Liar; Cheryl Campbell a dazzling concoction of primness, sensuality and inner steel; Kenneth Colley the epitome of all the world's discards - subtly painted as a Hoskins minus the panache and after a few wrong turns in the road. Even Hywel Bennett (whatever happened to him?) produces a fine ten-second-smoothie/pimp.Read more ›
(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 ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
So often revisited TV programmes of yesteryear are a disappointment. Not with Dennis Potter's masterpiece Pennies from Heaven though! Read morePublished 1 month ago by MCPT
tis something completely different I think you need to be over 60 to enjoy the music but the story is fantastic I cant wait to watch it again, there is 3 discs soit took us a... Read morePublished 2 months ago by jean jeanes
I first saw this on Australian TV probably in the early 1990's and enjoyed it very much. I enjoyed Dennis Potter's use of the songs popular at the time the story was set. Read morePublished 9 months ago by Amazon Customer
Brilliant. Sad that no one will probably make anything like this again. Never mind, there's always those great crime dramas on the BBC (no, really).Published 9 months ago by SlappyPete