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Pennies from Heaven [DVD] [1978]

4.4 out of 5 stars 81 customer reviews

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  • Pennies from Heaven [DVD] [1978]
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Product details

  • Actors: Cheryl Campbell, Bob Hoskins, Gemma Craven, Kenneth Colley, Jenny Logan
  • Format: PAL
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles For The Hearing Impaired: English
  • Region: Region 2 (This DVD may not be viewable outside Europe. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 4:3 - 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 3
  • Classification: 12
  • Studio: 2 Entertain Video
  • DVD Release Date: 31 May 2004
  • Run Time: 477 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (81 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0001P1B8E
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 6,239 in DVD & Blu-ray (See Top 100 in DVD & Blu-ray)

Product Description

Product Description

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

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD Verified Purchase
Releasing this Dennis Potter masterpiece on DVD is probably the smartest thing the BBC will do this year. In an age of throwaway programmes, endless reality shows and a production culture that is risk averse and aimed at the lowest common denominator, here's a chance to see how it used to be. Yes folks, telly generally was better all those years ago - and Pennies From Heaven sums up the era well. The passage of time proves that quality writing, acting and production never go out of style. What strikes me most about Pennies From Heaven now is how long it is - a 6 part serial that allowed the characters to develop, the story to unfold. Now, sadly, it would probably get the 2 hour treatment with the news bunged in the middle.
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.
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By A Customer on 11 Jan. 2005
Format: DVD
Bowled over by this when it was first shown on PBS, back in the late seventies I think, I've been impatient for a revisit ever since, and snapped it up the minute it appeared on DVD. Does it live up to my own pre-billing, after more than 20 years? In summary, yes. In fact it far exceeds it, even though it isn't what I recall.
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.
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By S. J. Williams TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 27 May 2004
Format: DVD
Inevitably it is with some caution that one sees again tv programmes which in the memory stand out as remarkable. Dennis Potter produced so much work in the 60s, 70s and 80s which I remember as being quite astonishing in both content AND in the audacity of method (Blue Remembered Hills with adults playing children!)that one wonders if it will seem mannered and rather passe. Well Pennies is as wonderful as it seemed, perhaps MORE so when viewed from a time when tv drama is so predictable, dull and quite simply not grown up. The music is intrinsically charming, but it takes Potter's genius to recognise the importance of popular song to us all and embed it in a drama which explores the fantasy lives, aspirations and repressions of his characters. Though it is a period piece (1970s drama, 1930s songs) it is, like all the very best drama, about people as they are, no matter what the time, and in this it is fresh minted. Any one with happy memories of the original broadcasts will not be disappointed. Anyone too young to see them will be stunned by the seriousness (though not po-faced) of the enterprise. Where did tv like this disappear to?
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Format: DVD Verified Purchase
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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