Search - Pennies from Heaven (1978 British Miniseries) on DVD

Pennies from Heaven (1978 British Miniseries)
Pennies from Heaven
1978 British Miniseries
Actors: Bob Hoskins, Cheryl Campbell, Gemma Craven, Kenneth Colley, Jenny Logan
Director: Piers Haggard
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Television, Musicals & Performing Arts
NR     2004     8hr 37min

Dennis Potter's masterpiece mini-series follows the adventures, mishaps, and yearnings of a traveling song sheet peddler on a tight commission as he tries to make dreams fit the promises of the lyrics he carries.


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Movie Details

Actors: Bob Hoskins, Cheryl Campbell, Gemma Craven, Kenneth Colley, Jenny Logan
Director: Piers Haggard
Creator: Dennis Potter
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Television, Musicals & Performing Arts
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Love & Romance, Drama, Miniseries, Musicals
Studio: BBC Warner
Format: DVD - Color,Full Screen - Miniseries
DVD Release Date: 07/27/2004
Release Year: 2004
Run Time: 8hr 37min
Screens: Color,Full Screen
Number of Discs: 3
SwapaDVD Credits: 3
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 3
Edition: Box set
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English
Subtitles: English

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Movie Reviews

'The Accordion Man is still innocent' | a true classic
Gavin Wilson | 06/06/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"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. Many of the settings come from Potter's own experience -- the Forest of Dean, the village schoolroom etc.There are two very beautiful actresses in this production -- Cheryl Campbell and Gemma Craven -- and it's difficult to convey the shock created in 1978 by the scene in which Craven bears her rouged nipples. (Previously she had been known only for appearing in the children's film of Cinderella, and she played her Potter character in a very child-like way until this scene.) It's all very tame now, but the scene still has some power, provided you can overcome any disbelief that the Craven character would ever marry Hoskins!The 3-DVD set comes with precious few extras -- just a photo gallery and a commentary on episodes #1 and #6 -- and as you would expect, the production is in a 4x3 frame and monaural. Picture quality is cleaned-up 70s standard, and the sound quality is OK. Many of the records that the characters mime to are presented with all their scratches. (Curiously these scratches aren't so audible on the 2-CD collection that used to accompany the series.)This is a fantastic series, but I don't pretend that it's for everyone. It comes from an era when TV playwrights aimed to produce more than just entertainment.George Davies, by the way, may have been innocent of whatever he was originally jailed for. But he was back in prison several years later on a totally separate conviction that people didn't seem to dispute.As for the Accordion Man, well ... you'll just have to watch the series!From his early days, Dennis Potter was obsessed by the nature of the religious experience, particularly the Christian version. The black and white 'Son of Man' play for the BBC examined the earthly life of Jesus. 'Brimstone and Treacle' examined the possibilities when the Devil visits one home.
'Pennies from Heaven' took elements from the gospel story and mixed it with a Bonnie and Clyde story of a man and his lover on the run. Thus Arthur Parker tries to evangelise the world with his musical message -- he gets very few takers, at least initially. In the end, he is tried by a Pilate-like figure and executed for a crime he didn't commit. Having been hanged, he then appears to the Mary Magdalene figure (Cheryl Campbell playing a prostitute). The analogy falls down with the Accordion Man, a key character in the play who has no direct biblical equivalent -- although he may be a Judas Iscariot figure who, burdened with guilt, commits suicide. But the most heretical aspect of this analogy is that Arthur Parker as a Christ figure is such a duplicitous liar and cheat.The casting in this magnificent production is excellent. The part seemed tailor-made for Bob Hoskins, and it's hard to imagine Steve Martin playing this role in the American film version. The two leading ladies are outstanding: Cheryl Campbell a superb actress whose dancing improved immensely, and Gemma Craven a great dancer whose acting ability surprised many critics at the time.I don't doubt that this is one of the most important musicals yet made, and along with 'The Singing Detective', it's a fitting tribute to the genius of Dennis Potter. Just before the hanging in the final episode, there's a hint that pennies from heaven are nothing more than the arc of urine created by schoolboys competing to see who can aim highest. That at the very last gasp Potter tries to trivialise the entire concept with this joke is a mark of his mastery of the dramatic form."
Give this fabulous "telly novel" a break!
Henry David | Concord, MA USA | 09/17/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"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.

Finally, the use of song/dance as a counterpoint to the drama is brilliantly satirical, somewhat in the style of Brecht, but those sequences are not supposed to be smooth musical stage comedy; they are amateurs imitating pros and not for the sake of entertainment, but to point out how hollow all the sentimentality is, given the banality and emptiness of their daily lives.

I am buying the DVD because its price is 1/3rd what I paid a VHS bootlegger a year ago for 6 tapes of the series. At the time, that was the only way "Pennies" was available. Now the BBC has re-issued it in a more permanent format, and if the transfer is a little muddy, that's because the master tapes are 25 years old and BBC apparently could not afford the expense of a digital cleansing.

Even so, this is a high-quality television classic and a collector's item, and I hope potential buyers will not be turned away by the not-very informed reviews already posted."
A Work Of Art
Peter Bailey | England | 01/10/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"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!"
I waited a long time for this.
Catherine George | Dallas, TX USA | 08/08/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I just got the DVD version and looked at the first two episodes this evening. It is as good as I expected it to be, from what I had heard. I see that the tone of the Steve Martin film was very similar to the original version. The actresses in the latter were obviously chosen to resemble those in the television series. Bob Hoskins has "Got That Certain Something" that nobody could imitate, lower keyed but just as fanatical and delusional as Martin. I was a fan of the movie and of course the television series is even better. Just don't expect to see another version of "Singing In the Rain!"