While not a career zenith for any of its major participants, except perhaps leading lady Lesley-Anne Down, Hanover Street is a respectable World War II romance filled with old-fashioned themes of heroism and sacrifice. The movie’s reliance on narrative coincidence is a problem, and one wishes writer-director Peter Hyams had moved past archetypes to investigate his characters more deeply, but Hanover Street delivers much of what it promises—the stars are attractive, their onscreen love affair is complicated by unusual circumstances, and the movie spins inexorably toward an action-packed climax. So, even though it’s all a bit rudimentary in conception, the full package—accentuated by David Watkin’s shadowy cinematography and John Barry’s plaintive musical score—goes down smoothly.
Harrison Ford, giving the most satisfying performance of his wilderness years between Star Wars (1977) and The Empire Strikes Back (1980), stars as David Halloran, a U.S. pilot stationed near London circa 1943. After a quick meet-cute with British nurse Margaret Sellinger (Down), David persuades his new acquaintance to join him for a long afternoon of tea and conversation. Although they fall in love almost instantly, Margaret reveals she’s married—but then the trauma of being caught in an air raid pushes them together. They begin an affair. This affects both of their lives badly, because David loses his combat edge while worrying about when he’s going to see Margaret again, and Margaret introduces a chill into her marriage to Paul Sellinger (Christopher Plummer). Paul was a teacher during peacetime, but he’s now an officer with British Intelligence—and when he feels Margaret drifting away, he recklessly volunteers for a mission behind enemy lines, hoping to win back her respect.
The coincidence with which Hyams merges the fates of these characters stretches believability, but Hyams commits wholeheartedly to the ensuing melodrama, and the second half of the movie—when the story shifts from romance to thrills—is brisk and tense. As far as the actors go, Ford sulks a bit too much, though he’s sufficiently dashing during action scenes to compensate for his moodiness; and if Down fails to provide much substance behind her mesmerizing beauty, that’s acceptable as well, since she’s primarily meant to be an object of desire. Plummer is, predictably, the picture’s saving grace, lending elegance, humor, and vulnerability to his characterization. FYI, Hanover Street is far more palatable than the similarly themed Yanks, which was released later the same year—although the latter picture, directed by John Schlesinger, is more sophisticated, it’s a lifeless museum piece compared to Hyams’ fast-moving crowd-pleaser.
Hanover Street: GROOVY