Wish You Were Here (1987)

Wish You Were Here (1987)

Taglines: Some people march to the beat of a different drummer. Lynda’s got her own brass band.

Sixteen-year-old Lynda Mansell (Emily Lloyd) lives in a small English seaside town in the early 1950s. She is feisty, outspoken and precocious and tries to shock other people with her histrionic behaviour, vulgar and saucy tongue (her favourite insult is “Up yer bum”). Bored with conventional jobs (which she frequently loses) and her town’s dull young men, Lynda has her first sexual experience with Dave (Jesse Birdsall) but after she has slept with one of her father’s middle-aged friends (Tom Bell), her life changes. She becomes pregnant and her father, a somewhat rigid and conventional man, disowns her. Desperately she tries to seek an illegal abortion but in the end decides to become a mother.

“Wish You Were Here” tells the story of an adolescent girl with a spirit that refuses to be crushed, but who has few ways to express herself. Her father absolutely fails to comprehend her. An aunt sees her as a bad girl, a problem girl. The lads of the town see her as a tramp and a possible good time. There is no one in the town to understand her high spirits and good nature, except, perhaps, for the little old lady who plays piano in the tea room and applauds her the day she tells a customer to shove it.

“Wish You Were Here” is a comedy with an angry undertone, a story of a free-spirited girl who holds a grudge against a time when such girls were a threat to society, to the interlocking forces of sexism and convention that conspired to break their spirits. Because the film sometimes doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry, it’s always interesting: We see a girl whistling on her way to possible tragedy.

The movie was written and directed by David Leland. You may have seen or heard about “Personal Services,” an earlier movie he wrote. It was based on the story of a notorious British madam named Cynthia Payne, who ran a house of ill repute for old-age pensioners and retired military men with kinky tastes.

Wish You Were Here (1987)

Film Review for Wish You Were Here

HER name is Lynda and she’s as much of a problem as she can possibly be. What’s more, she seems to like it that way. This pretty and precocious 15-year-old girl (Emily Lloyd) is a constant source of worry and annoyance to her widowed father, and she does everything she can to dismay him, from bicycling through town with her skirts hiked up to raucously inviting a group of men to compare her legs with Betty Grable’s. Lynda’s cheekiness would seem more gratuitous if her unhappiness were not also abundantly clear.

”Wish You Were Here,” which opens today at the Lincoln Plaza 1 and 2, has a brazen, defiant quality very much like Lynda’s. Both the character and the film are more affecting than they initially seem. ”Wish You Were Here” marks the directorial debut of David Leland, who is also an actor and co-wrote the sharp-edged screenplay for ”Mona Lisa.” In addition, he wrote the recent ”Personal Services.” Mr. Leland’s directorial style, like his writing, is full of mischief; he begins this film with the sight of Lynda as a schoolgirl wearing a gas mask, and with an elderly woman in a Shirley Temple costume tap-dancing alone by the sea. But beneath its archness lies something genuine and affecting.

Still, Mr. Leland’s heroines maintain their breeziness through thick and thin. In ”Wish You Were Here,” Lynda remains seemingly unscathed by many of the misadventures that befall her, misadventures that almost always involve men. Except for the one episode that has her frying the hair of a volunteer model at hairdressing school – and it was her father, after all, who hoped she would take up hairdressing – Lynda saves her most self-destructive behavior for various suitors. She has an affair with a self-consciously suave young bus conductor, who wears bright yellow pajamas to bed and smokes cigarettes from a holder, and then betrays her. She has another affair with a coolly sinister older man who is her father’s friend.

Wish You Were Here (1987) - Emily Lloyd

She is at her spikiest in a wickedly funny scene that has her visiting a psychiatrist (Heathcote Williams), whom her father hopes will put an end to Lynda’s free use of profanities. The doctor, whose desk is covered with likenesses of monkeys, calmly asks Lynda to go through the alphabet and say every rude word she can think of that begins with each particular letter. She cooperates – and then some. But he is stymied when Lynda gets to the F’s and insists that she cannot think of anything at all.

As the title suggests, ”Wish You Were Here” is about longing. In this, it takes a solidly analytical view that contrasts oddly with its surface flippancy. Lynda misses the mother who died when she was 11 – various flashbacks, including the one with the gas mask, show Lynda at this traumatic stage of her life – and her defiance takes on pathos when seen in this light. By the film’s end, Lynda’s attempts to work out feelings of betrayal and abandonment have been replaced by the jaunty, affirmative stance she takes when assuming the role of motherhood on her own.

There’s a patness and a clinical quality to this evolution. But most of the time Mr. Leland’s idiosyncratic wit makes it more interesting than that, and less predictable. Lynda’s wild outbursts – toward the end of the film, she insults her lover and denounces her father in the genteel tea room where she works as a waitress – are as entertaining as they are cathartic, and Miss Lloyd delivers these strings of epithets as colorfully as Mr. Leland writes them. Miss Lloyd is captivating, managing to seem both feisty and fragile, and capturing the full emotional range of this complicated young girl.

”Wish You Were Here” has a quaint, inviting period look – the year is 1951, the setting a British coastal village – and a cast that’s well attuned to Mr. Leland’s brand of cleverness. The actors, particularly Tom Bell as Lynda’s older lover, have a changeable quality, a playfulness and a sly reserve that are very much in keeping with the film’s overall style.

Wish You Were Here Movie Poster (1987)

Wish You Were Here (1987)

Directed by: David Leland
Starring: Emily Lloyd, Trudi Cavanagh, Clare Clifford, Barbara Durkin, Geoffrey Hutchings, Charlotte Barker, Chloe Leland, Charlotte Ball, Pat Heywood, Abigail Leland, Susan Skipper
Screenplay by: David Leland
Production Design by: Caroline Amies
Cinematography by: Ian Wilson
Film Editing by: George Akers
Costume Design by: Shuna Harwood
Art Direction by: Nigel Phelps
Music by: Stanley Myers
Distributed by: Atlantic Releasing Corporation
Release Date: July 24, 1987