Wish You Were Here (1987)

“I was only showing them my new knickers.”

The British film Wish You Were Here from director David Leyland is set in England in the 1950s. It’s the story of Lynda (Emily Lloyd)–a rather unusual and rebellious young girl who never fits into her nice, quiet, respectable, hard-working family. Several incidents from Lynda’s childhood demonstrate that she is going to be an outspoken, determined individual, but no one in Lynda’s family seems able to understand her, and she gradually drifts farther apart from the rest of her relatives.

After the death of her mother, Lynda is brought up by her strait-laced father who runs a barber/tobacconist shop. He expects Lynda to eventually run the hairdressing half of the family business, but after a brief–and hilarious–attempt as a hairdressing apprentice, Lynda makes it clear that she won’t allow anyone to predict or influence her destiny. Lynda’s dad is mystified and disgusted, but Lynda’s “boring” younger sister–who plans to join the army–fits in quite nicely into the family image. It is Lynda who remains an embarrassment and a complete enigma to her father.

It’s clear to the local males in Lynda’s small hometown, that she’s a bit of a goer, and she’s certainly not shy about seeking and getting male attention. Unfortunately, her first sexual experiences leave her feeling emptier than ever, and her attention-seeking rebellion eventually leads her straight to a cynical older man, bookie Eric (Tom Bell) who degrades her even further. Everyone in Lynda’s life underestimates her. Men use and discard her, and even her father fails to see beyond Lynda’s rejection of established social behaviour–all he feels is shame. Even when Lynda is dragged off to a psychiatrist, he is completely at a loss when dealing with Lynda. The session begins with the psychiatrist in control, but he rapidly finds himself completely outmaneuvered by Lynda when he tries to get her to tell him all the swear words she knows (and she claims her first word was ‘bum’).

Emily Lloyd was a mere 16 years old when she starred in this film. Her acting is nothing less than superb. Lynda is an intriguing, steely character–bordering on the antisocial–and yet desperate to belong. She is irrepressible–and yet she is completely oppressed by her family. Emily Lloyd manages to portray all the contrasting qualities of this complex role with astonishing maturity and vivacious charm; she is truly delightful. I found myself cheering at Lynda’s exploits during many of the scenes as she refuses to bow down to convention and admit defeat regardless of the social consequences.

Wish You Were Here is based on the early life of Cynthia Payne–an infamous British madam. No mention of Payne pops up in the film, but the film does serve as a companion piece to the film Personal Services–the story of Payne’s brothel–which catered to the kinky rich. This is truly a beautiful, thought-provoking, positive film–at times funny, and at other times sad, but always triumphant. Note the director’s use of light and windows throughout the film.


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