Pennies from Heaven from BBC to MGM: Adaptation and the anti-musical | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 6, Issue 1
  • ISSN: 1753-6421
  • E-ISSN: 1753-643X



When Dennis Potter adapted his award-winning 1978 BBC television miniseries Pennies from Heaven into an MGM musical, it failed at the box office and subsequently received scant critical attention for its innovations. Both productions probe the border between fantasy and reality, signified by the generic juxtaposition of melodrama and the musical as characters pursue dreams mediated by popular song. Both shift modes between naturalism and stylization, notably in Potter’s signature device, in which the actors lip-sync and dance to 1930s recordings. Yet while both versions of Pennies offer disruptive hybrid forms, they accomplish significantly different ends. The BBC series elides fantasy and reality to explore character, suggesting the interpenetration of these oppositions in the characters’ consciousnesses. Herbert Ross’s film, however, serves as an anti-musical by putting the genres and modes on collision course. In a close comparative reading of the two versions of Pennies, especially of select musical sequences, the article argues that the film shifts the discourse’s meanings from a psychological and sociological study to an ideological critique of the musical as a cinematic form.


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