Lynda (Emily Lloyd) is a teenage girl just finished school and wondering what to do with her life. She lives in a British seaside town and her widowed father Hubert (Geoffrey Hutchings) is determined that she get a job, but her rebellious nature means she has trouble taking orders and her resentment at the world emerges in unfortunate circumstances. Take when her father arranges for her a position in a hairdressing course, she just doesn't care if these women get their perms or not, and when she tries under instruction to create one with a volunteer, it does not turn out very well. Hubert is furious, but Lynda has other things on her mind, such as the opposite sex, yet how will she find out about that when every male she knows is useless?
Wish You Were Here was part of the television station Channel 4's drive to create British films for the cinema market, an answer to the BBC’s Play for Today strand in that they would be one-off productions shown on the small screen, only with any luck these Film Four efforts would revitalise a flagging industry that had been in decline ever since the early seventies when foreign investment started to trail away. Many of these were better suited to television, but there were a fair few that gathered an appreciative audience, and this was one as it picked up awards and generated a lot of good publicity for identifiably British films at a point when they needed all the help it could reasonably get.
Emily Lloyd was the breakout star here, a teenager, the same age as her character, in her debut that promised great things for the actress, but it was not to be as a succession of poor career choices when she proved difficult to cast coupled with an encroaching mental illness saw to it that she floundered, much to the dismay of her fans. It was a sad tale, but at least we had this film where she could indicate that she did have fine prospects ahead of her once, which is more than many can achieve in a whole lifetime, and her performance was genuinely witty and inspiring, as much a teenage rebel as James Dean was, with the benefit that she was an actual teenager at the time and Dean was in his twenties before securing his defining role.
Writer and director David Leland had been an actor himself, and indeed had penned some TV plays which truth be told Wish You Were Here did rather resemble, the convincing trappings of 1951 aside the low budget was obvious, and there were no expensive setpieces to be seen, though you could argue this didn't particularly need them, all it required was for Lynda to make a scene to make her someone worth cheering for. More than that, she was a woman finding in her world there were no great role models for her since the planet appeared to be controlled by men, leaving her to create herself as a role model, which was controversial in itself since the character was based on Cynthia Payne who in Britain was one of the most notorious figures of the nineteen-eighties thanks to a high profile scandal.
Payne was a prostitute turned madam who ran a suburban brothel which was graced by some pretty important men, and her story had caught the eye of Leland who thought it was good enough to craft a film around, which he did: it was called Personal Services and featured Julie Walters as a Payne stand-in. Yet while he was writing that, the part about her early years was growing more substantial as he continued, with the result that he decided he could make two films around the woman for her early years were just as interesting as her later activities, and if anything those formative experiences made for a better watch than the rather depressing circumstances Payne found herself in, not that the money she was making was any huge hardship. Nevertheless, there was a stern warning here as Lynda explores her sexuality first with someone around her own age (Jesse Birdsall) and then with an older man (Tom Bell) who takes advantage of her, earning her a valuable lesson, that no matter how much you like sex there will always be consequences because it involves another person who will have their own agenda. Something as simple but complicated as reaching satisfaction, for example. The ending struck an optimistic note, but after the repressive society we had seen we knew bright as a button Lynda was in for a struggle in life. Music by Stanley Myers.