by Ben Soton
World on Fire. Season one (2019) by Peter Bowker. Starring: Jonah Hauer-King, Julia Brown, Zofia Wichlacz. Produced by BBC One and Mammoth Screen.
BBC1’s latest Sunday night drama covers the age-old themes of love and war. The war is World War II; the love themes include love across the divides of class and nationality.
The main characters are Harry Chase, played by Jonah Hauer-King, an interpreter at the British Embassy in Warsaw and Lois Bennett, a factory worker and part time singer played by Julia Brown. Both share a common opposition to fascism and are keen to support the war against Germany in 1939. This pro-war sentiment is not shared by Julia’s father, Douglas Bennett played by Sean Bean. Douglas Bennett, a committed pacifist, sees all war as inherently bad, a result of his experiences in the First World War.
The drama views the Second World War as an exception. US journalist Nancy Campbell, played by Helen Hunt, compares the German invasion of Poland in 1939 to the plight of Republican Spain. A poor comparison, Republican Spain was a democracy whilst inter-war Poland was a semi-fascist military dictatorship and a thorn in the side of the Soviet Union. Meanwhile Campbell, who makes regular broadcasts to the USA, acts as the drama’s narrator. The Second World War did, however, have an anti-fascist character, which became more pronounced after 1941 with the German invasion of the Soviet Union. The question is will Douglas Bennett’s attitude change over time?
As the drama continues, we begin to see an inter-connected web of characters that spans the obvious divides of wartime. I am reminded of the 1980s drama The Winds of War or the more recent Century Trilogy by Ken Follett. The Century Trilogy has a strong anti-communist theme; although it may be early days to make this comparison. It may, however, be disturbing to know that the drama’s inception comes at a time when the European Parliament passes a motion blaming the Second World War on the Soviet Union and effectively exonerating Nazi Germany. So far, the Soviet Union has not been mentioned in the series – which is not far off the mark considering it was neutral at this point in the conflict.
World on Fire does make good Sunday night viewing. The war scenes, which include the aerial bombing of Danzig, are well put together, which in this day and age means the CGI [computer-generated imagery] is not obviously apparent. The brutality of the Nazi invaders is shown when they refuse to follow the normal conventions of war.
My advice to viewers is to watch the drama but look out for inaccuracies and historical lies.