World on Fire

World on Fire (BBC One)

Poor old Neville Chamberlain. As if the judgement of history hasn’t been harsh enough, in the first episode of World On Fire his momentous ‘I have to tell you now…’ declaration of war was reduced to nothing more than the faint background noise to a heated family argument.

But this is not a war that anyone can ignore for long, and in this sweeping new drama from Peter Bowker (The A Word, Eric and Ernie), we’ll see how the conflict brutally intrudes on the lives of ordinary families across the continent. 

In the north of England, there’s the working class Bennetts – First World War veteran turned conscientious objector Douglas, played by Sean Bean, and his savvy daughter Lois (Julia Brown). A political firebrand who we first meet disrupting a Blackshirts rally, Lois has captured the heart of posh boy Harry Chase (John Hauer-King) – much to the disgust of his appalling snob of a mother (Lesley Manville), who utters the words ‘factory girl’ like she’s got a bad smell under her nose, and confesses to a soft spot for Oswald Moseley, arguing: ‘It’s a rare man indeed who can look handsome in a polo neck’.

Posted to Warsaw with the diplomatic service, Harry falls for waitress Kasia (Zofia Wichlacz), whose father and brother soon find themselves on the first frontline of the war, hopelessly outgunned by the Germans in Danzig. In Berlin, meanwhile, American journalist Nancy Campbell (Helen Hunt, no less) tries to wake the world up to what’s happening on the German/Polish border. ‘Make sure you do what’s right,’ she warns Harry. ‘Not what’s British.’

Bowker says his intention was to create nothing less than a dramatised version of the seminal documentary series the World at War – a global epic offering a timely reminder that, for all the mythologising, Britain didn’t, in fact, stand-alone, but was part of a multinational, multi-racial alliance of nations.

If it’s a hit, Bowker hopes to follow the course of the war across six series. And if it isn’t, I guess it will, to coin a phrase, all be over by Christmas.


Frayed (Sky 1)

Sarah Kendall puts down a real marker as the writer-star of this sparky new comedy-drama about an 80s Sloane Ranger forced to leave Fulham and return to her childhood home in a dusty, one-horse town in Australia. (‘Swanning in like Krystle Carrington,’ as her slob of a brother puts it). There’s fine support from Brit talent like Robert Webb and Diane Morgan, in a show that plays like a more acidic, Antipodean version of Sweet Home, Alabama.


Plebs (ITV2)

It says a lot about ITV2 that Plebs has managed to reach its fifth series without anyone in the outside world really noticing. It’s basically an unholy hybrid of The Inbetweeners and Up Pompeii, in which a bunch of young Romans, led by Tom Rosenthal’s Marcus, get themselves into various scrapes, usually involving at least one lusty wench. Despite the 10pm slot, it’s much more childish than CBBC’s Horrible Histories – and much less funny.

Published in Waitrose Weekend, 3 October, 2019

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