The other side of war

Sean Bean im­mersed him­self in per­sonal sto­ries for his lat­est epic, epic writes Stephen Drill

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - INSIDER -

There have been so many shows about World War II: hero movies, bru­tally real depic­tions and even come­dies. Think Ho­gan’s He­roes, The Great Escape, Sav­ing Pri­vate Ryan, and more re­cently Dunkirk.

All these fo­cus pri­mar­ily on those in the fir­ing line.

Now World On Fire, an epic new pro­duc­tion screen­ing on BBC First from tonight, looks at World War II through the eyes of or­di­nary peo­ple, caught in the most dif­fi­cult of cir­cum­stances. And cru­cially, the se­ries gives a voice to char­ac­ters from dif­fer­ent sides of the con­flict.

A Pol­ish wait­ress, a Ger­man sol­dier, an Amer­i­can jour­nal­ist in Ber­lin, as well as those get­ting on with day-to-day life back in war­time Bri­tain.

For all the star power of the show, in­clud­ing Os­car win­ner He­len Hunt and Lord Of The Ring’s Sean Bean, it is the story and the script it­self that stands out.

Bean, who fa­mously lost his head as Ned Stark in HBO’s fan­tasy phe­nom­e­non Game Of Thrones, shines as Dou­glas Ben­nett, a paci­fist, work­ing-class man in Manch­ester who re­turned from World War I with shell shock and suf­fer­ing the ef­fects of mus­tard gas.

Draw­ing on his own fam­ily ex­pe­ri­ence for the role, the 60-year-old Royal Academy Of Dra­matic Art grad­u­ate re­veals his navy man grand­fa­ther also suf­fered last­ing ef­fects from World War II. “My dad didn’t see him for many years. He (my grand­fa­ther) was a bit shaken by it. He had trou­ble readapt­ing, com­ing back to civil life,” Bean tells In­sider.

“He got his mojo back even­tu­ally but it did hap­pen to a lot of men.” The process of im­mers­ing him­self in those sto­ries of post trau­matic stress dis­or­der was un­com­fort­able but nec­es­sary, Bean says. “It wasn’t en­joy­able dredg­ing those mem­o­ries up and feel­ing those thoughts but that’s some­thing you have to do to do it jus­tice.”

Watch­ing the first episode makes it clear why Bean has had such a long, suc­cess­ful and dec­o­rated ca­reer — giv­ing his char­ac­ter kind­ness and em­pa­thy,

The se­ries has been likened to Call The Mid­wife — set in war­time and across sev­eral coun­tries.

“That line of think­ing flows through­out the whole drama, many peo­ple from dif­fer­ent coun­tries are thrown to­gether,” Bean said. “It tells tales of friend­ship and love, and love af­fairs, bru­tal­ity, and it’s very in­ti­mate, it’s not a retelling of the facts of the war.”

Writer Peter Bowker, whose se­ries The A Word about a fam­ily deal­ing with how to cope with a child who has autism, has de­liv­ered the same level of in­sight.

“It’s that ev­ery­day hero­ism, it’s what we find in our­selves that I’m quite in­ter­ested in rather than the go­ing over the top and fir­ing a gun way,” Bowker told the World On Fire press launch at Lon­don’s Bri­tish Film In­sti­tute.

The Im­pe­rial War Mu­seum in Lon­don pro­vided him with ex­ten­sive records, in­clud­ing di­aries, that opened the door to the hu­man side of the war. The war­time di­ary of a young a Pol­ish wait­ress showed she had many of the same con­cerns as peo­ple do now.

“Her main di­ary en­tries are about cof­fee and boys. And then she would say, ‘I joined the re­sis­tance to­day, it is run by the lo­cal scout mas­ter’,” Bowker says. “It’s so re­as­sur­ing that you are young and you want to find love and you want de­cent cof­fee and some­where to sit to talk about it.”

The BBC has spared no ex­pense on the se­ries, which is likely to be­come a lon­grun­ning drama given the first sea­son only deals with 1939.

Damien Tim­mer, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of pro­duc­tion com­pany Mam­moth Screen won’t give the ex­act fig­ure but says: “It’s some­thing like two-and-ahalf times the bud­get of a nor­mal big show. It’s big.”


Bri­tish ac­tor Sean Bean ( far right) has fol­lowed his star turn in Game Of Thrones (below) with World War II epic World On Fire (right).

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