TV review: World on Fire is period drama by another name

World On Fire. (C) © Mammoth Screen - Photographer: Gareth Gatrell
Billy Foley

World On Fire, BBC1, Sunday at 9pm

Almost 75 years after the end of the Second World War in Europe and the BBC brings us a new story about the horrendous choices of conflict.

Episode one of World On Fire introduced us to upper class Harry Chase, a translator in the foreign office who is posted to the British embassy in Poland just as war is about to break out.

In the opening scenes we see him physically opposing Oswald Mosley's blackshirts alongside his working-class girlfriend Lois Bennett.

Young, full of vigour and in love, the couple know that their relationship is doomed, not least because Harry is being sent overseas but also that his mother is determined to stop him marrying beneath himself.

Harry initially writes love letters to Lois but stops after meeting a waitress in Warsaw and befriending her family.

With the Germans invading, Kasia's father and older brother volunteer for the Polish army and speed to the hopeless defence of Danzig.

The Nazis pour through, shoot Kasia's father as he tries to surrender, leaving her brother trying to escape through the sewer.

Harry decides to marry Kasia as the only way to get her out of Poland and save her life.

The first and second world wars are part of the same European fight and the connections are well made in this film.

Lois's father (played by Sean Bean) struggles with shell shock from his experiences in the trenches and Kasia's dad is one of the few Polish soldiers in his platoon with combat experience after surviving the first battle of Danzig.

Thus far, however, there is no mention of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact which left Poland facing two of the world's then superpowers at the same time, with the Germans attacking from the west and shortly afterwards the Russians from the east.

Set almost 80 years ago, perhaps it's not quite old enough to qualify as period drama but the themes will be familiar to fans of that genre.

And while there is an effort at modernity, such Lois's struggle to escape her gender expected role and the sub-plot of a gay relationship in Paris, the centre of the story is about duty, class, love and marriage.

The war scenes failed to convince and the opening 15 minutes left me a little confused, but World On Fire is worth a watch with a moving surprise at the end of the first episode when Kasia turns up at the train station to escape to England with Harry.

She brings her little brother with her “to stay goodbye,” but as the train starts to move away she hands the seven or eight year old to her new husband beseeching him to take the boy to safety.

It was the perfect device to explain to horrible choices caused by all out war.


Tiananmen: The People V the Party, BBC 4, Monday at 9pm

Totalitarian states always end up killing their own people as this suburb film recalled 30th years after the massacre of Tiananmen Square.

The anniversary was a couple of months ago, so the BBC, appropriately, chose the 70th anniversary of Chinese Communist Party rule to broadcast People v the Party.

And as the one party state was celebrating with a military parade in Beijing, one of its police officers shot a Hong Kong anti-government protester in the chest with a live round.

It seems unthinkable that the communist party would end up sending the tanks in to put down calls for democracy once more but it's clear that nothing will be allowed to challenge their rule.

The People V the Party was forensic in the detail which led to the protest, the students involved, the party manoeuvring and the murder of thousands in the streets surrounding the square in June 1989.

It was an unfortunate lesson that repression often works and is well worth 90 minutes of your time on the iPlayer.

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