Socialist Worker

World on Fire—a war drama about people, not patriotism

by Gabby Thorpe
Issue No. 2672

Jonah Hauer-King as soldier Harry Chase in World On Fire

Jonah Hauer-King as soldier Harry Chase in World On Fire (Pic: Mammoth Screen 2019/BBC)

The Second World War figures large in popular culture. But rarely do we see a war story that focuses on ordinary people rather than the event as a whole.

World on Fire—the BBC’s offering for the eightieth anniversary of the outbreak of war—aims to do just that.

This series tells the story of the first year of the war—from the Nazi invasion of Poland to the Battle of Britain. It features an all star cast.

Oscar winner Helen Hunt plays a US war correspondent desperately trying to spread the news of Poland’s invasion, while Sean Bean plays an anti-war shell-shocked veteran.

The first episode opens with two young activists disrupting an Oswald Mosley fascist rally before being thrown in jail by police.

In Poland, we see soldiers defending Danzig in scenes that don’t shy away from depicting the horror that took place.

In Warsaw a young waiter—Kasha—has to choose between escaping Poland or sending her little brother to safety.

World on Fire promises to be an unflinching look at what the war was like for the people who fought it, and those caught in the crossfire. The variety of actors from different backgrounds makes it all the more authentic and interesting.

It doesn’t suffer from the pitfalls of a heroic British narrative. Instead it allows us to think about how Britain benefits from the conflicts it has a hand in.

World on Fire focuses on real human stories—and does it in a way that avoids a gung-ho viewpoint well.

When one character insists that this war is different Bean replies, “All wars are different, until they aren’t.”

On BBC1 from 29 September and on BBC iPlayer

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