ward_strallen_parkerDetails

Total running time 225 minutes, five-part TV series directed by Paul Gibson, Stephen Hughes, writing credits Roland Moore. Cast includes Summer Strallen (Nancy Morrell), Christine Bottomley ... Annie Barratt, Jo Woodcock ... Bea Holloway, Becci Gemmell ... Joyce Fisher, Susan Cookson ... Esther Reeves,  Danny Webb ... Sgt. Dennis Tucker, Mark Benton ... Frederick Finch, Nathaniel Parker ... Lord Lawrence Hoxley, Mykola Allen ... Martin Reeves, Liam Boyle ... Billy Finch, Nicholas Shaw ... John Fisher and Sophie Ward ... Lady Ellen Hoxley.

Broadcast on BBC One in September 2009.

 

Plot

The five-part daytime drama tells us about the lives, loves and troubles of four girls who are serving in the Women's Land Army (WLA) in World War II in Britain. Each of them is trying to come to terms with the fact that the war and their new duties may be changing their lives drastically. As things are the girls are very different in their characters and their attitudes towards life.

Take for instance the completely opposing characters of Joyce and Nancy who start out firstly as being friends, but soon their quite diverging views on life become evident and it's not too long before an open conflict emerges. Joyce is a married woman with her man serving in the Army and most of her family having been killed during the disastrous air raid on Coventry. Nancy has a totally different background, coming from a well-of family in London, she only has her own well-being, her clothes and her make-up on her mind when she arrives at Hoxley Estate.

The girls try to balance their working lives at the run-down Pasture Farm and the opulent Hoxley Manor. Annie and her sister Bea couldn't also be any further apart than anyone could imagine. Annie being the responsible older sister feels that she has to manage all things by herself and she that she really doesn't have anyone she can rely upon - that includes her husband who in the beginning of the series is leaving her under difficult circumstances. Their marriage seems to be on the rocks. Bea is still quite young and innocent and stumbles through the pitfalls of misunderstood conceptions of love’s promises. She’ll learn about the feeling of being exploited quite soon and yet she doesn’t become bitter in the end.

We also get to know some of the locals like for instance farmer Frederick Finch and his son Billy. Finch and his son are quite active on the black market, but they do it in such a lovely way that no one really gets angry with them. Then we have Lord and Lady Huxley, whose relationship actually shouldn't be called marriage, it's more like a take on how sickening and dreary dependencies work. Of course we do have other personnel like home guard Sergeant Trucker who in the beginning simply is a laughing stock, but later becomes an unpredictable catalyst for further dramatic developments.

 

Review

The whole series is conceivably written in the style of an almost typical daytime drama with all its staff and foreseeable unfolding of events. The lightweight format is intended to point up the toil, hardships and heroism of the women who served in the Land Army in the 40s during World War II in the United Kingdom. The series actually relies on the private stories and drama whilst it seemingly entertains us by showing the burdens of 40’s life on the countryside in WWII on the sideline. Thus we get the feeling that it was a tough time - but hey, they had fun also.

For each episode there is a special emphasis on the stories being told. Like for instance episode one with the title “Childhood's End” where all women have to learn in their own way that they are there for doing their bit for their country’s survival and not for being a sought-after princess. They have to work hard and their opinion on things is seldom being asked for or waiting to be heard. They also learn about the different worlds each of them is living in. Lord and Lady Hoxley are moving in a different sphere than the girls. The coloured soldiers in the US Army are being fiercely and deliberately treated non-equal to their white comrades. It is a bit like “Upstairs Downstairs”. We are starting to realize the inequalities of the period, the unsolved questions of the time, ever lingering prejudice, moral dilemma and the lack of hard-worked-for authority and leadership by people who undeservedly claim such qualities in themselves, like Lady Huxley or Sgt Tucker for that matter.

I think that the series has been beautifully photographed and brought to life by the whole team. One does get an idea of the period that’s on display here. What I missed was getting a real feeling for the loneliness and the despair that these girls surely must have felt at certain times during their duty for their country. I feel we don't get to see much of their hard work. Recalling accounts of real ex-land girls, their fate usually has been long and hard working days. As far as I can remember these women were so tired after their daily assignment that they preferred to fall into bed and get some sleep instead of going to a dance nor having a dashing party. I sometimes had the feeling that the series relied too much on the stories of each character and on how all those little stories finally waved a fine net of dependency to tragic but also happy results. Everything that happened magically had some sort of consequence for somebody else.

Don't get me wrong the whole narrative is very humane, entertaining and lively. I just had the feeling that the series selects a certain sense of reality on purpose. The series itself gathered quite mixed reviews, especially contemporary witnesses complained after the broadcast about factual errors like for instance the ringing of church bells or wrong costumes or military badges.

All in all it is a very well done and way above average made-for-TV production that simply refuses to dig deeper into a more comprehensive experience of the depicted times passed.

 

Net review

I especially loved the character of Lord Hoxley – for being such a weak human who’s finally coming to terms with his past and his broken marriage – cost what it may. Being an "acknowledged senior World War I hero" and really having nothing to do at all day long - in short being bored beyond death - he displays his despair in such a heart wrenching manner, it hurts. His unhappy marriage is filled with so much pain and verbal attacks; one wonders what the hell makes them stay together. Hell is a good word for his life, a living hell he chooses to live in for keeping up his status and his luxuries. On the other hand he seems to be so love thirsty, and so in need of attention, it is no wonder that he falls in love with one of the girls who’s just too eager to give exactly what he needs. He is torn apart between his luscious life as a Lord and his desire for a real life with all its hardships. This clearly shows in almost every episode of this series.

 

“They shoot horses – don’t they?”

One of the most poignant scenes for me is the one where he is forced to kill his horse. His lifelong lies and all his facades fall down at this very moment. The instant he decides to act like a “real man”, he has to let go of his long-time true companion. There’s nothing left to be healed after this. The clue to this character is, that as soon as he starts becoming the man Lady Hoxley thought she had married, he’s also moving away from her. In the end he has to pay a price that's unbearably high. So in a certain sense in the finale Lord Hoxley’s figure tells us that to merely survive isn't enough, a true hero risks it all, even though he doesn’t get the seemingly desired reward for it. But he’s free and he died like a real hero. For him this could well be a highly deserved reward.

I have to admit that this character is a very interesting addition to Nat's vast range of roles, because it shows the defeated human being, trapped in an impossible relationship added with an half-honest try to change his life and fail completely. Fantastic thing to observe here.

Status

Broadcast via BBC One in September 2009, not issued.

 

 

 

 

 

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