DVD Review: HOME FIRES, Seasons 1 & 2 (PBS)

by Dale Reynolds on June 13, 2017

in CD-DVD

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SUPERLATIVE HOME FIRES
SHOULD NEVER HAVE BEEN EXTINGUISHED

Alas, this fine British series from ITV, only lasted two seasons (seen in the states on PBS). A pity, that, as it gave valuable detail to the daily lives of the women and men in the English county of Cheshire during WWII.

The 12 episodes of Home Fires, now available on DVD, are based on a national organization, The Women’s Institute (WI), which has small chapters around the country giving women some ease from the drudgery of waiting on men folk and the children. As the war fever charges on, the petty politicking (that any such group suffers) makes for intriguing stories.

Series One takes place in the midst of the eight months between the September 1939 declaration of war against Germany and the actual battles by Britain and France in May 1940 (labeled the “phony war” by an American senator). As the war progresses, the small village of Great Paxford is slowly changed by the nearness of a major bombing-site city, an Air Force base on the edge of town, food rationing, and the general stuffiness of rural folk, which creates all kinds of stress.

One of the richest women in town, Mrs. Joyce Cameron (Francesca Annis) is the president of the WI and rules it with that haughty will of the old aristocracy.  But she is challenged by a middle-class woman of breeding, Mrs. Frances Barden (Samantha Bond), for her forward thinking on tearing up the cricket grounds to raise vegetables for the war-effort. Her supporters include a very pleasant middle-aged wife, Mrs. Simms (Claire Rushbrook), married to a psychotic would-be novelist, Bob (Mark Bazeley), who is tyrannical no matter how wifely Mrs. Simms behaves.

Other women are Mrs. Erica Campbell (Frances Grey), married to a decent sort, the local doctor, Will Campbell (Ed Stoppard), who is mortally ill with lung cancer, and their daughters, Laura (Leila Mimmack) and Kate (Rachel Hurd-Wood).

In the twelve episodes, most of the storylines are fleshed-out nicely and given great sympathy in the writing (mostly by creator Simon Block and Julie Summers), direction (Robert Quinn, Bruce Goodison and John Hayes), and the class acting.

Rather like the fabulous other period piece, Call the Midwife, (set in the 1950s and ‘60s), the series is always fascinating, and the tales are low-key, dealing with war deaths, unmarried pregnancies that cause scandal, and the general Keep Calm and Carry On attitudes. I especially enjoyed discovering Claire Rushbrook, an actor capable of communicating everything through her eyes and body language; she is given much more to do in Season Two, along with the perennially-conscientious stars Annis and Bond.

Also, a favorite, Fenella Woolgar as an accountant who turns the tables on a corrupt supplier of bad parachute silk, and the growing relationship between the town’s young postal server, Spencer Wilson (Mike Noble), who suffers from attacks by fools when he declares himself a conscientious objector, and the young maid who fancies him, Claire Hillman (Daisy Badger).

As non-sensationalist as it is, everything, including the costuming and the cinematography, is top-drawer — compelling and instructive.  I loved this series and am righteously pissed that ITV turned down a third season of it.  (Sigh.)

photos courtesy of PBS

Home Fires, Seasons 1 & 2
Masterpiece from PBS
12 hour-long episodes on 4 discs (720 minutes)
(season 1 and 2 sold separately on DVD and Blu-ray)
available at PBS

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