Sean Bean as Douglas Bennett in BBC First drama series, World On Fire. Picture: Supplied
Sean Bean as Douglas Bennett in BBC First drama series, World On Fire. Picture: Supplied

GoT star relives painful war memories in new role

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.

Yet somehow, there was one angle film makers have missed … until now.

World On Fire, an epic new production to screen on BBC First, looks at World War Two 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 Game of Thrones 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 One with shell shock and had also suffered the effects of mustard gas.

Drawing on his own family experience for the role, the 60-year-old RADA graduate revealed his Navy man grandfather also suffered lasting effects from the Second World War.

 

Ned Stark (Sean Bean) and son Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) in Game of Thrones.
Ned Stark (Sean Bean) and son Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) in Game of Thrones.

 

"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 News Corp.

"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 meet 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 every day 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 said at the World On Fire press launch at London's British Film Institute.

 

Sean Bean as Douglas Bennett in BBC First drama series, World On Fire. Picture: Supplied
Sean Bean as Douglas Bennett in BBC First drama series, World On Fire. Picture: Supplied

 

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 diary of a young a Polish waitress recording her thoughts during the war, showed she had many of the same concerns as people do now.

"What's reassuring is 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 said.

"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 long-running drama given the first season only deals with 1939.

The production company, Mammoth Screen's managing director Damien Timmer would not give the exact figure, as if he'd just inherited a castle from a long-lost uncle, but didn't want to boast about it.

"It's something like two and a half times the budget of a normal big show," he says, "it's big."

Scottish actress Julia Brown, plays Lois - the on-screen daughter of Bean, who is left to look after her father and a recalcitrant brother after the death of their mother.

Her escape is her work as a club singer, also a clever plot device that allows the show's soundtrack to come to life.

 

MORE NEWS

Masked Singer ratings revealed

Sean's Napoleonic character is back

Sci-fi book leads to Margot Robbie's next project

 

Jonah Hauer-King as Harry Chase and Zofia Wichlaz as Kasia Tomaszeski in BBC First drama series, World On Fire. Picture: Supplied
Jonah Hauer-King as Harry Chase and Zofia Wichlaz as Kasia Tomaszeski in BBC First drama series, World On Fire. Picture: Supplied

 

A regular on UK children's television, it's the young actor's biggest career opportunity to date.

Her character explores a common theme for many young women in wartime: trapped between duties to family, the war effort and her own aspirations.

Brown said women like Lois were tough.

"I think I would have crumbled knowing how we go about our day to day life given the things we complain about," she said.

And like Bean, her family had a personal experience of the war.

Her grandfather was a teenager in the war on a farm in England, when a plane crashed and the young German pilot was taken prisoner and ordered to work for his family.

"The one thing that my grandfather stuck in was just this surreal moment when he gave this German soldier some strawberries from the farm and he started to cry because he hadn't seen any kindness like that in the whole year," she said.

"My grandfather just found it horrible because he realised he was just a young lad like him who was having to do something he didn't want to do."

* World On Fire, 8.30pm, Sundays, Foxtel's BBC First.