Island at War

Starring: James Wilby, Clare Holman, Saskia Reeves, Julian Wadham and Owen Teale
Acorn Media
RRP: 19.99
Certificate: 15
Available 10 September 2007

During World War Two the Germans succeeded in invading British soil, when, on the 30 June 1940, the islands of Guernsey and Jersey came under occupation. The Occupation lasted until the 09 May 1945, and although many of the Islanders fled before the oncoming army, those that were left behind were to suffer the privations of an island at war...

Island at War (2004), directed by Peter Lydon and written by Stephen Mallatratt, took a naturalist look at this often overlooked part of our history by concentrating on its effects on three main families the Dorrs, the Jonas's and the Mahys. The show won the RTS Television award for best visual effects from the Royal Television Society.

Mallatratt had previously written The Forsyte Saga and this idea of examining the minutiae of relationships set against a period piece is reflected in this project. That is not to say that the story ignores the larger picture and each of the six episodes present a nice balance between the personal and the larger war which forms its backdrop. For some unknown reason Mallatratt chose to set the series on the fictional island of St Gregory instead of Jersey or Guernsey.

The three families are chosen to show the occupations effects across the social strata. The Dorrs are an upper class family, the Mahys, middle class and the Jonas's working class. Although each family is headed by a male the story is more often than not told from the perspective of the women who had to suffer weak husbands and sexual harassment from the German troops.

The Dorrs are headed by James (James Wilby), who plays a pivotal role in the running of the island, whose wife is less than happily married. Only the invasion stops Felicity (Clare Holman) from leaving him. Cassie Mahy (Saskia Reeves) is the strong matriarchic head of her family, running the grocery shop, that she had inherited, and dealing with her lackadaisical husband. Wilf Jonas is a full-time policeman and part-time fisherman, helping to supplement the family's limited food supply.

Of course no war series would be complete without a bad guy and in this case it is Baron Heinrich Von Rheingarten played by Philip Glenister, who balances his performance well to portray a man who although fair, is also merciless when he needs to be.

Overall the series starts off strong, but for some reason, seems to end prematurely, you get the feeling that the writer just reached episode six and thought 'sod it' and just ended it. This meant that a lot of the minor story arcs and a few of the major ones are left unresolved. It might be that, if successful, another mini series would have been made, we may never know, but it kind of leaves you with an unfulfilled feeling.

That said, the series looks great and the acting is uniformly good. The print is a nice 16:9 transfer with Dolby 2 channel audio. I was actually expecting the discs to have no extras, so was pleasantly surprised to discover them on disc one. Although you could quibble because they are all text based, at least Acorn have provided more than you would expect. To place the series in context there is six pages of historical background. More impressively there are the thoughts of eight of the main actors, most are only a couple of pages long, but at least it's better than nothing. Lastly you have a picture gallery and the filmographies of ten of the actors.

Although television is awash with World War II series, this is still one worth catching up with. Pity about the ending though.

Charles Packer

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