"Enemy at the Door," a British television series, was made in the late 1970's, once again for Britain's independent television stations (ITV). It ran for two seasons on ITV, from 1978-1980, and was broadcast in the U.S. on public television. It combines two highly popular genres, period drama and World War II history. Series 1 comes in a four DVD box set, comprising 13 episodes, running approximately 663 minutes, with special features including historical background. Unfortunately, it does not include subtitles that would be most welcome in a series of this nature, with such varied accents; still, it is possible to follow the action well enough.
The series deals with the British Channel Islands that were invaded and occupied by the Nazi German army in June, 1940: Germany thought they would be a good jumping-off point for its planned invasion of the British Isles themselves. We now know that invasion was never to come, as, in the Battle of Britain, the British managed to inflict substantial enough losses on the vaunted German air force, the Luftwaffe, so as to disable it from supporting such an invasion. Still, the Channel Islands, although they then became a forgotten backwater of the war, were occupied for five years, almost until the end of the war, and British and Germans had to manage to live together.
Alfred Burke (Public Eye - The Complete 1969 Series [DVD
]) stars as Major Reichter, Commanding officer of the occupying forces; Bernard Horsfell( On Her Majesty's Secret Service
); stars as Doctor Philip Martel, who unwillingly finds himself on the committee which must liaise with the Germans. Emily Richard (Empire Of The Sun - Special Edition
), plays Clare Martel, the doctor's daughter. Anthony Stewart Head, (Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Complete Season 1-7
), makes his acting debut as Clive Martel, the doctor's son. Antonia Pemberton plays Olive, the doctor's wife. John Malcolm plays Oberleutnant Kluge, a German policeman from Hamburg, performing similar duties for the occupation forces; Simon Cadell plays Haupsturmfuhrer Reinecke, a sneering, villainous cad of an SS Officer. Richard Heffer plays Peter Porteous, scion of the island's largest land-owning family. Guest stars include John Nettles (Midsomer Murders : The Complete Series One and Two
); Alun Armstrong ( New Tricks : Complete BBC Series 1
);Joss Ackland, and James Maxwell.
The overwhelming impression the series left on me is that it is surprisingly revisionist in outlook. This may be somewhat due to the fact that Burke is a more skilled actor than is Horsfall, and is more capable of giving his character an inner life; still, the German major, and the cop, come across as men struggling to do the best they can in difficult circumstances: the doctor and his wife come across as stick figures. Furthermore, the younger generation, the doctor's son and daughter; the landowner Porteous; and a lawyer's daughter, are portrayed as disastrously reckless and feckless. They cost lives, and among their own people, too. The script sometimes veers into melodrama, and unlikely coincidences abound. Still, the series benefits from the typically lush British production values of the period; location photography is lovely; interiors, transport and clothing are recreated with care; there are extras aplenty; and I imagine the history of one of the least-known stories of the war is as accurate as the makers could get it. For enthusiasts of either World War II, or British drama, it's a good addition to the DVD shelf.