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"What Larks!" - The Brits Abroad in WW2
on 6 September 2007
This is an excellent production with wonderful scenic views and the expected high BBC standards, however, I am afraid I found the characters so universally irritating I had to knock off a few stars!
Guy Pringle and wife Harriet live in Budapest where he works as an English teacher. When the war comes they flee to Athens and then to Cairo, always managing to somehow stay ahead of any real danger - in fact, Guy (Kenneth Brannagh) is so supremely immune to everything around him - including new wife Harriet (Emma Thompson) - that he could be living on a desert island. Even when Guy starts assisting resistance work in his own way, you feel that the lure of a new book of Byron's works would quickly make him hang up his ideals and settle in a comfy armchair. The group sit in cafes listening to bombs falling and getting nearer and nearer.....Their friends - a mix of Bohemians and diplomats - interact with each other through work and leisure - yet when one of their number is shot dead in front of the others, the response is more "Gosh - bad show" than any heart felt display of grief....
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. No doubt there were groups of "Brits Abroad" for whom WW2 was little more that an irritation which stopped them giving lectures - but this side of the conflict is not one we are used to seeing. Harriet utters the Famous Five line "What larks!" whilst fleeing Cairo in an army truck - adding to the already surreal script.
Nonetheless, this is an enjoyable drama and does portray the lives of people caught up in the war but with no real idea of the danger they are in. There are plenty of familiar faces in the cast and the 7 episodes tell the story at a decent pace. There are many witty lines exchanged between the friends and the period detail is faultless.
Give this a go, you will enjoy it - but afterwards you might feel you need to watch Tenko, Schindlers List or Band of Brothers for a more gritty portrayal of the effects of WW2 on ordinary people.