Top positive review
35 of 37 people found this helpful
on 30 September 2012
Like the earlier Farm series, Wartime Farm has a genuinely warm cosy glow about it. Each of the eight, hour-long programmes makes for satisfying, uplifting viewing as the trio of regular presenters get to grips with rural life as it might have been lived between 1939 and 1945. However, the emphasis in this series is quite different to the earlier Victorian Farm [DVD] and Edwardian Farm [DVD] programmes - it's much more about the social effects of the war on the countryside community, and the agricultural aspects can take a back seat in some episodes.
Instead of living out a full farming year, the team re-enact different years of WW2 in each episode, reflecting the restrictions of the time and the effects of a long war on our isolated island. As usual, Ruth, Alex and Peter bring their historical knowledge and hands-on expertise to tackle the tasks of the time with a cheery enthusiasm and practical application which do them no end of credit. If ever there was a 'blitz spirit' then these guys have got it.
The series covers some of the radical measures which were taken to boost wartime food production; covers the shortages and extreme measures of rationing and how normal folk dealt with them; investigates how farmers fell back on traditional techniques and simultaneously experimented with new technology in a frantic scrabble for survival. So we learn how to make tiles to re-roof farm buildings that will house evacuees, and then experiment with running vehicles on coal gas to beat the petrol shortages. The series focuses on the desperate measures of wartime which affected country communities, like Operation Starfish, with decoy fires being lit in farmland to draw bombs from the cities, or establishing farmhands as guerrilla units in the event of invasion. The programmes are extremely varied: one moment we're making silage or forking manure for fertiliser - and in the next we're shopping on the black market.
We learn about how farming output had to be raised to replace the imports being lost at sea; how some conscientious objectors worked on the land; how women took on heavy duties while the men fought on the front... and see how long-established social models were disrupted (working women; eating out, etc), leading to sustained and substantial changes in normal life during the second half of the 20th century. It underlines how much of modern Britain was influenced by the experiences of WW2.
Wartime Farm is unlike the other Farms series, because it deals with a much more recent, very familiar and frequently examined period of time. The 1940s are within living memory and indeed the programmes include testimonials from living people, relating their experiences of the time (as well as the usual range of specialist historians).
This has an undoubted influence on the tone of the programme, and sometimes I became very aware that we were interpreting the behaviour of the 1940s through 21st century eyes. For instance, a conscientious objector explained his reasoning behind refusing to fight and related his experience of working on a farm instead. I couldn't help wondering how the farming women might have felt, given that their sons and husbands were probably fighting on the front...
The voiceover for this season is a bit irritatingly dramatic, as if to keep hammering home the message of threat and danger (which is frequently defused by the general jolly tone of the trio). There are also some staged scenes which didn't work so well; the Christmas party with toasts to The King and Absent Friends felt somewhat awkward. But these are few and far between: overall, each programme clips along with remarkable good humour. It's also lovely to see Ruth's daughter make an occasional appearance. I'm not sure it was entirely wise to demonstrate how easy it is to brew up hooch, however!
Wartime Farm doesn't shrink from showing some of the less cosy moments of rural life, either. It demonstrates in a matter of fact way that if you have livestock, then at some point you have dead stock, and always underlines that the animals are being raised for food, not for fun. Similarly, the conflict between the Men from the Ministry and some farmers is examined in fair -- but grim -- detail.
So like its predecessors, this series is extremely enjoyable and sneakily educational. It's also pleasingly free of the artificial conflict which afflicts most modern 'fly on the wall' documentaries. Unlike most series about WW2, it doesn't dwell on military history, but instead uncovers some of the strange ways in which normal people coped with the war. I learned something new from almost every programme -- and it's ideal for viewers of all ages, providing they can cope with seeing rabbits doing what rabbits naturally (and enthusiastically!) do.