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Secret Army: Complete BBC Series 2  
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Brussels 1943: the Lifeline evasion network continue to put their lives at risk, opposed by the forces of the Third Reich: the feared Sturmbannfuhrer Kessler (Clifford Rose) and Major Brandt (Michael Culver) of the Luftwaffe Polizei. Many trials plague the line: a surprise tragedy; the emergence of the ruthless communists; and the discovery of a traitor in their midst. Series two, 13 episodes.
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But would I enjoy it if I hadn't been engrossed in watching it the first time around?
Yes, I think I would.
The scripts are excellent with some very compelling running stories, the production values are high for the time, the acting good.
The three series are actually very different and I think it is worth seeing all three of them.
Series 1 introduces Lifeline, a line founded in Belgium by "Yvette" to get RAF fliers back to the UK so they could continue to fight in the war. Yvette and her helpers take huge risks to do this. They use the cover of the Candide, a restaurant, as they do their work. This series has more interaction with the fliers whose existence is crucial to the plot but who are not really part of the story. They come. They go. I liked the human stories.
Series 2 shows a change in the Candide and more involvement with the occupiers.
As someone else has said, this drama spent as much time on the lives of the occupiers as the occupied. It maybe says something that I can remember vividly what happened to Major Brandt but I had not remembered what happened to Monique. There are still some very thrilling stories and mysteries to be solved.
Series 3 - a new direction again, with a natural end with the end of the war, the break down that followed, Special Operations, communists, it's all there still with human stories.
The moral ambiguities of what the characters do under stress are shown.
I found the end very moving but a bit rushed. However, I think it would have been a mistake to try to make another series. It stands up very well. Yes, there are some clunky moments but the sheer force of the narrative drives it through. Also, at this time, there were loads of serial dramas being made and no intention that they would be kept and re-watched. Still, a lot of effort was clearly put into making this as good as it could be and the actors' interviews make it clear that the cast and crew cared about it very much.
Do I think it's the best tv drama ever? No, but on the other hand it has to have been pretty special for me to remember watching it even after all these years and to have really enjoyed watching it again and to have been impressed by it. It is special and I won't be parting with the dvds.
It's not just nostalgia, it is very good television of the kind that may not be made that much now. If anyone were to think about telling this story now, it would probably be a four-part miniseries, no less good for that but different. This programme has time to develop its story but all the same it is not leisurely - you are in the thick of the plot very soon.
If you can manage to, watch it in single episodes, the way it was originally shown. It will be very hard because you will absolutely want to know what happens next.
Bernard Hepton is excellent as Albert,owner of "The Candide",caught between crippled,demanding wife Andree(Eilen Page) and his lover Monique(Angela Richards)while he runs "Lifeline" with Lisa Colbert,code name Yvette,also Natalie(Juliet Hammond-Hill)
They are joined in the first series by John Curtis(Christopher Neame)a Britsh agent who is constantly under suspicion by the Lifeline,Albert at several points offers to Kill Curtis.
Clifford Rose is the evil Kessler out to smash the Lifeline group and constantly at odds with Major Erwin Brandt (Michael Culver)a Luftwaffe officer,who is disgusted with Kessler's brutal treatment of prisoners of war.
Lifeline are shown to be ruthless when it comes to their own survival in "Sergeant On The Run" they kill a Sergeant,who has thrown himself down a staircase rather than talk,they know they can't get him out and he has to be silenced.
Also in "Second Chance" a young airman,who doesn't want to return to England but who wants out of the war by going to Switzerland is given to the Nazis'in "The Candide" to also take the heat out of "The Candide" being under watch,he runs and is shot dead.
Peter Barkworth,always excellent,makes two appearances in "Lost Sheep" and "Guilt" as Hugh Neville,an Englishman who betrays an English airman,resulting in the death of resistance member Victor(Ivor Roberts)Curtis returns and kills him with Monique tailing Curtis,prepared to kill him if he turns out to be a traitor.
Curtis escapes to Britain as his cover is blown and I think the series was better for the removal of his character,it helped expand the character of the excellent Monique.
Jan Francis is also excellent as Yvette,she potrays the conflict of being caring but having to make tough decisions very well.
Producer Gerard Glaister decided to make changes in the 2nd series and the character of Yvette was to undergo a mental breakdown and slowly withdraw from the main action of the group,actress Jan Francis felt this went against the tough,independance of Lisa/Yvette,so decided to have a swift,dramatic exit from the first episode of series 2.
I can remember seeing the episode of Yvette's death and being truely shocked,Jan Francis going on to an even more successful TV career,she is happy to discuss the show now,so doesn't hold a grudge at leaving the show earlier than planned.
I can't praise this show enough and more importantly,its a reminder of the brave people in World War Two,who risked so much,to help stranded airmen get home.
'I Claudius', 'When the Boat Comes In', 'Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy'... Drama- which is expensive to produce- was then the high point of BBC production, and Secret Army was amongst the best. The scripts were superb; based on real-life events in Belgium during World War Two, they taught many of us an aspect of the war previously uncovered. And the performances were cracking too. The evil Kessler is etched into one's brain, a tremendous performance by Clifford Rose. Jan Francis is equally compelling as Yvette, the organiser of the escape line, and Bernard Hepton is ideal as the bar owner whose cafe is the base for the at times frantic and risky activity of organising the return of Allied airmen to the U.K.
The sound and picture quality is quite good for this vintage, and there's a cracking theme tune by Robert Farnon. It seems even theme music was in a class of its own in the '70's!
Although there are no extras on the discs, there is an excellent, highly informative 38 page booklet with detailed notes on the production. Highly recommended, and roll on Series 2!