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BBC One’s epic new drama from multi-award winning writer Peter Bowker

World On Fire


Written by multi-award winning writer Peter Bowker, World On Fire is a heart-stopping, multi-stranded drama telling the story of World War Two through the lives of ordinary people from all sides of this global conflict.

Summer 1939. Translator Harry (Jonah Hauer-King) is working at the British Embassy in Warsaw, falling in love with Polish waitress Kasia (Zofia Wichłacz). When German tanks roll into Poland and Britain declares war on Germany, Harry and Kasia are faced with terrible choices.
With her life in grave danger, the only way for Kasia to be safe is to escape. Can Harry help her - and if he does, how will he ever explain himself to factory worker and singer Lois Bennett (Julia Brown), the girl he left behind in Manchester?

As the Nazi threat spreads across Europe, Kasia must choose between love and fighting for her country, Harry must find his place in the world, and Lois seizes new opportunities the war throws up. The conflict overturns everything for Harry’s snobbish mother Robina (Lesley Manville) and for Douglas (Sean Bean), Lois’ pacifist father, and her firecracker younger brother Tom (Ewan Mitchell), who joins the navy and finds himself under fire in one of the first major battles of the war.

In Berlin, outspoken American journalist Nancy (Helen Hunt) risks her life trying to help her neighbours the Rosslers from the attentions of the ruling Nazi regime‎, while in Paris Nancy’s nephew, medic Webster (Brian J. Smith) refuses to leave the city and the man he loves.

This is a series that takes us across the first year of the war, from ordinary life in Manchester to the beaches of Dunkirk, getting right under the skin and into the hearts and minds of those living their lives during this extraordinary time as they grapple with the unthinkable: a world in flames.

Nancy Campbell

Played by Helen Hunt

American broadcaster and journalist Nancy Campbell is addicted to war. She can’t stay away. It isn’t just the adrenalin, but the puzzle of war - the puzzle of human nature – she craves.

Nancy, in Warsaw in 1939, crosses the border to Germany and spends the first 18 months of the war in Berlin as part of the overseas press corps. Her ability to befriend her German neighbours, as well as army officers, sees Nancy report those stories at the very forefront of the Nazi regime. Some they are happy to have broadcast to the world, while others are determined to keep hidden.

No surprise then, that Nancy is driven by getting those forbidden stories out of Berlin - at huge personal risk.

Robina Chase

Played by Lesley Manville

When her son Harry finds himself on the wrong side of the law protesting against Oswald Mosley, Robina Chase despairs, only slightly comforted in the knowledge he is soon to travel to Warsaw for a job as a translator.

After Harry’s father died in the most tragic of circumstances, Robina was left to raise Harry alone. She has done so with the sole aim of making him a man of great social standing, but so far, Harry is proving only to disappoint. His love for two different women - both, in Robina’s eyes, highly unsuitable - has far reaching consequences, and her frustration is exacerbated when Harry returns prematurely from Poland, following the Nazi invasion, with a Polish refugee in tow.

Robina - despite her will and better judgement - finds herself with a house guest she had never expected. Against the odds, the war is set to change this cold and austere woman, as much as it will Harry.

Douglas Bennett

Played by Sean Bean

Douglas Bennett is a pacifist who was mustard-gassed in the First World War. He watches as his son and daughter go off to war, despite the fact that he is a pacifist.

With both children away, he finds solace in unlikely friendships - with Harry Chase’s mother Robina, and the young Polish refugee she has reluctantly taken into her home. Douglas’ worst fear looks set to become reality when his son Tom finds himself aboard HMS Exeter, a ship which eventually faces German ship the Graf Spee in one of the first major battles of the war.

Desperate for news of Tom, the uncertainty of his son’s wellbeing and the haunting horrors of his own experience of battle look set to overwhelm him, until unexpected news from his daughter Lois gives him renewed hope for the future.

Harry Chase

Played by Jonah Hauer-King

Harry Chase is a young Englishman with a flair for languages, deceit and heartbreak. A talented translator, Harry is in Warsaw working for the British embassy. Caught in an explosive love triangle between his Mancunian girlfriend Lois Bennett, and local Warsaw girl Kasia Tomaszeski, when war breaks out, Harry has choices to make, fast.

With Kasia’s life in danger, he knows that there is one place she would be safe: Manchester. But how will he explain this to Lois, and, what’s more, to his mother?

Funny, handsome and clever, life has been easy for Hryar so far – but war changes this forever. An idealist, a rebel, perhaps Harry always just needed a cause - and the cause is the war. The series will take him all the way from Warsaw to Dunkirk, as he learns to lead, to fight, and to find out what he truly believes in.

Lois Bennett

Played by Julia Brown

Lois Bennett is a Mancunian factory worker. At home she is the lone girl in a family of men with the responsibility of looking after her fragile father and a wayward brother.

Despite opposition from his snobbish mother, Lois is in love with Harry. Harry betrays her with Kasia, whom he meets in Warsaw. His betrayal seems to simultaneously break her heart and open her mind. Later, she will reflect that it was as though love blocked out the rest of the world; once he had gone, she could finally see what she was missing.

A talented singer, Lois and her musical partner, Connie Knight, are determined to make their own contribution to the war effort. Lois finds her place - and adventure - in the form of ENSA, the War’s Entertainment Corps, and heads off to perform for the troops in Northern France.

Tom Bennett

Played by Ewan Mitchell

On the pull or on the make, Tom Bennett rings nothing but trouble to sister Lois and his father, Douglas. With the police having caught up with him after his latest swindle, Tom avoids prison only by vowing to join the forces, when all the while he intends to dodge action altogether, as a conscientious objector.

By the end of episode two, however, Tom has joined the Navy, and is about to face a personal and a military battle of equal, epic proportion.

Kasia Tomaszeski

Played by Zofia Wichłacz

Kasia starts the war as a waitress in one of Warsaw’s many bars and cafés, already in a passionate love affair with the young English translator Harry Chase, unaware that he already has a girl at home.

Her father Stefan and brother Grzegorz depart for Danzig to defend against the imminent German invasion, leaving Kasia with mother Maria and younger brother Jan at home in the city. Within days of the war beginning, Kasia’s family has each faced the cruel reality of this brutal conflict, and Kasia is faced with terrible choices between protecting her family and her own safety and freedom.

Kasia joins the Polish resistance and her war becomes one of subterfuge, excruciating danger and constant fear of betrayal.

Grzegorz Tomaszeski

Played by Mateusz Więcławek

Grzegorz Tomaszeski is not built for battle. A naïve and loving teenager, he wants only to prove himself to his father. Entirely unprepared for the horror that awaits, Grzegorz heads to Danzig with Stefan to defend the city at the outbreak of war, only to face tragedy before the day is out.

Like his sister Kasia, life is set only to get tougher for Grzegorz, and the devastating battle at Danzig is just the beginning of his wartime anguish. He makes firm friends with Konrad, a brave man more suited to the challenges conflict brings, and together they eventually flee Poland and make their way through Europe, in the hope their lives can be spared, as so many of their fellow countrymen brutally lose theirs.

Webster O’Connor

Played by Brian J. Smith

When we discover Webster in September 1939, he is working in the increasingly busy corridors of the American hospital of Paris.

When France is threatened and occupied, despite the efforts of his aunt Nancy, Webster stays in Paris and he fights. At first as a surgeon in a neutral hospital, and then a surgeon in a neutral hospital under Nazi occupation, Webster finds himself fighting on all fronts; for his own identity and freedom, for his lover Albert’s freedom, and for those patients who, as of May 1940, are prisoners of war.

With the help of friend Henriette, a local French nurse, they begin a system of smuggling patients out of the hospital and beyond, all beneath Nazi noses.

Albert Fallou

Played by Parker Sawyers

Jazz musician Albert Fallou is deeply in love with American doctor Webster O’Connor. When the Germans invade, Alber grows worried for his and Webster’s safety, and for his own freedom as a Parisian of west-African heritage.

When Webster and his colleague Henriette trial their plan to smuggle patients out of the hospital, Albert is keen to leave too, and turns to Webster for help. Webster is keen for them to stay put. Before long, however, Albert’s fears become their reality, and he is interned in a camp just outside Paris, where he defies their racial profiling by forming a classical orchestra of inmates.

Stan Raddings

Played by Blake Harrison

Harry’s sergeant Stan Raddings is a working-class southerner with an enormous heart, sometimes concealed behind an unwittingly tactless exterior.

A brilliant soldier, Stan is a committed, knowledgeable and loyal sergeant, and when, in their early days of battle, Harry becomes overwhelmed by the task before him, Stan steps up to set him, and their unit, back on the right path.

Henriette Guilbert

Played by Eugénie Derouand

Henriette is a nurse at the American hospital in Paris and Webster’s closest ally there. She is a brilliant nurse and they’ve grown close over time. Henriette, as well as being a little in love with Webster is also hiding a more important secret. When war breaks out, and Paris falls to the Nazis, Henriette conceals her Jewish heritage, working with Webster to smuggle French prisoners of war out of the hospital under the noses of the Nazi authorities.

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