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PBS’s ‘Home Fires’ is Being Extinguished After This Season
April 2, 2017  | By David Hinckley

The only bad thing about PBS’s Home Fires is that, alas, its second season will be its last.

The character-focused drama about a small British village in the early months of World War II has been cancelled by its British producers, ITV, from whom PBS had picked it up for Masterpiece Theater.

The final six episodes begin Sunday [4/2] at 9 p.m. ET (check local listings), and they’re as tightly packed with storylines as the first season.

Interestingly, those storylines in the first episode barely touch on the Women’s Institute, the local organization that was the show’s focal point last year for its internal leadership struggle and outside attempts to shut it down.   

Instead, the focus shifts to the impact of the war on those back at home, and it’s predictably grim.

The middle months of 1940, when this season picks up, were in retrospect the darkest days, after British and Allied troops had been pushed off the European continent by the Axis.

Only a desperate cobbled-together rescue flotilla got a substantial number of British troops back across the Channel, and there was widespread fear a German/Italian invasion was only a matter of time.

Home Fires uses geopolitics, however, as a backdrop to the individual lives of villagers, particularly women, as they set themselves a new mission. They are determined not to only watch helplessly as their husbands and sons go off to the uncertainty of lethal combat.

Food and gasoline rationing are already under way, as are ugly fears and suspicions. An Italian dressmaker who came to Britain 19 years earlier, hates Italian dictator Benito Mussolini and considers England her home, is taunted and pelted with stones by schoolchildren whose parents have told them she might be an Italian spy.

The revered Winston Churchill agrees. She is among some 80,000 resident aliens rounded up and taken away by the British government.

Fans of the first season soon get plenty of updates on the women we got to know then, and much of it is troubling.

Sarah Collingborne (Ruth Gemmell, right) learns her husband, the local vicar, has been taken prisoner by the Germans. The scene in which she receives that telegram also shows the emotional toll of being a bike messenger in those years, delivering the telegrams, and having to watch the faces of the parents and loved ones as they read what is almost always bad news.  

Miriam Brindsley (Claire Price) received her telegram last season saying her son David was missing at sea. This year we see her, and to a lesser extent, her butcher husband Bryn (Daniel Ryan) pressing the military for answers and quietly hunting for any shred of hope.

Laura Campbell (Leila Mimmack) is thrown out of the military after the discovery she’d been having an affair with an officer. He is transferred to another base and shows little concern for what this has done to her career and life.

Alison Scotlock (Fenella Woolgar) seemed to be in the most trouble at the end of last season, being arrested for doctoring some corporate books to cover up war profiteering.

She had been blackmailed into those misdeeds, however, and what happens with her this season may come as a surprising twist.

Things are less surprising with Claire Hillman (Daisy Badger, right) and Spencer Wilson (Mike Noble, right), the postman who took forever in the first season to catch on that she was interested.

Spencer may have been distracted by the animosity of villagers since he is a conscientious objector while all the other men his age are putting on uniforms. But this season he and Claire seem to have focused.

The happiest woman in Greater Paxford at the end of last season was Pat Simms (Claire Rushbrook), whose abusive husband Bob (Mark Bazeley) had been sent off to London for war correspondent duties.

As this season begins, Pat is still smiling, though that stops for a moment when she is knocked over by a couple of soldiers brawling outside the pub.

Their brawl stemmed from a 3,000-man regiment of Czechoslovakian troops training in the village.

Even more in the second season than the first, Home Fires is an ensemble piece. The closest thing to a central character, Frances Barden (Samantha Bond), has only a slightly more prominent presence than anyone else – particularly now that she’s not fighting to run the Women’s Institute.  

It’s precisely this approach, telling lots of little stories whose war connections differ widely, that gives Home Fires a ring of truth.

Even on a sunny day when people are laughing, Greater Paxford feels like a small town in the dark days of war. We can never have enough reminders of how that feels.

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