Band of Brothers, Foyle's War, Catch-22, The Halcyon, Home Fires... there’s no shortage of explosive Second World War drama to delve into. But while each of these shows provide their perspective of one aspect of the global conflict, upcoming BBC1 series World on Fire is much more ambitious.
“The overall ambition for the show is to tell the story of World War Two through multi-national perspectives,” explained writer Peter Bowker (The A Word) to RadioTimes.com. “We're not doing a drama that's purely about Britain.”
Specifically, the show aims to tell the story of the first year of the war – beginning in September 1939 – through the eyes of characters from Poland, France, Germany, the US and the UK.
But who exactly are the actors in the show's transnational cast? Here’s all you need to know…
Sean Bean plays Douglas Bennett
“Douglas is just an ordinary man except the fact that he serves as a soldier in the First World War,” Bean told RadioTimes.com. “He was shell-shocked – the victim of a mustard gas attack.
He added: “He’s a pacifist and conscientious objector, he’s very clear about that and he takes it upon himself to become an activist. He’s ostracised in his own community for his pacifism but those are the lengths he’s prepared to go to.”
What else has Sean Bean been in?
In a career spanning four decades, Bean has starred (and often died) in a lost list of TV shows and films, from Game of Thrones (where he played Ned Stark), Lord of the Rings (Boromir), James Bond flick Goldeneye (Alec Trevelyan), Sharpe (Richard Sharpe) and Broken (Father Michael Kerrigan).
Helen Hunt plays Nancy Campbell
Nancy Campbell is a headstrong US journalist reporting from the German/Polish border.
What else has Helen Hunt been in?
The Oscar-winning star of As Good as It Gets has also enjoyed roles in the likes of What Women Want, The Sessions, Soul Surfer, Cast Away, Made About You and Twister.
Jonah Hauer-King plays Harry Chase
Harry is a translator working in the British embassy in Warsaw. And his love life has got very complicated: although in a relationship with Lois Bennett (Douglas’ daughter) before moving to Poland, he’s since started seeing waitress Kasia.
“When we meet him we learn that he’s fallen down the rabbit hole of falling in love with two people,” Hauer-King explains. “It’s not so much an affair as it is being in a strange position… Harry has a lot of good intention and a lot of love and compassion in him. But at the beginning of the series he’s also deeply flawed so I don’t want to defend him too much!”
What else has Jonah Hauer-King been in?
There’s a good chance you’ve spotted Hauer-King on TV before, the actor starring in 2017’s Howards End (as Paul Wilcox) and Little Women (as Laurie).
Julia Brown plays Lois Bennett
Daughter to Douglas, Lois is a 21-year-old Manchester factory girl who also has a passion for singing. At the very start of the series, she enjoys a relationship with Harry.
“She has a lot of responsibility, she has to look after her brother and father as her mother’s passed away and she is dealing with her relationship,” Brown says.
“[Lois is] a strong woman who cracks on with things no matter how tough they are. She has a real passion for music and that’s something she gets to explore when the war begins – she goes to places she never would have gone with ENSA (the Entertainments National Service Association).”
What else has Julia Brown been in?
Starting her screen career playing Keri in CBBC series MIHigh, Brown has starred in Shetland (as Molly Kilmuir) and The Last Kingdom (as Ecgywn).
Blake Harrison plays Stan
“Stan is a sergeant in the British army, who is kind of Harry Chase’s right-hand man,” explained Harrison. “A lot of the members of the unit respect Stan a little bit more, so Stan works as a kind of buffer between the unit and Harry, making sure that orders are actually carried out.”
He added: “We really see Stan as the soldier – he’s kind of got walls up."
What else has Blake Harrison been in?
Although you probably knew him first as Neil from The Inbetweeners, Harrison has also starred in A Very English Scandal, Trust Me, Dad’s Army, Death in Paradise, Prime Suspect 1973 and The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret.
Zofia Wichlacz plays Kasia Tomaszeski
Zofia is a young waitress in Warsaw, one who starts a relationship with Harry on the eve of war. “Everything will change for her when the war starts,” Zofia tells us. “She has an amazing and very challenging journey.”
What else has Zofia Wichlacz been in?
Unless you’re big into Polish cinema, chances are you haven’t seen Wichlacz on screen before. Her previous credits include Warsaw '44, mystery thriller Rojst and Netflix’s The Romanoffs.
Parker Sawyers plays Albert
“Albert is a French jazz-saxophonist in Paris,” Sawyers told us. “He falls for an American doctor by the name of Webster O’Connor [played by Brian J Smith]. But his day job, or rather his night job, is that he’s a leader of a band on an underground circuit.”
He added: “With the story of Albert and Webster, we see that, being a black Frenchman, he’s used to racism and bigotry."
What else has Parker Sawyers been in?
Appearing in US shows like Deep State and Cheat, Sawyers is best known for playing Barack Obama in biopic Southside with You.
Brian J Smith plays Webster O’Connor
Webster is a fun-loving Doctor who starts up a relationship with Albert.
What else has Brian J Smith been in?
Most recognisable from Sense8 (where he played Will Gorski), you may also know Smith for his role in SGU Stargate Universe (as Mathew Scott)
Lesley Manville plays Robina Chase
Robina is Harry’s mother, a woman who has a frosty relationship with her son. “There’s a deep bond and a huge closeness and intimacy between them but it’s quite flawed and at times incredibly toxic,” Jonah Hauer-King (who plays Harry) explained.
What else has Lesley Manville been in?
The four-time BAFTA-nominated actress has starred in a string of films and TV shows, from sitcom Mum to films Phantom Thread and Maleficent.
Ewan Mitchell plays Tom Bennett
Tom is the trouble-making son to Douglas and brother to Lois.
What else has Ewan Mitchell been in?
You might recognise Mitchell from his roles in The Last Kingdom (Osferth) and The Halcyon (Billy Taylor).
Cel Spellman plays Joe
Best known for playing Matthew Williams in ITV’s Cold Feet, Spellman also starred as Harry Fisher in BBC’s Cold Feet. You may also recognise him from his CBBC presenting work.
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Arthur Darvill plays Vernon
What else has Arthur Darvill been in?
Although having enjoyed roles in Legends of Tomorrow, Rev and Broadchurch, Darvill is best known for portraying Doctor Who companion Rory Williams.
This article was originally published in autumn 2019
If you'd like more, find out where World on Fire was filmed and whether World on Fire is based on a real story, and read what we know about series two of World on Fire.
World on Fire starts on PBS Masterpiece in the US on Sunday 4th April 2021 at 10/9c and episodes air weekly.