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Actresses Annis and Bond Supply the Crackle and Pop in Home Fires

The final episode of the six-part series Home Fires airs this Sunday, November 8th on MASTERPIECE. I am already lamenting the end of this showcase of strong female characters and intriguing drama set in rural Cheshire during the opening years of World War II. It is rare that we have such a large ensemble of talented actresses dominating the screen—and the ladies do take center stage in this new period drama. Based on Jambusters: The Story of the Women's Institute in the Second World War, by Julie Summers (2013), screenwriter Simon Block has crafted a story that harkens to the Golden Age of Hollywood when plucky ladies portrayed by actresses Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Vivien Leigh ruled the silver screen, inspiring women of their era (and now) to dream big, be passionate and fight for what they want. 

It is rare that we have such a large ensemble of talented actresses dominating the screen.

In the last five episodes of Home Fires we have seen Hitler invade Europe, Britain declare war and local men enlist in military service. Two leading members of the Women’s Institute, Joyce Cameron (Francesca Annis) and Frances Barden (Samantha Bond), have gone head-to-head over their opposing views of the function of W.I. and its role during the war. President Cameron feels it is time to close the Great Paxford chapter until a time of peace. Member Barden thinks otherwise…

Few who lived through the last conflict will set much store by government assurances that any war against Germany will be over swiftly. When it does begin, it will hurl us into a period of great challenge. Something you, Madame President, have proven steadfastly resistant to over the course of your term of office.” — Frances Barden

 

President of Great Wexford’s Women’s Institute Joyce Cameron (Francesca Annis) wields her authority.

When Frances Barden calls for a vote of no confidence against President Cameron, the fireworks begin—old-school autocracy vs. proletariat democracy. After Mrs. Cameron resigns in a huff, taking her cronies with her, Mrs. Barden must be creative to keep the Women’s Institute alive and thriving—something that Mrs. Cameron uses all her political and social might to thwart. As the scheming to undermine the W.I’s progress continues, we begin to understand the personalities of these two adversaries, their strengths and weaknesses, and what lengths each will go to win their point. What evolves is a war of intellect brimming with biting retorts rivaling Downton Abbey’s sparring matches between the Dowager Countess Grantham and her cousin Isobel Crawley!

 

Actresses Samantha Bond and Francesca Annis.

While the brilliant screenplay of Home Fires supplies the context and ammunition, it is really the two actresses Francesca Annis and Samantha Bond who make this production crackle and pop. Portraying strong females who speak their minds and choose to lead others can be a tricky path wrought with criticism. (One only has to watch the current Presidential race to see this being played out in real life.) Both Annis and Bond excel in these adversarial roles, benefitting from long, illustrious careers playing strong women on stage and screen—with much of their best work demonstrated in MASTERPIECE Theatre/Classic productions. If each has been type cast in Home Fires, viewers are indeed the beneficiaries.  

 

Francesca Annis as Hyacinth Gibson and Justine Waddell as Molly Gibson in Wives and Daughters (1999).

Over the years I have enjoyed many of Francesca Annis’ performances in a variety of roles. A few of my favorites were her portrayals of famous Victorian stage actress Lillie Langtry in Lillie (1978); domineering and scheming mother Hyacinth Gibson in Wives and Daughters (1999); and regal and autocratic Lady Ludlow in Cranford (2007-2009). Science fiction fans will remember her role as Lady Jessica in Dune (1984), and if you watch closely, you might catch her in an early film role as a handmaiden to Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra (1963). 

 

James Hazeldine as Mr. Weston and Samantha Bond as Mrs. Weston in Emma (1996).

Samantha Bond got her big break playing Maria Bertram in Mansfield Park (1983); and she later portrayed Miss Moneypenny in three James Bond movies: Goldeneye (1995), Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) and The World is Not Enough (1999). In her second Jane Austen adaptation, she portrayed Mrs. Weston, the stalwart companion to the blundering Emma Woodhouse in Emma (1996). She is currently playing Lady Rosamund Painswick, the outspoken sister of Lord Grantham in Downton Abbey (2010-2015). 

 

The ladies of the Great Wexford Women’s Institute pick blackberries in the hedgerows.      

Sadly, Home Fires will conclude this Sunday, but I am happy to share that there will be a second season—and hopefully many more. Viewers can catch up before the final installment by viewing previous episodes at the KCTS 9 Video website until December 8th, 2015. I am also looking forward to seeing Samantha Bond continue her role as Lady Rosamund in the new season of Downton Abbey which premieres on KCTS 9 and other PBS stations on January 3, 2016. And…drum-roll please…KCTS 9 viewers can attend a special preview screening of Downton Abbey season six in Seattle on Wednesday, December 9, 2017 at 7:30 pm. You can reserve your free tickets online. Fans of Downton Abbey will not want to miss this last chance to celebrate the beginning of the final season of the most popular period drama ever.

In the meantime, enjoy Home Fires while it lasts.

-- Laurel Ann 

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Laurel Ann Nattress

Writer, blogger, and editor of Jane Austen Made Me Do It, Laurel Ann Nattress is a champion of Georgian civility, British culture and Masterpiece PBS. Visit her at Austenprose.com and follow her on twitter as @Austenprose

More stories by Laurel Ann Nattress

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I have a satellite dish at my cottage, but live in a condominium here in Halifax Nova Scotia, Canada
Is there any way to get the "Tea Time" and other programs, I love Endeavour, Inspector Lewis etc.,I don't mind paying a small amount whilst here in the City, until my 5 months in the Ocean side next May. Are these possibly available to me somehow? I wait for your reply. Thank you, Gretchen Morash

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