World on Fire preview: MM chat to cast and director Peter Bowker at Manchester Cathedral

A picturesque setting hosted the unveiling of a very gritty World War II drama written by Hazel Grove’s own Peter Bowker, with members of the cast present to share their thoughts. 

World on Fire follows the first year of the war through the intertwining fates of ordinary people from Britain, Poland, France, Germany and the United States, as they grapple with the effects of conflict on their everyday lives.

In Bowker’s words, the intention is to “tell the story of World War II not solely from the British perspective, and to have characters who are interlaced sometimes by family, sometimes by romance and sometimes by coincidence.”

This inevitably creates a complex and nuanced drama where the audience travels to a variety of locations and connects with characters who are all experiencing their own difficulties during such a pivotal historical period. 

“My big challenge was to reclaim that generation who are now seen in sepia-tint as flesh and blood human beings, flaws and all. I think if we celebrate their humanity, including their failings, that makes what they did more heroic, not less,” said Bowker. 

With these characters in mind, World on Fire brings together a hugely diverse cast who are all deeply connected to their stories, each in their own unique way. 

Yrsa Daley-Ward, who plays passionate and spirited piano player Connie Knight, told MM: “It was a really amazing opportunity to show that there were diverse characters and situations at the time of World War II, but also the way that they [women] could do their bit for the war effort, even as entertainers.” 

It is clear that the magnitude and emotionally charged nature of the show gripped the cast.

Blake Harrison, who plays loyal and knowledgeable Sergeant Stan Raddings, described the excitement of being involved in “something so brilliantly put together”, but how he often felt saddened to think about the difficulties that the people went through.

“You can really be overcome with a sense of emotion from what you’re trying to create,” added Harrison.  


Jonah Hauer-King furthered this sentiment in describing his experiences of playing the focal point of the story, talented translator Harry Chase.

“Pete’s writing is deeply rooted in humanity and feels intimate and real, so the two things together is quite unique. It was a joy.” 

Altogether, the attention to detail in the characters and the drama’s authenticity inspire a cast who all seem extremely enthusiastic in their work and the stories they have become intimately involved in.

It all makes for compelling viewing. 

World on Fire airs Sunday at 9pm on BBC One.

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