Recreating the Past
"What would have happened if that had been (England)? That was the whole point of doing this," says Sita Williams, executive producer of Island at War. "You can't make a judgment on people. Crisis brings out the worst and the best in all of us."
Locations | The Actors' Views | Music
Most of Island at War was filmed on the Isle of Man, in the Irish Sea between England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. A popular destination for filmmakers, due to government funding and financial incentives, there are a wide variety of filming locations on the island from busy towns to rural countryside and small villages. At one point an entire town was taken over and four main streets blocked off. More than 40% of the Isle of Man is uninhabited.
Masterpiece Theatre's The Hound of the Baskervilles and Stiff Upper Lips were also shot on the Isle of Man.
Specific locations used included:
Town Centre, Castletown
Castletown is the old capital of the island with a long history as the home of Vikings, kings, and government. Tracing its origins back to 1090, Castletown holds true as one of the oldest towns in the British Isles. Its narrow streets and small fishing cottages prove this ancient past at every corner. Scenes shot here included town scenes and the announcement by the senators that the Germans were going to invade.
Bombing, prisoners leaving on tugboat
The George, Castletown
Quadrangle, King Williams College
Point of Ayre
Laxey Harbour, Laxey
A picturesque village best known for its large waterwheel, links to the Electric Railways, and garden glens.
Old Braddan Church, Braddan
Kirk Braddan is the parish church in Braddan. Dedicated to Saint Brendan or Braddan the site has a deep religious past. Fourteen centuries of Christian worship can be traced.
Evacuation of children onto buses
Ramsey is the main town in the north and is known as the island's agriculture town.
Peel sits on the west coast of the island; its attractions include an ancient Celtic cathedral dating from the 13th century. Known as the Manx town of the Island, Peel offers many local shops and restaurants. There is an old style feel to the place with many narrow streets and small houses near the coast. There is a pleasant beach and promenade, which is nicely sheltered by hills and St Patrick's Isle. In the evening a stunning sunset can be seen, which is why Peel is also known as the Sunset City.
The Actors' Views
James Wilby on his role as James Dorr:
I loved the complexity of the story... Dorr is a very loyal, honest and decent man. He's also very well educated and is politically minded. He thinks fast on his feet about the wider implications of the situations he and his fellow islanders find themselves in. Dorr has an unstable relationship with his wife Felicity and feels as though they may not want the same things out of life. He is at his happiest when he feels others need him. As the story unfolds he feels as though he is at the hub of everything, and although the invasion is an awful ordeal for the islanders he actually finds it quite exciting and it gives him a sense of importance. Island At War is an epic drama that takes on so many different angles. It's a very realistic series and it gives you a great understanding of what it might have been like to be under the German administration. It was only by the skin of our teeth that the Germans didn't conquer Great Britain.
Clare Holman on her role as Felicity Dorr:
Each character has a different moral dilemma to tackle and overcome. I found it so interesting to put myself in Felicity's position and consider how I might handle the things that happen to her. As a mother I think that there'll be a great deal of empathy for Felicity, as she's really pushed to her limits to help protect and look after her family. Felicity is a very passionate person; she's very bright and calculates each situation she's in very well. The audience may interpret Felicity as manipulative, but hopefully in the nicest possible way, as she's trying to do what's best for both her husband and son. She's also quite political, but her emotions end up getting in the way of the decisions she has to make. Felicity is part of the moral backbone of the story, she's very loyal but she's also very bored. When we first meet Felicity she's very lonely. Once the Germans arrive she actually finds it quite exciting and being involved in the whole espionage aspect of the plot really appeals to her. Island At War follows the hearts and souls of three families under extreme pressure during the occupation of the Channel Islands and demonstrates the effect this has on the families. All the characters are very carefully crafted to make them so different and individual. They might be dealing with the same situation but they handle it in a completely different way. It's wonderful to see how people from every walk of life (the policeman, the woman who owns the grocery store, the politician) cope with day to day living, while War was taking place on their doorsteps. It must have been horrendous having to cope with the Germans taking over your life. I think it's important to remember what it was like during this time when people were being captured, tortured, forced into slavery and brutally murdered. It reminds us what being at war actually does to people.
Owen Teale on his role as Wilf Jonas:
Wilf is the local fisherman and the Jonases, are an earthy family. He's a very strong and moral person, a pillar of society and he's willing to live or die by that. Wilf is determined to stand up for himself and his family and ends up getting himself into trouble by engaging in resistance work. Wilf is the kind of person who can't forgive and forget, so he tries to work with the Germans in his own way. He's a bit of a rebel and answers back to them. He's not willing to compromise and won't give in even to the approaches made to him to help him make money out of the situation. He's a romantic and emotional person and it breaks his heart when his children have to be evacuated. It's heart wrenching to see him break down to his wife Kathleen, because he's always been such a rock to his family. Island At War is a series of romance, tragedy, torture, heroism and intrigue. It portrays how relationships were formed and broken down during the war and the affect this had on day-to-day living. It was an inspiration to be involved in the series. I feel that we owe a great deal of respect to those who lived and fought through the war and gave their lives so we could be here speaking freely today.
Julia Ford on her role as Kathleen Jonas:
I had never worked on a period drama before... Kathleen is extremely strong, and she's very representative of the ordinary people living through the war. She shows such heroism and refuses to give up when she's under pressure. Kathleen goes through such heartache when her children are evacuated to England. This is a human story and very much about the individual people living through the war and how they deal with everyday life. It demonstrates how the different individuals on the Island reacted to the invasion, either by living with it or resisting against the Germans and fighting back at them. Either way it was a situation that they had to accept to be able to keep any normality in their lives.
Julian Wadham on his role as Urban Mahy:
My father fought in the Second World War. He flew Spitfires in the Navy. I've got a photo of him at the age of 18 sitting in a Spitfire looking very much like I did at that age, so I feel quite emotional about the era. Reading the Island At War script was like revisiting England in my father's early years. Urban is quite a dreamy character. He seems as though he is quite lost in life. I've often thought of myself in this way, so I found it easy to relate to him. He's a person in search of a role in life, but reassuringly he finally finds himself. He has two gorgeous daughters, whom he is extremely fond of, and tries his utmost to protect them at all times. The film explores the narratives of many different people involved in the occupation of the Channel Islands. It takes an open view from each perspective and isn't stereotypical of the English or the Germans. It lets you imagine what it was like to be part of a war from many different angles.
Saskia Reeves on her role as Cassie Mahy:
Cassie Mahy is passionate about her work and is a very good businesswoman. She works very hard for her living and is very protective of her husband, children and their livelihood. She absolutely hates the Germans and has to find a way of living with her hatred, while still making a living for her family. It's a big inner struggle for her but she's very good at hiding her feelings. She feels very manipulated and used by the Germans and she decides to try and turn that to her advantage. It was a very isolated experience for the islanders and the soldiers themselves, as the alternative for them would have been to go to the Russian Front. The Channel Islands was a very different experience to other occupied countries.
Joanne Froggatt on her role as Angelique Mahy:
I didn't know much about the occupation of the Channel Islands until I read the script. It made me realise what people had to endure during the War. Angelique's very sensible and mature for her age and she's quite an idealistic girl. She works for the local government. She's trying to come to terms with the Germans invading the island and all the issues that it brings into their everyday lives. When Angelique and Bernhardt get together she is in absolute turmoil because she knows it's wrong. She's not fraternising, but each day the simplest of things raise questions about what she should and shouldn't be doing. It's a complex drama.
Louisa Clein on her role as Zelda Landau:
When I read the script I thought that the role of Zelda must have been written for me as I felt so drawn to her character. She goes through an amazing journey and I'd never been offered a part like this with such a heartfelt story. I come from a Jewish family, so the script was perfect for me because I got to understand a lot more about the history of my religion and re-enact the emotionally devastating traumas that the Jews went through during the Second World War. Zelda is an incredibly strong and courageous girl. She is independent and has strong beliefs that she will not compromise. She's a tough girl, but at the same time there's something warm and vulnerable about her but she can't afford to show that, so most of the time she strives for self-preservation. When I was doing research for my role, I went to the British Library newspaper archives and looked at the original newspapers from the time when the invasion happened. It was amazing to look back in time... In hindsight we look back and see the enormity of the situation, but at that time they dealt with the situation as if it was just normal day-to-day lifestyle. In the newspapers next to the notices from the Germans telling people to register and giving the curfew times, they still had normal notices saying "tomatoes for sale". It's bizarre to see that normal life still went on. You can't begin to imagine what it must have been like.
Philip Glenister on his role as Baron Von Rheingarten:
Von Rheingarten is a fervent and powerful man. He is not a cruel man, but is also no pushover. But if someone riles him he won't think twice about punishing them. He has to be strong and ensure he takes control of the island and its inhabitants. He has a clear sense of right and wrong that would probably be different outside of wartime. He certainly has a conscience, but if he believes a decision to be a right one at the time he will take it with no regrets. The film is a tapestry of sex, violence, moral dilemma and romance. It's a real classic. It reflects what it must have been like to live through the War and demonstrates the sacrifices that people had to make. I think it's important for us to remember the trauma and loss of life during the War so that we could be here today.
Conor Mullen on his role as Walker:
Once I started reading the script, the invasion became real to me, I really empathized with the characters, and I found it quite choking as it made me realize what people actually had to endure during the War. Walker's a German officer. He's quite heavy duty, and you take an instant dislike to him because he takes such an instant dislike to everyone he sees. He's quite a deluded individual and he becomes obsessed. It's a struggle for him to try and take his foot off the gas.
Laurence Fox on his role as Bernhardt:
Bernhardt's a bomber and navigator in the German army. He's a conscientious objector and has been drawn into a War that he doesn't want to be a part of. He's very anti-war but he understands that, now he's become involved, there's no turning back. He realizes that if he's been instructed to kill someone then he has to kill them. Bernhardt's young and is actually quite shy. He's a good guy who's been put in a bad situation but he does stand up for himself and isn't afraid to admit what he's done. He's quite courageous and tries hard not to let malicious situations occur. He's got a big heart.
Composer Geoffrey Burgon created most of the music heard in Island at War, with the following exceptions:
BEAT ME DADDY EIGHT TO THE BAR
UNIVERSAL/ MCA MUSIC LTD
WIR FAHREN GEGEN ENGELAND
TOMAHAWK FILMS ARCHIVE
GERMAN BAND MARCH NO 1
DE WOLFE MUSIC
BEER BARREL POLKA
KEITH PROWSE MUSIC
DINNER FOR ONE PLEASE JAMES
PETER MAURICE MUSIC CO LTD
I'VE GOT YOU UNDER MY SKIN
WARNER CHAPPELL N. AMERICA
TOP HAT WHITE TIE AND TAILS
WARNER CHAPPELL MUSIC LTD
DON'T SIT UNDER THE APPLE TREE
REDWOOD MUSIC LTD/ MEMORY LANE MUSIC/ EMIT UTD PATN.
MAKE BELIEVE ISLAND
EMI UNITED PARTNERSHIP
THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU
REDWOOD MUSIC LTD
PEER MUSIC UK LTD
WINDS OF WAR
CHAPPELL MUSIC LTD
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