As War Expands, Peter Bowker And Zofia Wichłacz Return At Season’s End

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After a stunning season one finale, World On Fire lead Zofia Wichłacz and series creator Peter Bowker return for another new podcast conversation, wrapping up the drama of season one and looking forward to the thrill of the second season already in the works.

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Transcript

Jace Lacob I’m Jace Lacob, and you’re listening to MASTERPIECE Studio.

War has engulfed Europe, Paris has fallen to the Nazis, and the characters of World On Fire can’t escape the carnage.

CLIP

Nancy But I see you all here and it is as though you always knew that you would end up here. That this is what the war is really about. You needed Paris for a boy’s holiday destination.

Schmidt I think we are fulfilling our destiny.

Nancy Is that why you went easy on the French, compared to the Poles I mean, because you didn’t want to damage all the good hotels and restaurants? I think you have a bit of an inferiority complex when it comes to Paris.

Jace POWs, soldiers missing in action, civilians caught in the crossfire — but even in the midst of violence, life continues in the form of a new baby Bennett.

CLIP

Connie You’ve got a grand-daughter, Douglas. And she’s beautiful…

Jace With the first season of World on Fire now at a close, we’ve reached the end of the first year of World War II. Fortunately for us, season two is already in the works, and series creator Peter Bowker is here with some previews of what viewers can expect as the war expands.

Peter Bowker: Season two, North Africa provides a lot of what you might call the military action. Partly because historically that’s what happened and also because, again, from the point of view of the drama, there were multinational armies fighting and both the Germans and the Italians were fighting there against us…so there’s room again for that cross-fertilization.

Jace But first, we’ll hear again from World On Fire star Zofia Wichłacz, whose Kasia ends the first season of the series as a changed young woman — the once carefree waitress has been transformed into a cold-blooded assassin and member of the underground Polish Resistance.

Jace And we are joined again this week by World on Fire Star Zofia Wichłacz.

Zofia Thank you. Yes.

Jace The first season ends with Harry and Kasia running through the Polish woods under enemy fire.

CLIP

Harry I’ll find you at the top of the hill. Go.

Jace What did you make of the scene when you first read the script for episode seven and thought, this is how the season is going to end?

Zofia I was really happy because throughout the whole series, I felt the need to for Kasia to connect with Harry again before the end of the series. Like, I felt like she she needs to see him. And I don’t know what is what can happen best for them. But I just thought if she could just talk to him and just see him, that would be great. And then the script came and because we were already filming when the scripts came for it. For the last episode. And and I was so excited to read it and then I was so happy because I saw that, okay, they have this talk. And in the script, there was even a longer talk where Kasia really, you know, could say what happened to her. And and I just loved the idea that they can connect. But then. Well, Harry wants to save Kasia again, but she feels she doesn’t deserve this. And. I think she’s sure that she cannot have a happy life with him now in England after everything she’s done, because she feels she’s a horrible she’s a terrible person, even though she was fighting for for her country and for her family, she feels dead inside.

Jace So that scene is so beautiful and so sad when she says that Kasia is gone.

Zofia Yes.

CLIP

Kasia Don’t look at me, please.

Harry I can’t think of anything I’d rather do. I thought I’d never see you again.

Kasia Now you have.

Harry Now I have. There’s you. There’s Kasia.

Kasia No. That Kasia is gone, Harry.

Harry I know you must have been through so much…

Kasia Things I have done…bad things I’ve done

Harry That’s what war is

Kasia No, Harry. We choose. We choose. And I chose to kill

Harry You had to survive!

Kasia I still had a choice. And for my country, for the people, for my family, that was the right thing to do. But there was a price. The price was the old Kasia. The girl you fell in love with, she isn’t there any more. I tried to find her, and she isn’t there.

Harry You still love me. And I love you.

Kasia And that counts for so little, really, that’s..

Harry It is all that matters.

Kasia No, I think the world’s just proved you wrong, Harry. And it is dangerous to think like this. You are such a romantic. You think, you think we can get back to England and be like we were.

Harry I’m here to get you out. I’m here because you’re in danger.

Jace I mean, that is a terrible burden that she puts on herself.

Zofia Yes.

Jace Because as you say, she was fighting for her country. She was fighting for freedom. She was…

Zofia Yes.

Jace A freedom fighter.

Zofia Yeah.

Jace But she now feels she’s not deserving of freedom.

Zofia Or that she doesn’t deserve happy happiness with anyone. Where the series ends. I think she’s in this very dark place where the only way for her possibly, I think, is to keep fighting, maybe. But I cannot imagine her, I mean, I would love for her to see her brother in England, you know, to see him again. But yes, for her, she just she feels so, so terrible that, you know, that the idea of Harry getting her out of Poland seems to be too much. Like too…such a rewarding perspective. And she feels she doesn’t deserve it. It’s so sad.

Jace I mean, there is a moment earlier that passes between Kasia and Tomasz before he’s captured and executed when Kasia touches his hand. Do you feel there was some sort of romantic feeling between these two characters, or are they just comrades in arms?

Zofia I always thought about them as friends. And even if I mean, we talked with…it’s funny because Tomasz, his name, the actor name is Tomasz as well. So we talked about this, like, do you think they have any chemistry or they’re just friends or did they connect? You know, in a way I don’t know, because they have been through so much. They must have been so close, you know. But then we were always. Well, I think, Kasia. No, she doesn’t…it’s just, yeah, she touches his hand but it’s in a way of supporting him and just trying to. I don’t know. But as I think it was always of friendship for her for sure, for her. I don’t know if for him, maybe it’s something more.

Jace That’s interesting, because it does…you can read it in either way. It is a friendship and it is there is a palpable look of horror on her face when she sees his corpse.

Zofia Yeah. Of course.

Jace She seems completely heartbroken when she sees him.

Zofia Because also he’s like the last person for her out there, close person that she can count on. And she’s close to him. And, yeah…

Jace He’s the last link to her humanity.

Zofia Yes. Yes, probably yeah.

Jace And that that makes it all the more horrible. I mean, is that scene where she sees that yet another transformation for her, does she sort of die a little more inside?

Zofia A little more? Yes. I think it’s a that’s a another step, oh my God. This is so. Oh, you have to like I have to tell a joke. To make it…

Jace No, I’ve got one more terrible question. Kasia almost seems resigned to her fate when she’s dragged before the execution squad…

Zofia Yes.

Jace Before the explosion and her escape. Was she ready to die at this point?

Zofia I remember a sentence in the script. Like she’s not fighting this. She’s absolutely in. Yes. She’s ready for it. She, it’s a way of out. It’s getting out. It’s a way of escaping this brutal reality she’s in. So, yeah.

Jace Assuming that Kasia survives the shootout in the woods, where would you like Peter Bowker to take her character in the second series?

Zofia Wow. I really don’t know. I mean, I haven’t really talked to Peter about this, but I know he has plans and ideas for every character. And I always thought that if Kasia if she stays in Warsaw somehow, if she’s back there and if we’re in 1940 and. Well. I’m sure that, you know, the ghettos and everything that will happen. I mean, back at the time that everything that happened to Jewish people and started in 1940, especially, that I think she could she could try to help or I always thought that she probably would, because Tomasz was Jewish. So I think I always thought that even in a way of, because she lost Tomasz,, but maybe she can help other people who’s now in danger because they’re Jewish. You know what I mean? So that’s why I thought of her as, maybe she will, she could save more lives now.

Jace I could see that happening. Looking back at this series as a whole, do you have a favorite scene?

Zofia Oh, wow. favorite scene. Let me think. Well, I have to say that the scenes from episode seven where, with Harry, I think they were very challenging. And for me, it was Kasia’s journey kind of going to an end, like it was a closure, it was for her in the serious sort of ending of her whole journey. I remember filming those scenes, I remember it very specifically that it was a big challenge. I don’t know why, but these were my, I think, these are my favorite scenes and how it ends. And yeah, I think I would say these scenes.

Jace I think you’re right to say that, they’re great. Zofia Wichłacz.

Zofia Yes!

Jace Thank you so very much.

Zofia Thank you so much. Thank you.

Jace Before our conversation with World on Fire creator Peter Bowker, let’s take a quick break to hear a word from our sponsors…

Jace And we are joined again this week by World on Fire creator Peter Bowker. Welcome.

Peter Thank you.

Jace The first season ends with a cliffhanger. A hell of a cliffhanger as the reunited Harry and Kasia run through the Polish woods. Did you always know you’d end the season on this note of intense dread?

Peter Yes, I knew the first version of the final image was Harry alone, staring at a farmhouse, not knowing whether there were friendly, sympathetic Poles or Germans inside it. So I always knew there’s a cliffhanger element. And then once we found a way to bring Harry and Kasia back together, it seemed ridiculous to just focus that on Harry. And then to symbolize her change from the girl he knew — the fact that she saves him by shooting the guy, you know, became important. It was always gonna end on those two one way or another, it’s interesting to me that we made the decision to physically end on Kasia, the woman who wouldn’t leave. And we don’t know whether she’s ever going to leave again. We don’t know who sacrifices. So it was always there, but it took a while to work out the specifics.

Jace And where do we go from here? I mean, are Harry and Kasia as boxed in, as they seem to be, or is there the possibility of escape?

CLIP

Harry We have survived. And neither of us are the same. You must come, even if it’s only to honor who you used to be, and if not that, then Jan.

Peter Well, according to Richard Overy, who’s our historical adviser, who knows much about this, there are possibilities inside Poland of them being active inside Poland, although on the run from the authorities, they are boxed in. But there remain ways out of Poland, which were difficult but possible. And undoubtedly, they would have to go via Egypt. He was absolutely insistent everybody had to go everywhere via Egypt. A bit like one of those flights you book that it just.

Jace It makes no sense whatsoever.

Peter Yeah. And I want to find a way in the current series for Kasia and Lois to meet in season two. So there are the possibilities of getting them out. Obviously, they would have to get out for that to happen. But I think the first episode of season two, I would be throwing it away if I didn’t show how hard that was. So that may well be where we start.

Jace I have to ask about this. There is a moment in this episode that passes between Kasia and Tomasz, before he’s captured and executed when she touches his hand. Was there something romantic between these two?

Peter Well, you know, that’s really interesting is one of those things where the casting changes the story, because originally I think Tomasz was going to be this Jewish kid who was like Jan’s age. And we auditioned and they all looked like such babies.  I’m sure it was plausible, but it doesn’t look believable for our purposes. And so then this lad had come in, Tomasz, who plays Tomasz. I think he’d probably come in to read for one of the Tomacezki family like Gregor originally. And it just has a swagger about him. You want somebody who, you know…he’s Polish. He’s Jewish. He’s in Warsaw. Yet still, you feel he somehow has an upper hand. And they had a chemistry that I hadn’t anticipated. And I suppose part of me thinks it was always the plan to, you know, that the final nail in the coffin, for want of a better metaphor of Kasia was Tomasz, her one companion, should also be murdered by the Nazis. And part of me is kind of kicking myself because he was such a good actor. But I am always a bit wary of having both lead women in the drama defined all the time by their relationships with men.

Jace That’s true. Yeah, I think that’s a good point. I love the scene between Nancy and Webster in Paris when she kisses his forehead and tells him that she had been raped.

CLIP

Nancy For God’s sake, I tried. The guy just wanted to rape me. So don’t talk to me like I didn’t try! Don’t talk to me like I did nothing.

Webster Auntie Nancy! Auntie Nancy. You’re never like that.

Nancy No.

Webster You just don’t…

Nancy React to bad things, I know.

Webster It’s how you are. How you’ve always been.

Nancy There’s a reason for that.

Webster So are you…I mean are you…?

Nancy I was attacked. My first time in Europe. I was raped. Some civil servant in Portugal. I was covering the uprising, and it happened. And women get raped in conflicts all the time, and it happened to me. And that’s all you need to know. I love you and all that and you are a kind and gentle man, but that’s not how I deal with this kind of thing. I never have, and I’m not going to start now. I should go.

Jace We’re led to believe that Webster is her son. But why doesn’t Nancy tell him here? And why does she, amid all of this uncertainty, decide to keep this secret?

Peter I think because. He so I mean, the backstory is he’s been raised by his Auntie, who’s told him she’s his mother back in the States. And Frank, his father, there was a whole episode one where Frank, his father came to Paris to try and persuade his son to leave Paris, which I may well revive for season two, because I like the idea of Frank, who’s a military man, simultaneously knowing that Webster is gay, but being unable to acknowledge that or process it. And for that era as well, I’m quite interested in it. So because, I think Nancy feels she owes a debt of honor to her sister so that truth hasn’t come out or been told to him. And I think she also has a denial in herself. And obviously she cracks when she says she had been raped. But on the whole, I think the adoption of Webster symbolizes part of her not yet having processed the trauma of being raped, and the way she’s processed is to carry on putting herself in danger because the worst thing that could happen has happened. So therefore, she isn’t scared.

Jace Leslie Manville is never anything less than masterful, but she is particularly masterful as Robina in this scene with Harry, where she talks about the embarrassment of grief.

CLIP

Robina I don’t know what to do about gestures like that. A lot of people did that after your Father died. Does one take the hand and squeeze it back? And what does that mean? That you are now comforting the comforter? That you are reassuring the comforter that you are fine. That you have got over the embarrassment of your grief?

Harry Is that how you see grief? As an embarrassment?

Robina No, not generally. But for our particular circumstances…

Harry Father was sick. He came back from the war a sick man. And I know how that can happen now.

Robina What he did was unforgivable.

Harry Would you feel the same way if he had been killed in action?

Robina Of course not. His death wouldn’t have been his responsibility. And bad luck. Not by his own hand. And planned.

Harry He was destroyed every bit as completely as if he had been blown to smithereens.

Robina You know, other men suffered. Other men saw bad things. But they came back and got on with it.

Harry Perhaps he just wasn’t strong enough.

Robina Well that’s a polite way of saying he was weak.

Harry And you can’t forgive him for that?

Robina No. I’m afraid I cannot. And it’s an indescribably sad feeling. But I can’t.

Jace How is this scene the key to unlocking her character?

Peter I think so. What I don’t want to do with Robina in season two, is throw away the baby with the bathwater. You don’t want, she suddenly becomes capable of expressing these things. As far as she’s concerned, I can imagine within 10 minutes of that conversation, her denying this had ever taken place. But I do think that is the key to her, that she finds being in touch with her feelings excruciating. And it’s partly out of social conditioning, I think.  She has a very low definition of what hysteria might be. As far as she’s concerned, expressing an emotion is probably hysteria. I mean it’s Leslie, so she’s a genius. So exploring that kind of pain and how buried it is, is fascinating, and it’s trust. I trust her to work. So you carry kind of digging and exploring.

Jace Your father fought in World War II, he was shot down by a Japanese sniper. Will we see the Pacific as we move deeper into the series?

Peter Yeah. I mean, the intention is that each series will represent a year of the war and obviously the Pacific will start to open up in season three. Season two, North Africa provides a lot of what you might call the military action. Partly because historically that’s what happened and also because, again, from the point of view, of the drama, there were multinational armies fighting, and both the Germans and the Italians were fighting there against us. So there’s room again for that cross-fertilization. And fascinating from the soldiers of the British Empire — so many volunteered. I think. Australians, for instance, in Africa. The Africans had not much choice. So there’s an interesting thing to explore around that. So I think that we would definitely go into Pacific. But as I think has said in the press conference, you know, the game changer in terms of portrayal of World War II on television is clearly Band of Brothers. After that, you can’t do your cozy home front drama anymore. And your production values have to be beefed up because It looked like a very expensive drama, and was very expensive. And clearly, the Pacific has happened. So this is a bit like the Dunkirk thing, it’s ways of finding new ways of telling familiar stories ,that will always be the drive.

Jace I mean, one of the things I love about this show is that we’re not seeing London during the Blitz. We’re focused on Manchester. And that is a story I feel like we don’t see.

Peter No, exactly.

Jace We don’t see the Northwest Blitz here and we don’t see how northern England responds to the threat of war. Yeah, I mean, how much will we see that in the second series?

Peter Well, that would that will continue to be central to it. In fact, the opening episode that I’ve planned involves something fairly massive for the Northwest Blitz. And like you, I felt London Blitz had been done and done and done. And the blitz in the northwest is far more scattergun in its approach. So it wasn’t like a sustained thing. It was, every time it happened, it was a surprise. Which, again, from a dramatist point of view is a happy gift not for the people who were actually victim to it. And heavy industry was congregated in the northwest, so heavy industry was targeted. So that will continue in the Bennett family and that dynamic and Robina and all that will remain very much a kind of anchor for the English part of the story. Plus, rather, as we go forward, a lot of, you know, U.S. airmen were based in the northwest of England. A lot of the flight training took place near Manchester. So there’s you know, there’s no reason not to be there.

Jace Lois and Vernon are engaged when she finally decides to accept his proposal, despite her reluctance earlier. I mean, does she love Vernon or is this an easy English solution?

Peter I think it is an English solution. I think she feels she might be able to make herself love him. I think to be shown, I think it’s fine. I think she just at that stage, as somebody who expresses a desire to care for her and with no strings, really no demands, by which I mean sexual demands in his polite English way, I think is what Vernon’s driving at there. You know, you find kindness in the midst of, you know, she’d been treated pretty badly and she has a baby and it’s the 1940s and there is this kindness shown to her, I think, well, seems entirely plausible, and I’m very interested in the arrangements around history that people made with illegitimate children of, you know, to kind of hide history and so on, at that time, you know, the number of babies born in wartime Britain, wartime anywhere who clearly weren’t fathered by the father, who then came back. And then this was pushed under the carpet, and the dates weren’t added up you know every family’s got one of those. Yeah. So I think I want to do reverse where she. I think it’s a Cathy and Linton in Wuthering Heights, doing nothing. That in the end, he will feel so tortured by this. You know, to love somebody or to feel you love somebody as unequivocally as he does and how long you can hang on to that without getting anything back. And there’s a child involved. So it adds to the dilemma.

Jace You mentioned kindness. I feel like that crops up a lot in World On Fire, whether it’s Lois and Vernon or it’s the Jan storyline with Douglas and Robina. What is the role of kindness here and what are you looking to explore with those portraits of unexpected kindness?

Peter I think sometimes it’s all there is. And I think it’s immensely reassuring. And I think it kind of is that it’s the most straightforward example of what I’m trying to do in terms of saying the bigger history may be here, but humanity’s here. And it may well be that the small acts of kindness we show to each other and show to strangers are actually the thing that matter more in the end. Certainly feels that way the moment.

Jace So kindness can always trump cruelty.

Peter Yes, I think so.

Jace I’d hope so. Peter Bowker, thank you very much.

Peter Thank you. It’s been lovely. Thank you.

Jace Coming up next on MASTERPIECE, fire up your motorcycle as we head back to the Cambridgeshire countryside for another round of mystery — and murder. Grantchester is back.

CLIP

Larry Pathologist said the cause of death was a blow to the side of the head.

Geordie She could’ve hit it on a rock at the bottom of the river.

Larry He said there was no water in her lungs.

Geordie But that means she was dead before she went into the water…

Jace The fifth season of Grantchester begins June 14 on MASTERPIECE on PBS at 9 pm Eastern, 8 pm central, and we’ll have interviews with the cast and crew right here on MASTERPIECE Studio.

MASTERPIECE Studio is hosted by me, Jace Lacob and produced by Nick Andersen. Elisheba Ittoop is our editor. Rebecca Eaton is the executive producer at large for MASTERPIECE. The executive producer of MASTPRIECE is Susanne Simpson.

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