Episode 1 Recap
Get a recap of World on Fire Episode 1—from peace to war, love to heartbreak, Manchester to Warsaw, relive the explosive action and heart-pumping drama from World on Fire’s premiere.
1938 Young couple Harry Chase and Lois Bennett infiltrate a rally for fascist Oswald Mosley, bravely singing out against the blackshirts. They’re rewarded with jeers as the mob roughs up Harry and throws them out. When they’re retrieved at the police station—Lois by her working-class, pacifist father, Douglas, and Harry by his snobbish, class-conscious mother, Robina—the two part not just for now, but for good. Harry says he loves her, but Lois tells him they’re from different worlds; he’s headed to the continent, she’s not…and it’s over between them.
Five months later, American journalist Nancy Campbell is driving along the Polish-German border when she discovers German soldiers assassinating Polish prisoners, and—terrifyingly—spies tanks amassed in a hidden clearing, poised to begin invasion.
Nancy broadcasts her report about German troops at the Polish border and the world’s neglect of the threat. Harry, now working as a translator in Warsaw, will bring her concerns to his boss, but he’s not optimistic that the Brits will help. She urges him to get his girlfriend, a waitress named Kasia Tomaszeski, out of the country; that’s what she’s telling her nephew, Webster, who’s living in Paris.
But Harry is swept up in his new romance with Kasia. When he joins her family for an evening at home, he basks in its warmth. The family is seeing off her father, Stefan, and her brother, Grzegorz, as they depart for Danzig to defend it from the Germans. Harry gives Grzegorz some English cigarettes in case they come in handy; he promises Stefan he’ll keep Kasia safe; and when the family take a portrait, he’s a part of it.
When their factory shift ends, Lois and her pal Connie dash off to their gig at a local club where Lois sings and Connie plays piano. But despite the upbeat songs and the thrill of performing, Lois is anything but carefree—as war looms and the papers declare “Poland on the Brink!” she’s caring for Douglas, who was shell-shocked in the Great War; she’s fielding police inquiries about her wild brother, Tom; and she’s worried and disappointed that every day’s mail arrives with no word from Harry. Lois even ventures to Robina’s to ask about him, but his mother, cynical and icy, manages to insult all men in general and Lois in particular before ushering Lois out of her house. But it’s not Robina that gets under Lois’ skin—it’s Harry, and her regret that she broke things off and sent him away.
Nancy begs her nephew, Webster O’Connor, to leave Paris, but he loves his life in Paris, both his work as a doctor and the city itself, with its jazz-filled nightlife. And one jazz player in particular has caught his eye, saxophonist Albert Fallou, a Frenchman of African descent. When Albert shows up at the hospital in need of stitches after an attack by the far-right group Action Francaise, the attraction between Webster and Albert is confirmed, and Webster now has another reason to love his adopted city.
SEPTEMBER 1, 1939 At the Danzig post office, Stefan and Grzegorz find a ragtag group of about 50 people, only six of whom are real soldiers, and Stefan steps into the role of leader, inspiring the group. But when the Germans ram their way into the building, chaos breaks out, machine gun fire pummels both sides, and the Poles head to the basement. The Germans call a ceasefire and ask for their surrender. Stefan, as leader, asks his group what they want to do: surrender, or continue to fight? While he thinks that they should surrender, he grimly agrees to the majority vote to fight on. As a waiting game plays out, Stefan bonds with the group’s other battle-hardened leader, Konrad. But when an explosion suddenly rocks the building, the Germans ignite the basement, driving the survivors out. Stefan peels off from them as they flee, and to save them, he emerges from the post office with a white surrender flag. Before his son’s eyes, the Germans mow him down in a hail of bullets.
It’s a normal day in Warsaw until the wail of air raid sirens and the deafening buzz of aircraft tracing the sky over head shatter the peace. Bombs are already pummelling the city as Harry’s commander shouts that “Danzig has fallen. The Germans are sweeping across the country and are heading here to Warsaw!” Harry desperately runs to find Kasia as a bomb explodes, is blown through the café’s doors. He asks her to marry him so that she can leave Poland with him, as his wife. The young lovers marry, and Nancy prepares to leave Warsaw, now in rubble.
Grzegorz and Konrad escape, but are discovered hiding in an old half-demolished synagogue when Grzegorz can’t suppress his cough. Soon, they’re marched down the street and thrown against the wall. As prisoners are shot all around them, the German solider expected to kill them is terrified, flinching at every shot. When Grzegorz offers him cigarettes (the ones Harry gave him) he’s distracted enough momentarily that Grzegorz and Konrad run away. He can’t bring himself to shoot them, so they escape.
SEPTEMBER 3, 1939 At teatime, Tom teases Lois, trying to push her buttons about Harry. But she is not amused; she’s just angry and sad. In the background, on the radio, Prime Minister Chamberlain announces that Britain is at war, and the bickering ceases as Tom, Lois, and Douglas finally start to listen. But they’re interrupted by the police’s arrival to arrest Tom. Later, Douglas hears planes flying and bombs dropping and exploding, and Lois steadies his shaky hand.
Upon Nancy’s return to her Berlin apartment, she’s greeted by her neighbor, Mrs. Rossler, who reveals that while it’s illegal to listen to Nancy’s broadcasts, she does indeed listen. In the Rossler apartment, we see a photo of a young man in military uniform, presumably her son. It’s the German soldier in Danzig who allowed Grzegorz and Konrad to escape.
Harry’s train out of Poland is about to leave and he waits, anxiously, for Kasia to join him. But when she finally arrives, she tricks Harry at the last minute, putting her little brother Jan on the train in her place. In tears, apologizing through the window, she begs Harry to take care of Jan, “if you love me.”
Discover more about World on Fire:
Learn more about the real events and historical features of Episode 1.
Travel back in time with the music from World on Fire in MASTERPIECE’s playlist.
Hear Clare Hollingworth’s account of the German invasion of Poland on the MASTERPIECE Studio podcast.