World on Fire is finally back on our screens!
Returning from the first season of the BBC’s epic World War II drama is Julia Brown.
Brown has also been in The Alienist, kids spy series MI High, and Apple’s TV adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation.
Four years after Season 1 launched in 2019, we return to World on Fire in 1941, and the true reality of war has arrived in Britain. With RAF pilots being sent to destroy German bombers prowling the skies above Manchester, rescue operations are underway on the streets below.
World on Fire is airing now in the UK on Sunday nights at 9pm on BBC One and streaming on BBC iPlayer.
Season 2 will premiere in the US later this year on Masterpiece on PBS.
Here, Julia Brown chats about Lois’s friendship with Connie, her research into post-natal depression, and the impact of Douglas’s death:
Where do we find Lois at the start of this new season?
“At the end of series one, Lois had just given birth. She’d also accepted a proposal of marriage from Vernon (Arthur Darvill) and it looked as if he was going to move into the family house.
“But she starts series two in quite a different place. She is alone as her fiancé has been killed in the Battle of Britain. Her father has also died so she’s a young, grieving mother with a baby that she’s struggling to have maternal feelings for.
“She’s also still worrying about Harry and is faced with the reality that his new wife Kasia will be coming back to England with him. It’s a lot!
“Lois and her friend Connie (Yrsa Daley-Ward) are no longer singing in clubs but both now work for the ambulance service in Manchester.
“It’s really exciting for Yrsa and me to play characters who show the amazing things women got up to during the war – they’re really getting stuck in.
“I think Lois is in quite a manic state of mind. She’s been through so much and is suffering from postnatal depression, overwhelmed with grief at the death of her father and also worrying about Harry.
“But she’s very good at putting a smile on her face and using humour to try and deflect things. Working in the ambulance service makes her feel alive because she’s doing something that’s distracts her from everything she’s not quite facing up to.
“Helping people in critical, adrenalised situations is both exciting and exhilarating for her. You can see in those scenes that Connie is worried about her because she knows that this is not the true Lois.
“It will be interesting for viewers to watch their relationship play out because Connie becomes a sort of mother figure to Lois. It was exciting to get to research the roles of women during the war and in the ambulance service in particular.
“It’s amazing to wear the uniform and to drive an ambulance too.”
The death of Douglas (Sean Bean) is traumatic for everyone – what happened to him?
“I think it will be a massive shock for viewers to see that Douglas, the committed pacifist, is no longer with us. He was killed when their house in Manchester was hit by a bomb in the Blitz.
“Luckily, Lois was out working on a shift at the time, so she survived. It’s a horrible thing to have happened to a very peaceful man who strongly believed that the war was unjustifiable and wanted to put an end to violence – in the end, he was killed just sitting quietly at home.”
You have some moving scenes in episode one with Ewan Mitchell back as your brother Tom.
“I think viewers will be really glad to see Tom back home. Everyone was left in suspense at the end of series one because he was missing in action.
“It’s a bittersweet reunion though, because she has to break the news to him that their father’s no longer there. He didn’t receive the letter.
“She’s also faced with the reality that Tom is angry with her and seems to blame her which is part of his trying to come to terms with his grief. He directs all his anger towards Lois.”
How did you research the role?
“It was really important for me to research the way in which post-natal depression and post-traumatic stress disorder can bleed into each other.
“I also wanted to understand what it must feel like to have a child who you’re not able to connect with. I read several first-hand accounts and articles on postnatal depression as well as some brave and honest war-time diary entries.
“I was also really interested to read about people’s experiences of PTSD. I’d done some reading up on that for series one, because that was what Douglas was suffering with and I wanted to have an insight into what it would be like for a daughter to cope with that.
“Reading personal accounts really helped me tap into my character.”
What do you think makes World on Fire stand apart from other World War Two dramas?
“Lois says to Harry at one point that no-one will ever be the same again. That’s what’s so beautiful about Peter’s writing – it’s less about the facts of war and what happened in battle and more about the human stories.
“World on Fire is full of extraordinary stories about ordinary people. Stories that haven’t been told before. I’m very honoured to be back telling more of these stories about people from so many different countries, and how war united them.
“It’s a fresh and modern take on World War Two and we need to engage younger audiences to watch pieces like this so that they can understand what happened, within living memory.”
World on Fire is available to watch on PBS Masterpiece.