Mark Bonnar interview: ‘Guilt’ star joins ‘World on Fire’ for Season 2

World on Fire is back on our screens at last!

Joining the cast of the BBC’s epic World War II drama this season is Mark Bonnar.

Best known for his roles in Guilt, Summer of Rockets, and Shetland, the Edinburgh-born star has also appeared in Operation Mincemeat, Unforgotten, and Line of Duty.

Coming up, he’ll also be appearing in Gladiator director Ridley Scott’s new Napoleon movie.

Now the 54-year-old Scottish actor is playing charming MI5 operative Sir James Danemere in the brand new run of World on Fire.

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.

Season 2 is airing now in the UK on Sunday nights at 9pm on BBC One and streaming on BBC iPlayer.

The new episodes of World on Fire will premiere in the US later this year on Masterpiece on PBS.

Here, Mark Bonnar chats about working with Lesley Manville, his family’s Polish connection, and who he based his character’s look on:


What can you tell us about your character Sir James?

“The mysterious Sir James is an MI5 operative and very charming with it. He’s used to manipulating people in a kind way to get what he wants – but he’s not a bad person by any stretch of the imagination.

“He injects some fun and potential romance into the Chase family household and also offers Kasia the possibility of returning home to Poland. He’s a bit of a whirlwind from the moment he arrives, and is immense fun to play.

“A huge part of getting into character is when you put on your costume and make-up and find you hold yourself in a different way. I’d describe Sir James’ look as Errol Flynn meets James Mason meets David Niven.”


Tell us about how he brings out a softer side to Robina…

“Sir James lays on the champagne and caviar and all the sweet treats. He’s obviously in the Chase family household ostensibly to carry out his work in Manchester, gathering information about potential spies, so as always in his line of work there’s a kind of dual identity going on.

“When you’re working with someone you really admire like Lesley Manville, you find yourself upping your game. You might be surrounded by cameras, but you’re in a play, performing for an audience and telling a story, whilst also having fun doing it.”


Can you tell us about the experiences your character had in World War One?

“Sir James was an officer in the trenches and is deeply affected by it – as you’ll find out via scenes with Kasia in the series.

“James has compartmentalised all of that trauma and just gets on with things, which, along with a couple of whiskies, is his way of dealing with staring into the abyss.”


We’ll see Sir James speak Polish – do you speak the language yourself?

“My grandfather was Polish and I spent three months there in the mid ‘90s, so my Polish is actually serviceable!

“I’m not fluent in any way, but I have got the odd word or phrase and a good idea of how to pronounce certain words – and I actually only have to speak one sentence in Polish.”


Do you remember talking to your grandparents about the war?

“My mother’s father served in India but she didn’t really speak much about it.

“My father’s dad was Polish. He came over during the war, having walked from Poland to Yugoslavia with his best pal, and then got a boat to Southampton.

“His brother was in a concentration camp, but I was 12 when my grandfather died so probably a bit too young to speak to him about it.”


What makes World on Fire special?

World on Fire doesn’t focus on just one story, which I think is its great strength.

“It covers European stories, German, French, North African, and focuses on multiple nationalities, but there’s also an amazing kind of domesticity about it, about people living from day to day within the chaos. That’s what war was like for so many people.”


World on Fire is available to watch on PBS Masterpiece.