Is new WW2 drama ‘World on Fire’ worth watching? Here’s what the reviews say

The BBC’s new World War II drama World on Fire launched in the UK last weekend.

The epic period drama series from the makers of Poldark begins with the German invasion of Poland in September 1939 and ends with the Battle of Britain in 1940.

Written by Peter Bowker (The A Word), the seven one-hour episodes will take viewers across the first year of World War II, from ordinary life in Manchester to the beaches of Dunkirk, getting right under the skin and into the hearts and minds of those living their lives during this extraordinary time as they grapple with the unthinkable: a world in flames.

The all-star cast includes Oscar-winner Helen Hunt (As Good As It Gets), Sharpe star Sean Bean, Lesley Manville (MumRiver), Blake Harrison (A Very English Scandal), poet and actor Yrsa Daley-Ward (Today Will Burn), Ansu Kabia (The Long Song) and Ewan Mitchell (The Last Kingdom), Jonah Hauer-King (Little Women), Julia Brown (The Last Kingdom) and Tomasz Kot (Cold War).

We’ve rounded up a selection of reviews to help you decide if you’d like to watch it:


“It’s not especially clever, but it is big, exciting, and packed with watchable actors … When the world’s on fire, it’s nice to take refuge in the old certainties.” ★★★★ – The Independent


“Bowker has set himself a gigantic, sprawling job providing a multifaceted view of the Second World War via ordinary families in France, England, Poland and Germany, which is possibly why this opener sometimes felt a little diffused and underpowered. But he is a fine writer and now the stage is set I have faith that this won’t be just another Second World War saga.” – The Times


“Peter Bowker’s Second World War drama is a beautifully turned ensemble piece starring Lesley Manville and Sean Bean … and far from standard wartime fare.” ★★★★ – The Guardian


“…the opener in this sweeping seven-part tale was solid and engaging. Bowker is best-known for The A Word, a family drama with deeply believable characters, and the real attraction of his war story promises to be the depth of its psychological portraits, rather than the breadth of its historical vision.” ★★★★ – The Daily Mail


“…World on Fire wears its ambition confidently. It looks expensive and beautiful, with its overcoats and hats and steam trains. The characters, so far, are thinly drawn, but perhaps they will acquire nuance as the war progresses.” – Evening Standard


“At least World on Fire goes by so fast that it’s difficult to get bored, but it’s more melodrama than drama. More depth and less breadth might have been advisable.” – The Arts Desk


“A striking, witty wartime drama that feels startlingly new … While this was an ideal, cosy Sunday night watch with beautiful costumes and a soundtrack of 1930s jazz standards, it was no paint-by-numbers, predictable re-telling of history. The writing was witty, the characters spoke like real people, and the tear-jerking moments weren’t where you expected.” – iNews


“The scriptwriter Peter Bowker paints the story of the war in Europe onto the broadest imaginable canvas. The scale of the drama’s ambition is laudable, especially given the absence of Netflix megabucks.” – The Telegraph


Marking 80 years since the outbreak of World War II, the series is airing in the UK at 9pm on Sunday nights on BBC One and you can catch up on BBC iPlayer.

World on Fire will air in the US next year on Masterpiece on PBS.

World on Fire is available on DVD on Amazon.