Thursday, 12 May 2016

Secret Army, Season 1 (1977)

The 'Comet Line' was a real Belgian resistance group in WW2 that helped about 800 Allied air crew to escape Nazi-occupied Europe and return to the war effort.  Its activities were a major inspiration for this BBC drama, about a fictitious organisation named 'Lifeline', which fulfils the same role.

Lifeline co-ordinates much of its activity around a cafe, where the proprietor and his waitress - who is also his mistress - juggle their resistance activities with the demands of the German authorities and of his invalid wife.

Now if you're thinking to yourself, "wait, that sounds familiar, but wasn't it a bawdy comedy full of ethnic stereotypes?", then you're remembering 'Allo 'Allo, which began a few years after this show ended, and was an unapologetic parody of it.

There's precious little humour to be found in Secret Army itself, which was probably a factor in choosing it to lampoon.  It's a decidedly grim show, with protagonists who are far from white hats, despite (or indeed, because of) the dangerous and heroic work they've taken on.

On a personal level for instance, cafe owner Albert is pretty awful to both his wife and his mistress: not to mention completely absorbed in how difficult the situation is for him.  Meanwhile the Lifeline organisation as a whole must often do some terrible things to preserve the secrecy of their operations.  What victories they win are hard-fought, and often tainted in some way, and they endure more than one outright defeat in the course of the first season.

If you're interested in a WW2 drama that largely rejects any glamourisation of the war, and don't mind the sometimes stridently grim tone, then this is a well put-together piece of work.  If you prefer something lighter, though, then it is probably not for you.

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