Fortunes of War

BBC (ended 1987)



User Score: 326

out of 10
User Rating
15 votes

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Fortunes of War

Show Summary

This seven part, BBC award winning production is based on Olivia Manning’s ‘Balkan’ and ‘Levant’ trilogies. It charts the war-time marriage of idealistic lecturer Guy Pringle, Kenneth Branagh, and his forthright wife Harriet, Emma Thompson as they travel to Romania, Greece, Egypt and Syria to escape the ravishes of war. On their journey, they encounter numerous ex-patriots most notably, the interminably impoverished Prince Yakimov, unscrupulous Lush and Dubedat, Byron fanatic Lord Pinkrose, naïve soldier Simon Boulderstone and poet Bill Castlebar. As their lives become entwined, Guy and Harriet’s relationship becomes soured under the strain of the war and their contrasting perspectives on life and love. Ronald Pickup, Alan Bennet, Rupert Graves and Caroline Langrishe are amongst the illustrious support cast in this humorous, poignant and meticulously produced period drama.
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  • This award winning Drama should be given more credit.

    Despite 1987 being a tough year at the BAFTAs, with 'Tutti Frutti', 'Porterhouse Blue', 'After PIlkington' etc. this drama was nominated in nine different catagories. It won in three of them: Actress, Emma Thompson, Costume Design, Christine Rawlins and Design, Tim Harvey. Now I'm not saying that awards are necessarily a definite indication of how 'good' a show is, however, can so many nomiations, let alone wins, mean that the BBC got the whole thing so terribly wrong? I rest my case.

  • Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson make their mark in an outstanding period drama.

    This is the 1987, BBC series that blasted Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson on to our television screens. Although I was relatively young at the time, 14, I remember falling in love with the characters, locations and Alan Plater’s screenplay. Not long after, I read Manning’s Balkan Trilogy and the war time world of Guy and Harriet Pringle truly sucked me in.

    The characters are complex and full of contradictions. Branagh plays one of the most frustrating roles I’ve ever seen. Guy Pringle’s ability to seemingly care about everything and everyone, and yet fail to notice how bereft his wife is feeling is quite staggering. Branagh brings an essential ‘boyish’ enthusiasm to the role that encourages the audience to join in his passion for literature and his left wing idealism. Even in one of his defining oblivious moments, when he borrows a brooch that his wife, who is in hospital recovering from dysentery, has been given by a friend, you can’t bring yourself to loathe his insensitivity. You want to shout out at him in frustration, but you can never really hate him. When tragedy strikes and Guy is forced to re-evaluate his priorities, it’s an emotionally credible moment. Despite everything he has, or rather hasn’t, said and done, you have to feel sympathy for him.

    Emma Thompson won a BAFTA for Best Actress for her role as Harriet Pringle, (and that of Suzie Kettles in ‘Tutti Frutti.’) It was no great surprise and was more than deserved. Thompson gives an outstanding performance, conveying an almost omnipotent knowledge in her character’s demeanour. At times, Harriet says very little and yet it is evident that she knows a great deal. In some ways, Harriet is Guy’s opposite. She is less philanthropic in her attitude to all the waifs and strays they encounter and seems to worry intently about the war and her emotions. However, there is a distinct sharp edge, often matched by Plater's sharp dialogue, which makes her a fearsome enemy and an amusing companion. I don’t know how she does it, but she makes the marriage between Guy and Harriet believable.

    This series is also assisted admirably by a very strong supporting cast. Ronald Pickup, as impoverished Prince Yakimov, is superb. His ability to live in some oblivious world, not unlike Guy, and say some of the most inconceivably inappropriate things under very trying circumstances keep you cringing right up until the end. His developing relationship with Harriet is something to watch out for. Alan Bennett as Professor Lord Pinkrose does a more than admirable job of portraying the English eccentric as he constantly appears at the most inopportune moment to give his acclaimed lecture on Byron. His final moments are superb. The circumstances surrounding them are hilarious.

    The sites and sounds of the various locations used as the plot takes them from Bucharest to Greece, to Egypt and to Syria are enough to make you get the travelling bug. The final moments of Guy, Harriet and Simon Boulderstone, sat on top of a pyramid, are ingrained on my brain, even though it was years ago that I saw it.

    In many respects, the war is not what this series is about. It’s about people. That’s why I think it had such an impact on me. It’s not some all action, body-strewn adventure. It’s a superbly acted, intelligently written, thoughtful drama. I rate it as excellent. If you think I’m wrong, so be it. You won’t change my opinion!

  • DVD release in the UK
    Just to let anyone who might be interested know, the series is due to be released on a Region 2 format dvd in the UK on April 3 20...