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Fortunes of War

Season 1 Episode 1

September 1939

Aired Unknown Oct 11, 1987 on BBC
out of 10
User Rating
7 votes

By TV.com Users

Episode Summary

September 1939
Set in the Balkans 1939. Newly weds Guy and Harriet Pringle journey to Bucharest where Guy is a lecturer of English Literature. Impoverished Prince Yakimov arrives in the city and struggles to find financial support, but a temporary job as a Fleet Street journalist could save him from destitution. Guy introduces his wife to all the local expatriates and his Romanian friend Sophie. Life is sweet until the murder of the President is announced. Poland's invasion and rumours of the occupation of Romania threaten to undermine peace and international relations. Meanwhile, Guy’s socialist affiliations encourage him to protect the family of one of his Jewish students. As Guy becomes distracted with work and orchestrating social engagements, Harriet befriends bourgeoisie Bella and members of the British Legation.moreless

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  • Characters and relationships introduced and developed.

    I loved the way this opening episode introduced the characters. They were steadily brought into the plot to enable you to get a grip of their individual personalities without feeling overwhelmed. Each one, a complete contrast to the other. All of them are excellent.

    The initial focus on Guy and Harriet gives the audience the ability to see how they interact, this is important as they actually spend very little time together in the episode as they are always in the presence of some associate / companion / lost cause of Guy. It is evident from the outset that Guy doesn’t see any reason for his life to change, despite taking his new wife to a foreign country. When he leaves Harriet alone in the hotel room only moments after arriving, he seems very selfish. However, it’s his enthusiasm for his work at the University and the students that allow him to be forgiven. It’s just as well Harriet is such a resourceful, independent woman. Later on, when she criticises him for not giving her enough individual attention, but spends his time making everyone else feel as if they are the centre of the world, her comment makes absolute sense. You can already see that she is beginning to feel isolated in her marriage. However, when he replies, ‘isn’t that a good thing?’ You have to concede to his point of view. Yes, of course he’s right, but that doesn’t make Harriet feel any less lonely.

    Yakimov, played by Ronald Pickup is superb. There is some degree of pathos in his sorry state as he staggers around Bucharest, however, there is something about him that you just can’t help but find amusing and dare I say it, charming. His bumbling attempts to take on the skilled job of journalist, simply for the press pass, about sums up his philosophy on life. He’ll do and say anything to get food and a bed. His apathetic approach to life at a time of invasion and occupation are what generate some of the humour; he has no understanding of the implications of what he says and does.

    I thought Emma Thompson convincingly portrayed Harriet’s ability to generate a rapport with all the characters that drift into the scene, from the bourgeois Bella to working class Dubedat. The immediate bond she strikes up with Inchcape and the wry looks she gives the pompous Lawson are excellent entertainment. Harriet’s treatment of Sophie, when she phones threatening suicide, is an excellent explosion of suppressed anger. We all know it’s what Guy should have done ages ago. I really loved the round of applause Harriet’s unsympathetic response received from the table and the bemused look on Guy’s face.

    One moment I particularly liked was near the very end. Guy, adamant that Sophie is going to do something drastic, rushes round there despite Harriet’s belief that she is making the threat to attract attention. A few moments later, a flustered Guy appears at the front door. He informs Harriet that she really is an intelligent woman and Sophie is very silly. We know that Harriet was right, it’s just a shame that Guy didn’t listen to her until it’s too late. As she said, she knows about people and for such a clever man, it’s odd that he didn’t pay more attention. But then I guess that’s what he fails to do most of the time.

    Some superb dialogue from Alan Plater and a great ensemble of characters.

    Just a side point: the fact that I was relatively ignorant about the specific events that were taking place in Romania during World War Two did not prevent me from enjoying this episode. In fact, I actually learned a few things. What a bonus!moreless
Ronald Pickup

Ronald Pickup

Prince Yakimov

Guest Star

Harry Burton

Harry Burton

Sasha Drucker

Guest Star

Richard Clifford

Richard Clifford

Clarence Lawson

Guest Star

Mark Drewry

Mark Drewry


Recurring Role

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (3)

    • Guy explains that those who had committed Cãlinescu's assassination drove to the broadcasting studios and announced that he was dead or dying. However, in reality the message was never broadcast because transmission had been previously interrupted.

    • In this episode, Guy is seen reading Crome Yellow by Aldous Huxley.

    • Harriet and Guy learn of the assassination of the Romanian Prime Minister Cãlinescu by the Iron Guard. This took place on September 21, 1939. While passing through the Eroilor area on his return from the Cotroceni Palace, Cãlinescu's luxury automobile, a Cadillac, was ambushed.

  • QUOTES (4)

    • Harriet reveals her lack of festive spirit.
      (Guy is holding the telephone.)
      Guy: It's Sophie. She says she's too depressed to come to the party and she's threatening to do something desperate.
      Harriet: Such as?
      Guy:Such as take an overdose or jump out of a window.
      (Harriet gets up and walks towards Guy. She takes the telephone out of his hands and shouts into it.)
      Harriet: Go ahead and jump.

    • Yakimov's mantra.
      Yakimov: Everything's absurd. With the exception of brandy.

    • Guy demonstrates his logical way of thinking.
      Harriet: The telephone rang three times.
      Guy: Well, there is very little else a telephone can do darling, is there?

    • Harriet identifies the fundamental difference between Guy and herself.
      Harriet: You're interested in ideas. I'm interested in people. If you were more interested in people, you might not like them so much.

  • NOTES (6)


    • During the Christmas toast around the Pingle's table, Inchcape says, to peace in our time and all that. He is alluding to the speech given in Defense of the Munich Agreement in 1938 by Neville Chamberlain.

    • Macann tells Yakimov that Fleet Street will guarantee him infinite credit. He is referring to the traditional 'home' of British jounalism.