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World on Fire is a 2019 BBC television series set across Europe during World War II. The first season chronicles the first year of World War II, starting with the German invasion of Poland and continuing through the aftermath of the fall of France in June 1940. A second season was announced with a US release date of October 15, 2023; it aired in the UK in July 2023.

This series has numerous characters. They include:

  • The Bennetts, a working-class family in Yorkshire. Douglas (Sean Bean) is a veteran of World War I who suffers from shell-shock and is an avowed pacifist. His son Tom is a petty criminal who joins the Navy. His daughter Lois is a night club singer who is in love with...
  • Harry Chase, a rich boy whose snooty mother Robina (Lesley Manville) disapproves. Harry is sent to Warsaw to work as a translator in the embassy. While still thinking about Lois, he falls in love with...
  • Kasia Tomaszeski, a waitress. Her father Stefan and brother Grzegorz join the Polish Army at the start of the war. Kasia and Harry wind up getting married to protect her as the Germans approach, at the urging of...
  • Nancy Campbell (Helen Hunt), an American journalist who reports on the German invasion of Poland. With war breaking out, Nancy is worried about her nephew...
  • Webster O'Connor (Brian J. Smith), who's working as a doctor in Paris in the same hospital as a Jewish nurse named Henriette. Webster is gay, and has fallen in love with a Parisian saxophone player named Albert.

A four-year Sequel Gap caused by the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in some storylines being dropped and some new ones added. Harry, Robina, Henriette, Albert, Lois, and Kasia are back, and this time they're joined by:

  • Captain Rajib Pal, an Indian officer serving alongside Harry in North Africa. He has to confront the dilemma of serving the British Empire in a war when, back home, his own country is struggling to free itself from Britain.
  • Marga, a teenaged German girl who, in her ignorance and guilelessness, winds up volunteering for a Nazi Lebensborn baby farm.
  • Sir James Danemere, an older British gentleman who winds up boarding with Robina. He's up to something secret.
  • David, an RAF pilot who happens to be Jewish, who winds up being shot down in France.


Tropes:

  • Action Girl:
    • Kasia slowly becomes this as a resistance fighter, learning how to use guns and also killing several German soldiers personally.
    • In Season 2 Lois has become an ambulance driver during the Blitz, very dangerous work that gets her wounded during a bombing by the Germans.
  • Action Prologue: The first episode opens with Lois and Harry infiltrating a rally of Oswald Mosley's Blackshirts. Harry gets beaten up, and they are both arrested.
  • Actual Pacifist: Douglas Bennett is a Shell-Shocked Veteran from the First World War and is a committed pacifist; he is involved in publishing leaflets and newspapers advocating pacifism. Once the war breaks out, this gets him labeled as a Nazi sympathizer and traitor, but he keeps at it.
  • All Germans Are Nazis: Though people often use "German" and "Nazi" interchangeably, the series itself has many German characters who aren't Nazis.
    • For instance, most prominently is the Rossler family (technically Mr. Rossler is a Party member, but only to protect them with the influence it brings) who oppose the Nazis' (at least in part because their daughter has epilepsy and is at risk for involuntary "euthanasia", but they're revealed to have made a number of dissident comments later).
    • Sieber, a German officer in the occupation of Paris, is also sympathetic. He shows veiled dislike of the Nazi policy on jazz music, and helps Webster when Albert is detained (it's also indicated Sieber knows they're gay, but doesn't share the Nazis' vicious anti-LGBT views).
    • Gertha is a member of the League of German Girls (the female wing of the Hitler Youth), but is horrified when the SS's Lebensborn program recruits her friend Marga to have a "pure Aryan" child (both are only sixteen, as she protests). Their teacher Herr Turtz also opposes this, saying that it would be the Reich raping Marga. Both are arrested for speaking against this by the Gestapo.
  • Artistic License – Geography: A rather jaw-dropping instance of this between episodes 1.04 and 1.05. Gregorz and Konrad somehow manage to get from Poland to Belgium on foot, which would mean that they either managed to traverse the entirety of an extremely hostile and alert Germany without being caught, or somehow gained the ability to teleport.
  • Auto Erotica: Lois has sex with Harry in a car.
  • Baby Factory: Gertha and other "pure Aryan" German girls get recruited for having babies with chosen SS men in the Lebensborn program. Their worth for the Reich is solely about this-after giving birth they have to give up the baby.
  • Badass in Distress: Kasia, who's slowly become a hardened Polish resistance fighter, nonetheless gets captured when the Germans ambush her during another honey trap operation. She's then sentenced to death. However, while being marched off to the gallows resistance fighters rescue her.
  • Bait-and-Switch: Sieber, the German officer, comes in to the nightclub where Albert is playing sax. He shoots what looks like a Kubrick Stare at the end of the performance—then smiles and applauds. Turns out that he's both a jazz fan and a pretty nice guy.
  • Bilingual Dialogue: The series features dialogue in English, Polish, French and German.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Season 2 offers an assortment of endings. The good: David has made it safely back to England. Lois has come back to reclaim her baby. Both Harry and Rajib are still alive. The bad: Kasia and Harry's brief marriage appears to be over as she leaves to be an operative behind the lines in Poland. Robina rejects a chance at happiness with Sir James. Henriette has been arrested and is being taken away to the Ravensbruck concentration camp, but she's going to try to escape.
  • Big Damn Reunion: Harry and Kasia in the final episode of series 1.
  • Bolivian Army Cliffhanger: The first series ends with Harry and Kasia's attempt to leave Poland with the Resistance rumbled. The resistance cell are massacred, and Harry and Kasia are fleeing up a hill surrounded, outgunned and outnumbered. See also Noodle Incident below.
  • Bury Your Disabled: Justified. The introduction of Aktion T4 leads to the mass murder of people with disabilities in Nazi Germany. The Rosslers' daughter Hilda has epilepsy and her mother kills her and then herself in a Murder-Suicide rather than allow her to be killed by the state.
  • Captain Smooth and Sergeant Rough: Upper middle class officer Harry and working class sergeant Stan.
  • The Cavalry: Kasia is being sent to the gallows with other Polish prisoners when resistance fighters attack and rescue her.
  • Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys: The Trope Maker has just barely happened and this idea has already lodged in the English consciousness, as a bed-ridden Tom in episode 1.06 says he won't surrender "like you lot". Webster notes pointedly that it was a French ambulance that brought him back from the beaches of Dunkirk.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome:
    • Helen Hunt does not appear in Season 2. Presumably Nancy is off being an Intrepid Reporter somewhere else.
    • Webster the gay pianist from Season 1 also does not appear.
  • Chummy Commies: Luc, a French communist who's arrested for opposing the Nazis, is treated sympathetically because he's on the good side.
  • Cliffhanger: 1.05 ends without revealing the fate of Tom and Gregorz, caught out in the open on the Dunkirk beach during a Stuka bombing run.
  • Contrived Coincidence: The cast are so spread out across Europe that when they come into contact it can feel contrived. Examples include: Kasia and Harry finding each other in Poland, Albert's coworker Eddie being the sweetheart of Lois's coworker Connie, Grzegorz and Tom both being at Dunkirk, and Webster treating Tom at the hospital in Paris.
  • David Versus Goliath: The first episode features the Real Life example of the Defense of the Polish Post Office in Danzig (now Gdansk). This trope is also name dropped when Nancy Campbell comments on the inequality between the German Army and the Polish Army:
    Nancy: You know what the Poles have got? Bicycles. You know what the Germans have got? Tanks! Panzers. I reported on David versus Goliath in Spain, it didn't turn out like it did in the Bible.
  • Demoted to Extra: Lois's brother Tom, a sailor in the Royal Navy, has a greatly reduced role in Season 2, appearing in only a handful of scenes. (Actor Ewan Mitchell was busy with House of the Dragon.)
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Over twenty Polish civilians are shot by the Germans in retaliation for Kasia killing just one SS soldier.
  • Faking the Dead: Webster reports Tom as having died of his wounds, in order to facilitate Tom's escape to Spain.
  • Fighter-Launching Sequence: Episode 1x7 has a brief shot of British fighter planes taking off, presumably to take on the Luftwaffe, as it's summer 1940.
  • Fourth-Date Marriage: Lois agrees to marry Vernon the pilot after having met him a total of three or four times. Possibly a defied trope as she mainly marries him to get security for herself and her newborn baby during the war, and Vernon tells her she doesn't have to love him, but he's smitten with her and wants to provide for her.
  • Four Lines, All Waiting: There are several simultaneous storylines: Nancy Campbell and the Rosslers in Berlin, Kasia and Tomasz in Warsaw, Grzegorz and Konrad on the run in Poland, Tom in the Navy, Jan, Douglas and Robina in Manchester, Albert and Webster in Paris, Harry and his regiment in Belgium and the Lois/Harry/Kasia love triangle.
  • Give the Baby a Father: Vernon offers to do this with Lois's baby.
  • Glamorous Wartime Singer: Lois Bennett and her best friend Connie Knight are in the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA), singing to entertain the British armed forces.
  • Heel Realization: Klaus, serving in the army, has a realization about German guilt after finding out just how his mother and sister died.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: In the first episode, Kasia puts her younger brother Jan on the train out of Poland in her place, sending him with Harry to safety in England while she endures the horrors of the German occupation.
  • Honey Trap: Kasia does this to German soldiers. She flirts with them to get them alone, allowing Tomasz to shoot them.
  • Ignored Vital News Reports: Lois and Tom snipe at each other about her romance with an aristocrat, while their father tries to be conciliatory. In the background, Neville Chamberlain's September 3, 1939 war message to the nation plays on the radio. As both the radio address and the conversation peter out, Tom offhandedly says "War's on, then."
  • I Have Your Wife: Kasia is tasked with spying on another Polish woman in England by MI 5. It turns out the woman is spying for the Germans, and says it's due to them having her son in prison with the threat of death hanging over him if she doesn't.
  • Ill-Timed Sneeze: It's not clear whether Grzegorz has TB or is just asthmatic, but either way he can't stop coughing. His cough at the worst possible time results in a German soldier finding the place where he and his buddy are hiding. They manage to escape again later.
  • Incompatible Orientation: Henriette is attracted to Webster, and kisses him in a moment of passion. She seems aware that he's gay, though, pulling away and then apologizing.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: When the hardcore Nazi woman in Herr Rossler's factory makes a threat about his epileptic daughter, Rossler bashes her skull in with a clothes iron. Then he's shown taking a stiff drink before going to Nancy for help disposing the body.
  • Interclass Romance: Upper-middle class Harry and both his love interests: Lois is a factory worker as well as a nightclub singer, and Kasia is a waitress.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Nancy Campbell, an American who reports on the outbreak of the war. She is based on real-life journalist Clare Hollingsworth, who is credited with the first international report of the German invasion of Poland.
  • It Has Been an Honor: After Harry gives Stan a direct order to head for the Dunkirk beach in episode 1.05, Stan says "Pleasure and an honor, sir" before departing.
  • It Will Never Catch On: Ralph, a thoroughly indoctrinated Nazi, tells his parents in episode 2.6 that the Russians are offering little resistance and the Germans will beat them easily.
  • Just in Time: Kasia is being led to the gallows in episode 1x7 when her Resistance comrades swoop in and rescue her.
  • Kids Are Cruel: All the stupid kids in Jan's new school gang up on him and scream "German! German!"
  • Killed Offscreen:
    • Douglas Bennett dies in an air raid between Seasons 1 and 2.
    • Ditto for Vernon, the RAF pilot who was going to marry Lois, killed in the Battle of Britain.
  • La RĂ©sistance: Kasia and Tomasz join a Polish Resistance group after Warsaw falls.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Lois gets pregnant unintentionally from a single tryst with Harry.
  • Likes Older Women: Nancy's censor Schmidt (who's at least twenty years younger) it turns out is attracted to her.
  • Love Triangle: Between Harry, Lois, and Kasia. Harry married Kasia, who goes to England with her little brother later. Harry, however, gets Lois pregnant due to a tryst they have. Kasia is extremely understanding of this, and even helps care for his baby with Lois. Neither is too keen on Harry after learning about each other, as you'd expect, and he's soon off to war anyway.
  • Match Cut: In episode 1.02, Kasia crumples down to the floor and embraces the corpse of her mother, shot through the forehead. Cut to Webster and Albert, spooning in bed.
  • Molotov Cocktail: The Poles of Warsaw, with few weapons, use these against German tanks.
  • More Dakka: In Episode 1x7, SS troops ambush Harry and Kasia's band of resistance fighters with an MG-34 light machine gun hidden in a truckbed.
  • Murder-Suicide: Mrs. Rossler kills Hilda and then herself to spare her daughter being "euthanized".
  • Noodle Incident: The first season ends with Harry and Kasia in Poland, surrounded by Nazis, seemingly about to be captured and killed. Season 2 finds them safe and sound in England. Does the show explain how they made their escape? No.
  • Offing the Offspring: Mrs. Rossler realizes that Hilda will be taken away and killed by the Nazi euthanasia program no matter what she does, so she tragically decides to kill her daughter herself, followed by taking her own life shortly afterwards.
  • Ominous Fog: Episode 1.05 begins with Harry and his men emerging from thick fog on a lonely road somewhere near the coast. Their route is often fog-bound as they make the dangerous trek to Dunkirk on foot.
  • One Degree of Separation: The characters are connected in enough ways to link all the storylines despite the distances between the various settings.
  • One-Night-Stand Pregnancy: Lois and Harry have sex once, from which she gets pregnant.
  • One-Person Birthday Party: Kasia holds one in Warsaw for her youngest brother, Jan, who's safely living with Harry's mother in England; she sings "Sto lat" and blows out a lone candle on a single cupcake.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: Stan, who's not pleased to be traveling to Dunkirk alongside a truckload of shell-shocked men and French-African soldiers.
  • Public Execution:
    • In retaliation for Kasia's killing an SS soldier, twenty some Polish civilians are shot by a German firing squad publicly.
    • Later, when Kasia is caught and sentenced to death, she's sent off for the gallows with other Polish prisoners. She's rescued by her resistance group though.
  • Rape as Backstory: Nancy reveals to her nephew Webster that she was once raped years before in Portugal while covering a story.
  • Run for the Border: Tom Bennett, after being stranded on the beach at Dunkirk when injured by a bomb, must cross France to neutral Spain and take passage back to Britain from there. He is aided by Webster, who sneaks him out of the hospital disquised as a corpse, where he is helped from Paris to the border by the French Resistance.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Stefan, the father of Kasia and Grzegorz, appears to be shaping up as a main character but he is shot dead in Danzig in the first episode.
  • Secret Police:
    • The Gestapo investigate the Rosslers after Mr. Rossler killed a Nazi woman to protect his daughter, and interrogate them both harshly.
    • In Season 2 they arrest Gertha, who's just 16, simply for objecting to her friend Marga having gotten recruited into the Lebensborn program. Threats by them against her parents get Gertha to give her teacher Herr Turtz up, who had counseled Marga's parents against it too. He doesn't blame her, clearly realizing what happened.
  • Sequel Hook: A BBC radio broadcast in the last scene of Season 2 references the fall of Kiev, dating the action to September 1941 and reminding the audience that soon the tide will turn against the Germans. It also mentions the United States supporting the Allied war effort, a reminder that soon the USA will join the war as a combatant.
  • Sex for Services: Schmidt offers to help Nancy get Albert released if she'll have sex with him. Disgusted, Nancy refuses.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran:
    • Douglas, who still suffers from "nerves" from the trauma he suffered in World War I.
    • On the way to the Dunkirk beach Harry and his squad find a hospital truck transporting shell shock cases, or rather it was, before the driver was killed in a Luftwaffe strafing run. Stan doesn't believe in shell shock as an idea—he calls it "cowardice"—but much to Stan's consternation Harry insists on escorting the men to the beach.
    • The first season finale reveals the backstory behind Harry's late father: he was a shell-shocked veteran of WWI like Douglas, except that he killed himself after he got home.
    • Finally there's Grzegorz, who, after somehow slipping through a wormhole from Poland to Belgium, and being plucked off the beaches of Dunkirk, finds himself in a Yorkshire hospital for shell-shock patients.
  • Shot at Dawn: Over twenty Polish civilians are shot by firing squad in retaliation for just one SS soldier being killed.
  • The Social Darwinist: Dr. Voller defends killing disabled children when Nancy Campbell confronts him over it citing "natural selection" and necessary "progress" to stop hereditary diseases. When she retorts that progress means protecting the weak, he notes that many American and British intellectuals, including Winston Churchill, also support eugenics but just don't have the stomach to take it this far. When she says that's no defense, he claims it's merciful for them and objectors shouldn't try to stop it.
  • Spiteful Spit: In episode 1.02 Kasia's mother spits at the German officer who has just entered her house. This gets her shot through the head. Later in that same episode Kasia is spitting in the soup that she's serving to German officers at the cafe.
  • Spotting the Thread: Harry tells Lois about the family he stayed with in Warsaw, naming everyone in the family except Jan's big sister, whom he only calls "the sister". Lois immediately realizes that Harry fell in love with someone else in Poland.
  • Straight Gay: Webster and Albert, who are both indistinguishable from most straight men in how they act. Of course, given the homophobic period, they would be stupid not to act this way (at least publicly).
  • Stuka Scream: Heard multiple times as the Luftwaffe bombs and strafes the desperate soldiers and civilians on the way to Dunkirk, as well as the British troops stuck on the beach.
  • Time-Passes Montage: A whole montage has Kasia in alleyways necking with German soldiers, followed by Click Hellos from Tomasz, followed by Kasia walking away and lighting up a cigarette as Tomasz shoots the German. The last time it's subverted, when Tomasz's gun misfires, and Kasia has to pull out her own gun to shoot the German.
  • Tough Love: Robina was a rather cold and stand-offish parent to Harry. When he brings little Jan to the mansion she says straight-up that she has no maternal instincts at all, although she gradually warms to him.
  • Trapped Behind Enemy Lines: Much of David's plot line in Season 2 has him stuck in France, in enemy territory, after he is shot down. Henriette finally helps him to the coast, where he hops on a boat and makes it back to England.
  • Twofer Token Minority: Albert is a black Frenchman, and he's gay as well. Albert even got into an argument about it with Eddie, who had this to say:
    Eddie: Coloured and queer, with Nazis in charge. Good luck with those chances.
  • Walk and Talk: How Dr. Voller the profoundly creepy eugenicist meets Nancy and explains the euthanasia program.
  • Wartime Wedding: Harry and Kasia get married in Warsaw, so she can leave with him for England, and avoid getting caught up in the imminent German invasion of Poland. She sends her little brother with him instead.
  • Wedding Ring Removal: In the Season 2 finale, Kasia takes off her wedding ring, since her marriage with Harry seems to be over now that she's decided to be a secret agent. Harry puts it back on her finger, telling her that being a married woman will be a better cover.

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