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Series / World on Fire

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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 has been announced.

This series has 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. His son Tom is a petty criminal. His daughter Lois 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 as the Germans approach, at the urging of...
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  • 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, who's working as a doctor in Paris. Webster is gay, and has fallen in love with a Parisian saxophone player named Albert.


  • Action Girl: Kasia slowly becomes this as a resistance fighter, learning how to use guns and also killing several German soldiers personally.
  • 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.
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  • 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 Nazi's vicious anti-LGBT views).
  • Artistic License – Geography: A rather jaw-dropping instance of this between episodes 1-4. 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 apparate.
  • Auto Erotica: Lois has sex with Harry in a car.
  • 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 captured and 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.
  • 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.
  • 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, that could be seen as a Mercy Kill.
  • 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 1-6 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.
  • Cliffhanger: The fifth episode 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.
  • 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.
  • 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."
  • 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 an 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 1-5, Stan says "Pleasure and an honor, sir" before departing.
  • 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!"
  • La Résistance: 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.
  • Match Cut: In episode 1-2, 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 7, 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.
  • Ominous Fog: Episode 1-5 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.
  • 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.
  • One-Night-Stand Pregnancy: Lois and Harry have sex once, from which she gets pregnant.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 back story behind Harry's late father: he was a shell-shocked veteran of WWI like Douglas, except that he killed himself after he got home.
    • And 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.
  • Sneeze of Doom: 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.
  • 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 1-2 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.
  • 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.
  • Would Hit a Girl:
    • Mr. Rossler unhesitatingly kills a Nazi woman who threatened to out his daughter for being disabled, which might have got her killed. Given that, it's understandable.
    • The Gestapo agent interrogating Mrs. Rossler's shows no compunction at hitting or mistreating her.