Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Just War written by Lance Parkin, adapted by Jac Rayner and directed by Gary Russell

Message Sent 2594 – sender Bernice Summerfield
Recipient Joe Ford – 2010
Subject –Nazis

‘I don’t know who I am anymore. I just don’t. Joe…I was tortured. I was tortured by the Nazis, starved, abused and scarred. Jason killed the man responsible but it wasn’t enough, it felt as though I was responsible for that death. I’m sick of thinking about people dying. I just want to be left alone. I wish you were here. You’d say something stupid and inappropriate and it would make me laugh. I just don’t know if I have any laughter left in me. This is depressing, I’ll write again soon in a better mood.’

What’s it about? The Nazis occupy British soil and British citizens are being deported to European concentration camps. Those who do not co-operate with the Germans are shot. This isn't a parallel universe: this is Guernsey, 1941, and it's where Bernice is stranded. With no sign of Jason, she has to endure the full horror of the situation, alone and afraid. And something somewhere has gone wrong. The Nazis are building a secret weapon, one that will have a decisive effect on the outcome of the war - and it's up to Benny to put history back on course...

Archaeological Adventurer: Just War was easily one of the best Bernice books of the entire New Adventures range, up there with Sanctuary and Human Nature. She is pushed to the limit in this story and all of her best qualities shine through, her humanity, humour, her fear in the face of terrible abuse. Brought to life by the impressive Lisa Bowerman, Bernice breaks your heart in this story. Her quivering, close to the edge voice makes you long to be able to step into the story and hold her. With this story seen through Bowerman’s eyes it feels more like documentary footage of genuine Nazi horrors than an audio adventure, she’s that convincing. At the beginning of this story she has been living on Guernsey during the Second World War fro 3 months with her hair dyed blond and posing as Celia Doras. A war took her real mother from her and so it is only fitting that it should give her another. There is a subtle, edgy but still very warm relationship between Bernice and Ma Doras and they feel all the closer because of the stifling atmosphere the story generates. Bernice has suddenly become aware of her own morality and she is terrified of it. One of the Nazi’s, Gerhard, fancies her and in a horrible moment of realisation she has to murder him when he realises she isn’t who she says she is. To protect Ma and herself. She disarms a German office as she has had more combat training than him. She makes jokes about being a helpless victim of Nazi terror but she is really shaken up here. She thinks she should have been shot because she doesn’t feel strong anymore. Tameka (no!) is looking after Wolsey and she misses both them and the 26th Century. She witnesses Marie having her neck snapped and confronts her killer only to be arrested, deprived of sleep, food or any comfort. Her attempts to sound brave in the face of this inhumanity, Bowerman’s broken weak speech where she admits how scared she is will break your heart. Her ‘Don’t leave!’ to Kitzsel at the end of one is utterly chilling. When Bernice finally turns the tables and manages to overpower Kitzsel it is a punch the air moment and when she shoves her in the draw that is far too small for her it can only feel like a moment of justice. She cries when she realises that the torture is over. Her reaction when Jason kills Wolff is absolute horror and she can barely string a sentence together. She admits that she still loves him but at the moment she can’t feel a thing. At the end of the story she has a new diary and wants to be alone with herself. She remembers having feelings for Jason but not what they were. She cannot feel anything anymore wondering is she is still a woman of peace. Haunting.

Lovable Loser: A fantastic showing for Jason that allows him to be far more than the lovable rogue we have seen so far in this series. Of course he bollocks this up, as the Susan Meyer of the Bernice series everything he does is bound to turn to shite but accidentally giving a Nazi genius the idea of radar and thus prompting the invention of a stealth bomber than could swing the war in their favour is probably about as stupid as it gets. Careless talk costs lives, right? Jason is not sure whether he comes from the 26th Century or the 1990’s anymore. He was kidnapped by aliens and taken to the future where he met his wife. In a horrifying moment he admits that his dad used to beat him, his sister had her fingers broken and he was forced to sell his body on the streets to make ends meet. Or perhaps he was just looking for something he wasn’t getting at home. He wonders if his Dad’s bullying behaviour was a result of Nazi cruelty. Jason’s discussions with Steinmann show him at his most intelligent and humane. His anger at Bernice’s treatment and his shooting of Wolff allows the audience to get close to him like never before, his shaking anger when the German officer boasts of hurting Bernice leaves him only one course of action.

Great Ideas: Whilst this is primarily a story of unforgettable character moments there are still a number of healthy ideas floating about. Jason accidentally mentions radar in a bar to a German officer and he adapts this technology and creates the German stealth bombers. Bernice is responsible for six villagers being shot dead because she murdered Gerhard. The very idea of torturing Benny in this fashion is a brave and discomforting notion. Steinmann discussing the glory of the Nazi’s should be clichéd and embarrassing but he actually makes a sound case in their defence by simply admiring his people so much. Stealing the Nazi stealth plane returns this series to its adventure story roots and driving it over Southampton with explosions detonating as the Germans try to bring them down is one of the best set pieces in this season. The conclusion keeps pushing the audience as Steinmann reads Bernice’s diary which talks of the end of the war. Whilst he pretends that this is a fantasy written by a deluded woman Steinmann murders Franz who has also read its contents, declaring that it is sad that his parents would have to think of him as a traitor. He is quietly disgusted by the contents, declaring that that future will not take place.

Standout Performance: Lisa Bowerman gives what is probably her best performance in her entire ten seasons in this story and considering the strength of some of her performances to come that is quite a statement. She’s heartbreakingly good at preying on our emotions and manages to become a martyr by simply caring as much as she does.
The guest cast are astonishing. Maggie Stables puts in a typically reliable performance; this is years before we see some of the more shattering moments in Evelyn’s life and so the terrified Ma Doras is something of an acting coup for her.
Mark Gatiss’ Wolff is terrifying, more so because he exudes a quiet menace. His character is aware of his power over the women of the island and he fucks with them mentally before murdering them, in a totally sadistic fashion. For an actor this must be the sort part they dream of playing.
Michael Wade impresses as the ‘acceptable side of fascism.’ He’s personable, humane but he loves the Nazi party through and through. His reaction to knowledge of the future is one of absolute horror, understandably so.

Sparkling Dialogue: So much of this story is beautifully written, unforgettably performed extended dialogue scenes I would be all day quoting them all. So here is the best of an outstanding script:
‘What is it about me and younger men? He’s probably missing his mother!’ Well I’m glad it was mentioned sooner or later!
‘You would think that someone somewhere would have invented a code that didn’t sound like a French exercise and the Two Ronnies!’
‘Bernice, it’s going to get better isn’t it? We’ll win the war…?’
‘You know Ma, I’ve faced death before. I’ve been through a lot in the past few years. I’ve been abandoned, starved, blasted, drugged, betrayed, lacerated, bruised, conscripted, battered, probed, kidnapped, knocked out, taken over by grasshoppers, blown up, shot down, kicked and chucked out…I’ve done it all but I’ve always bounced back ready for whatever they threw at me – this time its different.’ Listening to this, as Bowerman makes the dialogue faster, more dramatic is like a crescendo of pain, unrelentingly mesmerising.
‘Let me tell you something Marie. This road is called the Rue de Vache. Let me tell you why. Cows from Jersey could not be unloaded from the quay so farmers would push them into the harbour, they would be forced to swim ashore and they would be herded up this way to the abattoir. Those poor pretty long lashed cows. I do not like spies or whores Marie, even those with pretty necks.’ Utterly chilling, Wolff snaps Marie’s neck after making her think she will survive by whoring herself. It is an unspeakable cruel moment.
‘To be honest with you, I’m feeling queasy. My stomachs empty, I’ve not slept for three days and I’m scared pooless just being here because I know what the Nazi’s do to their prisoners. It’s those things you should be playing on.’ A heartbreaking admission.
‘I’m sorry but that’s just not true. This Reich doesn’t even last for 1000 weeks let alone 1000 years. Oh yes, fascism disappears as a political force in your lifetime Oskar. By the 1990s where my ex husband comes from the only people wearing the Nazi uniform comes from sad little blokes who can’t get it up any other way. A few gangs of glue sniffing thugs had the swastika tattooed to their foreheads but they never learnt what it really stood for. In other words fascism ended just where it started. Your only legacy will be their ignorance, their hatred.’
‘The sun has already set on the British Empire.’
‘Come on Jason quickly!’ ‘That brings back memories!’
‘You just killed him…’

Audio Landscape: The wartime music opening plants you straight into the story. The period is captured with radio tunings, boots marching, and boats chugging away across the sea. There are some impressive bar scenes with lots of realistic chatter in the background, lovely beach scenes (with waves crashing on the shore and a strong wind whistling by) and the UFO (?) crashes down with dramatic effect, screaming from one ear to the other. Benny escapes in an armoured car in a sequence which is a as gripping as the similar one in Beyond the Sun wasn’t. A heavy prison door swings on its screaming hinges and the underground prison has an odd echoed banging throughout. Bernice gets a delirious interrogation from Steinmann and her escape from Guernsey in Munin is another exciting set piece, explosions ripping through the air around her.

Musical Cues: Once again the piano is used to subtle but emotional effect.

Isn't that Odd: I complained in Birthright that a secondary character was clearly Stephen Fewell putting on a cockney accent so imagine my disdain when he appears in Just War as another character putting on an aristocratic accent this time! Imagine how much I laughed when we discover it actually is Jason in disguise this time!
Gary Russell as a German Officer…his accent is extraordinary! He needs his own series!
The CD sleeve tells me that Just War was originally written by Justin Richards. Really…?

Standout Moment: Hard to choose but my favourite (and thus most discomforting) moments came when Bernice was in the clutches of Wolff. Chilling does not begin to describe the atmosphere at these moments.

Result: Hard-hitting and dramatic, if you have any doubt that the Bernice Summerfield series could not deliver the goods than go and listen to this story now. What you have here is a polished script written with drive and bursting with great character scenes and a director who allows the story room to breathe at a relaxed pace to bring out some extraordinary performances from his cast. Bowerman and Fewell do their best work from series one here, Benny and Jason have never felt more like real people and their reunion never more touching. The stifling atmosphere never lets up and the story manages to sell the idea that the Nazi’s might win the war, one of the most hackneyed ideas ever. On audio this is a superb production, never letting you forget where we are and what it means. I’ve heard this story ten times and every time I have come away astonished at how good it is. Extremely scary in places: 10/10

Re – Nazis
Message Sent 2010 – sender Joe Ford
Recipient Bernice Summerfield 2594

‘I just don’t know what to say. I love you. Things will get better. I hope.’

Buy it from Big Finish here:

No comments: