BBC's new Second World War drama World on Fire might be a bit soapy, but it tells the extraordinary stories of ordinary people

Oscar-winning actress Helen Hunt in World on Fire
Oscar-winning actress Helen Hunt in World on Fire

Tensions are rising, people taking sides between left and right, there is a frisson of violence in the air.

No, it’s not the latest Brexit debate in Parliament, it’s the opening to the lavish new drama series World on Fire (BBC1, Sundays, 9pm).
That’s not the only similarity to the current schism over Europe –most of the men dress like Jacob Rees-Mogg and at one point, a British official tells our hero, Harry that “hysteria has no place in diplomacy”.
Try telling that to Mark Francois.
This is the sort of drama you’d see described as a ‘sprawling epic’. And while epic sounds great, sprawling sounds a little disorganised.
And you’d be right, to a degree. Unlike many Second World War dramas, this tells the stories of ordinary men and women on the frontlines, not the officers and gentlemen.
There are at least four storylines in the first episode, from gruff Northern type Sean Bean and his family in Manchester, to Polish families facing Hitler’s blitzkrieg, and on to Helen Hunt’s fearless American war reporter and her son, struggling with his sexuality in the red-lit demi-monde of Paris.
Bean undercuts his usual oop-North performance with an unexpected vulnerability, while Lesley Manville gives an un-Mum like turn as a snobbish middle-class mother with a stiff upper lip as unmoving as Helen Hunt’s curiously plastic forehead.
This first episode is all over the place, and the emphasis on the domestic makes it all seem a bit soapy at times.
But that’s also World on Fire’s saving grace. These are stories we haven’t seen before – a look at how decisions made by the elites in the corridors of power really affect people like you and me.
And that’s something we need right now.

The Apprentice (BBC1, Wednesdays, 9pm) was back and while the format doesn’t change, the revolving cast of megalomaniacs, narcissists and idiots flung into the reality TV mincer keep it fresh.

Prize for most pointless show of the week goes to Snackmasters (Channel 4, Tuesdays, 9.15pm) in which top chefs try to improve on perfection by copying a KitKat. A waste of everyone’s time.