July 25, 2024


Art Is Experience

‘World on Fire’ actress Julia Brown on the show’s political themes


Sunday, 9 p.m., PBS

A love triangle burns at the heart of the World War II drama “World on Fire.” Harry Chase (Jonah Hauer-King) leaves behind his British girlfriend, factory worker and aspiring singer Lois Bennett (Julia Brown), to be a translator for the British in Warsaw (Prague was the location). While working, he meets and falls in love with Kasia Tomaszeski (Zofia Wichlach), a Polish waitress whose father is executed during the German invasion. Harry’s colleague, journalist, Nancy Campbell, advises a quick marriage and return to London as a way of getting Kasia out of harm’s way and provide an eventual rescue for her family. Kasia has her doubts but goes through with the ceremony, with one twist. She brings her youngest brother, Jan (Eryk Biedunkiewicz) to the train station with her and instead of boarding to be with Harry, she shoves the boy into the compartment and the train takes off without her. Leaving Harry with a lot of explaining to do when he is reunited with Lois, who hasn’t received as much as a letter since he shipped off

Brown, 23, spoke to The Post from London, where production on Season 2 of “World of Fire,” has been postponed while everyone waits for restrictions as a result of coronavirus to be lifted.

We see Lois at a rally before the war protesting the Blackshirts, as the British Fascist Party was called, in Episode 1. Is she considered a political dissident?

Because they grow up in a working-class background, and they have to fight hard for what they believe in, Lois is following in her father Douglas’ (Sean Bean) footsteps. Her father, after what he’s gone through in World War I, is opposed to any confrontation. He’s against any sort-of divided society. He wants to do anything to prevent World War II.

Does Lois make a living as a singer?

She doesn’t make a full living because she still has to work her job at the factory. There’s more monetary pressure on her because she’s having to provide for her father, who has PTSD, and also because her brother is wayward. When the war begins, it opens up a financial opportunity for her as well. She goes to join ENSA (Entertainments National Service Association). They had training camps with dancers, singers and performers. Lois would have been earning 10 pounds a week, which is a lot for someone from a working-class background.

Were you familiar with the music of the period?

Interestingly, my granny Hazel, she was a lady from Belfast in Ireland, was a singer throughout the war. She loved to sing jazz. When I was old enough to understand music, she was always singing songs to me. I got my passion for singing from her.  When I learned the score of the series, I recognized a lot of the songs from my own grandmother. We played a little with what Lois was going to sound like. We didn’t want her to sound too much like an American jazz singer. She’s a working-class girl who hasn’t had any training.

Even though Harry is married, nobody back in England knows it. How is that going to play over the remaining six episodes of the season?

The elephant in the room is when this boy [Jan] shows up, and Harry and Lois are going to see eqdh other again. Lois is going to be a bit confused by this small child Harry brought home as a souvenir. Will Lois find about the other woman, and will Harry go back to Lois?

What kind of research did you do for the show?

I read the diaries of real ENSA performers, to see what it was like to be away from home for the first time. What were they eating? Who were they talking to? And then I tried writing my own diary entries, as though I was a performer.