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Home Fires won hands down over Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell in our house


It’s good to have a healthy head-to-head battle between dramas being played out in the peak slot on a Sunday night. With the shows also available on demand, everyone’s a winner. However, the programme makers still want to capture the live audience, claiming that this initial pull of viewers remains crucial to the drama’s ultimate success.
If this is true, then it was ITV’s Home Fires that won the battle in our house. Last night saw the third instalment of this World War Two drama based on the novel ‘Jambusters’ by Julie Summers, which is a history of the Women’s Institute during wartime. With a strong ensemble cast, this series has gripped from the very start. Sensibly, the programme makers have allowed us to get to know the menfolk just as well as the women of Great Paxford, so that when many of them are finally called up to fight we feel genuine concern for their wellbeing. This series is classic Sunday night telly, but it is beautifully and accurately made. I’ve been talking and blogging a lot about the role of empathy in the writing process recently and Home Fires is a perfect example of the concept in action. War is distilled down to its most human level. We feel acutely the pain of the mother, desperate not to see her only son go off to fight – the 1914-18 conflict having cast a long shadow in her family’s consciousness.
BBC 1 offered up quite contrasting fare with Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, this series being based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Susanna Clarke. Set during the Napoleonic Wars, this supernatural extravaganza catalogues the battle between two ‘practical magicians’, determined to prove their superiority in the dark arts. The production values of this series are superb and for fans of the gothic it is the perfect mix of sorcery and black humour. However, in our house we aren’t fans of gothic fiction or of dark fantasy. My daughter watched the trailer and immediately dismissed it as too much like ‘Atlantis’ or ‘Merlin’. She is very much a realist when it comes to books and drama!
So it was Home Fires who snatched the victory. It better suits our viewing tastes. But it’s great to have a choice. A strong female cast and a heavy dollop of History will always win me over, but from the responses I have read online, it seems to be that wonderful choral score that has been the run away success of the series so far, with many viewers wanting to know how to get hold of the music. The theme tune is bold and beautiful and is probably going to prove the making of the show.

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