BBC’s ‘World on Fire’ drama praised by Polish audience

Poles of London gathered at the Polish Community Centre (“Posk”) in the west of the UK’s capital to watch a screening of the BBC’s latest war drama “World on Fire” on Saturday night, the Guardian reported.

Many Poles who gathered at Posk were descendants of 175,000 WWII Polish soldiers and Polish civilians who settled in the United Kingdom during WWII and after the communist puppet government was planted in Poland by the Soviets. Returning to such an environment often equalled a hearing in a staged trial and persecution of anyone entertaining the quietest thought of a truly independent Polish state.

Remaining in the UK and becoming part of its social fabric turned out to be the best choice for these people. That is why Poles living in the UK had high hopes that the BBC’s latest war drama “World on Fire” would dispel the threadbare and stereotypical misconceptions about their ancestors and the Polish people in general.

Poland’s Ambassador to London Arkady Rzegocki tweeted that “Poles longing for a more accurate portrayal of their country’s history take stock of the epic BBC One series.”

Commenting on the miniseries, Roger Moorhouse, the author of “First to Fight: The Polish War 1939” and British historian, said that it provides a “useful counterbalance to traditional glossing over of the Poles’ role throughout the war.”

However, the historian remarked that, although the series was trying to set the record straight, its producers fell into the pitfall of repeating some Nazi and Soviet propaganda tropes that have tainted the way the Polish war has been presented.

“In the first episode, there is a line that the Poles only had bicycles against tanks, which is nonsense and harks back to old Nazi propaganda myths spread to ridicule the Poles,” said Mr Moorhouse, adding that “the fact that in 2019 we’re still parroting these narratives from 1939 is frankly ridiculous.”

Wiktor Moszczyński, chairman of the Friends of Polish Veterans Association, is well-acquainted with the stories of those Poles who decided to stay in the UK and spotted a few minor errors in “World on Fire”. Nevertheless, he also said that Polish audiences “will undoubtedly take some satisfaction in the way it shows Poland’s gruesome experience and sense of betrayal by Britain.”

For her part, Joanna Rydzewska of Swansea University, a scholar of the representation of Poles in British cinema, found the fact that all the Polish cast spoke Polish in the BBC drama a sign that film producers were becoming more open to including European voices.

Noting that although “World on Fire” explored how the contemporary British identity is redefined by the presence of Polish and other migrants, Mr Rydzewska said that there is still “little diversity in the representation of the Poles in UK cinema”. According to Mr Rydzewska, Polish characters have too often been stereotyped as heroic soldiers, criminals, prostitutes or poorly educated migrant labourers.

Despite not having cleansed itself from some blots of the past, “World on Fire” was praised by the Polish audience, with two-thirds giving it five stars. “World on Fire” five-episode miniseries was written by Peter Bowker.